Sunday, April 11, 2021

Hasidic, Devout, and Mad as Hell...

What’s the difference between Chasidic communities like the one described in this article and the young college students that congregated during their recent spring break in Miami Beach? In my view there is little difference if any. Birds of a feather. They both have an almost depraved indifference to human life – even their own. 

There is nothing more important in Halacha than protecting human life. It is the one thing that we must sacrifice every other mitzvah for (save three). If that mitzvah is ignored, what good does observing all the other Miztvos do? They may as well join those revelers in Miami Beach. They have about the same value as human beings in my eyes. 

This doesn’t even address the Chilul HaShem involved. Which is the utter disdain for what health experts advise as lifesaving behavior; and  the utter disdain for following the law. They have in common with those college students being completely and utterly self-centered! 

Making matters worse is the story of Reuven (Not his real name). From the Atlantic

Based on death notices posted by an establishment Hasidic paper, Der Yid, Reuven and his colleagues concluded that the death rate in their community was three to four times higher than the state average. The number of deaths could have been lower, (Reuven’s clandestine Yiddish publication) Der Veker implied, if Hasidic leaders had encouraged their followers to take more precautions—and modeled that behavior themselves. Most Hasidim believe that complaining about the community, especially to outsiders, is like “washing your dirty laundry” in public.

“There is no mechanism for self-criticism,” Reuven said. Hasidic Jews who follow particular rabbis are accustomed to heeding their leader’s guidance without question, and those rabbis often crack down on criticism from within their ranks. Reuven worries that speaking out might exacerbate the anti-Semitism the community already faces. But after a brutal year filled with dying, Reuven wants a reckoning—one that will happen, he believes, only under external pressure… How could a community that prides itself on generosity and kindness fail to protect its most vulnerable members from a deadly pandemic? 

“If people find out I’m behind it, the consequences can be extremely harsh,” he told me. He worries that his kids would get kicked out of their yeshivas, or Jewish schools; that he would lose his job; that his marriage would collapse from the stress. 

It would not surprise me if some of those old virulent antisemitic tropes from Nazi Germany  about Jews deliberately spreading disease among gentiles started showing up on neo-Nazi websites if they haven’t already.  

It’s not like their rabbinic leadership is clueless about public perceptions of theor behavior. That’s why Reuven fears the kind of ostracizing he described if he is exposed. 

Does it not occur to these leaders that their behavior is in and of itself responsible for any negative image that may result? I guess they believe the best way to prevent negative images is to hide their behavior. 

That will not work (if it ever did) in this era of investigative reporting and ubiquitous camera phones. That they don’t realize that is most likely a product of their insularity. 

I am so sick of the selfish attitude of these people. They do not represent me. Nor do they represent any legitimate form of Judaism. Not any more than those college students on spring break in Miami Beach do. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

To the Left, Only the Right can be Truly Racist

Trump calling COVID -19 the Chinese Virus  (News18)
Updated*

‘If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed.’ The ‘here’ in that comment is China. Which is a racist comment by any definition. 

How ‘Trumpian’.  The mainstream media is so obsessed with racism… so sensitive to comments like this, that when they are made by a conservative media personality, they will be  all over them like a cheap suit. Often resulting in being ‘canceled’ because of a zero tolerance policy towards racism. Surely it would be hypercritical to give anyone a pass if they made a comment like this. Looking the other way is no longer an option. 

When the former President made comments like this he was anything but ignored. As was the case when he called the COVID-19 virus the ‘China or Chinese virus’. They saw it as a racist comment against Asian Americans. (Not sure why no one ever considered it racist to call an earlier deadly epidemic ‘the Spanish flu’. But I digress.) Trump has been hammered for calling it the Chinese virus more times than I can count - even now 2 months after he left office. He is being blamed for fomenting the current wave of violent attacks against Americans of Asian descent. 

That Trump would make a comment like the one above should not surprise anyone. Except that he didn’t make it. It was made by the late Prince Philip - husband to the Queen of England. Prince Philip died early this morning at age 99. 

The Late Prince Philip
Watching the news bulletin announcing it and then listening to the liberal media personalities discussing his life made him sound like a beloved hero who could do no wrong. Even though they reported that he made that comment, it didn’t matter. They could not praise the late Prince enough. Acknowledging that it was not politically correct they nevertheless said that comments he made like this were eccentric and part of his charm. Adding that he was a beloved figure among his wife’s royal subjects, the British people. How admired he was.  They loved him there. Despite his oft heard vulgar language and a derogatory racist ‘slitty-eyed’ comment. (Among many other un-PC comments). 

The reaction by the media to racist comments is clearly influenced by their politics. I don‘t think that‘s arguable. Trump is a racist. Prince Philip is charming. 

The world doesn’t seem to care. Not that these ancient and irrelevant relics of a once glorious past mean anything to me. They do not. But – again – it illustrates the double standard that exists among many people in the media that pretend to be fair and balanced. Oh… they try and put on a good show. But it does not work with me. Nor should it with anyone else paying attention.

Just to be clear, I do not absolve the former President of any of his race bating comments. They all deserve to be condemned. But it should now be abundantly clear (if it hasn’t been until now) that accusations of racism are clearly a function of one’s politics. 

What really fueled the liberal media hatred of Trump were his policy decisions. His character – or lack of it - gave the liberal media all the ammunition they needed to paint him – and thereby his policies as evil.  

Just to cite one example of that is the border wall he built to shut down illegal immigration through Mexico. Which he was unable to complete - leaving many gaps . The media was quick to characterize that wall as racist - based on Trump’s supposed hatred of Hispanics.  

But now that the current President is considering closing those gaps... not a word of criticism is heard. Its all good now that Biden wants to do it. The media is silent. Instead they blame the border crisis (which is now far worse than it ever was under Trump) on Trump’s draconian immigration policies The current administration can blame the former President all they want. But what is happening now is happening under Biden’s watch. It is clear from the statements of many illegal immigrants now streaming across the border that they were encouraged to do so by the Biden’s more openly sympathetic attitude towards them. Apparently Biden’s answer is to ‘...build that wall’.  Where is the media criticism? I haven’t heard any. 

Off my soapbox.

*Update

It appears that this post about double standard of the media in how they react to racist comments by public figures  - has been taken as a criticism of Prince Philip. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no particular animus towards the late prince - even though his comment would clearly be seen today as racist by any standard. I don't think that the prince was personally any more racist that the ex-President - despite comments by both that would seem otherwise. 

Furthermore - it is my understanding that he had a favorable attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people. Something he must have inherited from his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who rescued Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Just want to make this clear.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

It's About the Message - Not the Messenger

Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg whose schools offer little if any secular studies
I hate this video! (See below) Even though I agree with everything it says. The idea behind what the 2 individuals in it are saying is that Jewish children deserve to have a basic secular education. I don’t see how any rational person would disagree with that. 

Except that in certain Chasidic yeshivas - and increasingly in some non Chasidic Lithuanian style yeshivas - they do disagree with it. Those schools never had and will not have a secular studies curriculum. Or they are reducing and in some cases completely eliminating their secular curriculum. 

They might make the counter claim that they are educating their students with the basics. They just define the basics differently. And that their students get many of those basics as part of their religious studies curriculum.

So if I agree with the message of this video, why do I hate it? Because it is counterproductive to what it intends to achieve. Which is to get those children the education they deserve and need in order to function in the 21st century. Especially when it comes to making a decent living. 

Those schools will argue that the intent of a Yeshiva is to educate their children religiously. And to learn as much Torah as they can - as a religious obligation. To that end they will focus entirely on religious subjects saying that in our day, there is so much to learn that even if one spends day and night studying for the rest of their lives, they will never cover it all. So that any diversion into other subjects, no matter how vital it may seem, will end up sacrificing valuable Torah study time. 

This is the Hashkafa of the Lithuanian style Yeshiva system known as the ‘Torah Only’ school of thought. They will add that the only reason they ever offered a secular curriculum was to satisfy state education requirements. They have however recently come to believe that they can get away without satisfying those requirements, As evidenced by the Chasidic schools that have been doing that for decades. 

The Chasidic school of thought is similar. Only they do not insist that one must study Torah full time. They believe in working for a living after a relatively short period of time studying Torah after marriage.  

The problem with that is that they don’t have enough education to get a job that even comes close to supporting their large families. Leading them to rely on welfare as a permanent means of supplementary income. Which has had a tendency to be abused in all too many cases. Additionally they believe that a secular studies curriculum will be a corrupting influence on their students. Fearful that they will be forced to offer studies that are anathema to their values. Like sex education that teaches about premarital birth control. Or equating gay sex prohibited buy the Torah with heterosexual sex that is permitted by the Torah.  

As I indicated, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the 2 people in that New York Times video are entirely correct. The students in schools that do not offer a decent secular education are being short changed. Big time. 

My problem with this video is not with the message. It is with the 2  people sending it. Let me hasten to add that it is absolutely not personal. I don't know Beatrice Weber at all.  She seems to be very sincere and I have no reason to doubt that. Chaim Levin is someone that should be somewhat familiar to long time readers here. He has gone through a lot pain in his life (incidents which are beyond the scope of this post) and has survived quite nicely - becoming a strong advocate for important causes. 

In both cases the spokesmen are renegades. Not that this should make any difference to their message. It doesn’t. But they left the communities in which they were raised. Complaints by renegades are rarely if ever given credibility when they criticize their former communities. They will always be accused of having an underlying negative agenda. Thus discounting and ignoring their message and continuing to defend those communities.- claiming that this is what they really want.

Their arguments are based on the the First Amendment right fight to teach their children religiously as they see fit. In essence denying then the education that these religious advoctes  have themselves benefitted from having attended Yeshivos that had decent secular studies curricula. Which enabled them to become the succesfull lawyers now defending those schools. Even while admitting they would never send their own children to them. 

They also argue that much of the secular curriculum deemed necessary for life in the 21st century is actually incorporated into their religious studies. Adding that if one compares the relative success in life of these Chasidim with their counterparts in public schools offer a full time secular studies curriculum – the Chasidim will always fare better. 

That may be true if one factors in the sorry state of public school education in the inner city. But if you look outside of those areas, that comparison falls flat. Given a similar study ethic, public school students as a whole will easily do better – at least in terms of their earning potential as well as understanding and executing their civic responsibilities. They are in essence fighting for the right of their religious schools to deny their students the same education that they - as religious Jews - have themselves benefitted from. Schools they freely admit they would never send their own children to.

The problem with this video is it plays right into the hands of those defending those schools. As renegades from their respective communities their credibility is rejected with claims of an underlying nefarious agenda. And that they are using the New York Times video platform to make the state enforce a newly constructed education mandate that would harm all Yeshivos. Even those with an outstanding secular curriculum. That should be fought tooth and nail. 

I agree with that. I even agree that it would be best that they put their own house in order; fix the problems internally; and to keep the government out of it. The problem is they will not do it. They have had decades to try and they ignored it because their belief system tells them to ignore it. Even as they had deceived NYSED (New York State Educataion Department) into believing they do not ignore it. 

What would instead have some real impact is if dissatisfied parents that are not renegades - and  have not left the fold made a video like this. Parents that will articulate exactly what was in the video. And include a long list of mainstream parents that agree with them – wishing to give their children an education long denied them. If enough parents sign on to this (it doesn’t have to be a majority – just a critical mass) it  will not  be ignored. Those defending those schools will not be able to say that this is what all their parents want as a religious right.  

If we could disabuse these defenders of that notion it will take the wind out of their sails. And they might realize their fight might actually be against the will of huge numbers of people from that community. People that do not want to leave their Chasidus. But  that do want their children to be educated. 

Sadly this is very unlikely to happen. Parents fear being ostracized if they express views contrary to the long held traditions of their Chasidus. Which is constantly being reinforced by their educators and rabbinic leadership (Chasidic Rebbes). 

Fear is a strong motivator. So the fight goes on, and their children will suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

A New Path to Help Free the Agunah

Chava Herman (Religion and Politics)
Jewish law is not subject to social media pressure. I don’t think that is arguable. What the Torah tells us to do – or not to do - has nothing to do with how any one of us feels about it. Whether individually or communally.  

That does not however mean that social media does not have a role to play. The fact is that it does. A very big role that can be (and is) used in both positive and negative ways. The latest example of how social media can be used in a positive way is in the case of women whose husbands refuse to give them a Halachic divorce known as a Get. These woman are called Agunos. (Although Agunos are defined somewhat differently in Halacha, they basically suffer the same fate. Agunos may not get married.)

This age old problem is based on the biblical requirement that a husband must willing give his wife a Get before she can get remarried to another man. Without one – she is considered married to her first husband. Marrying another man under these circumstances is a capital offense in Judaism. A child resulting from that relationship is considered a Mamzer who may themselves not marry a Jewish woman or non Jewish woman. The same thing is true for his offspring after him in perpetuity (should he have any). This is pretty serious stuff. And with divorce on the rise in our day, this problem has exploded exponentially. 

Many solutions at resolving this issue have met been met with rejection by Poskim. In some cases those solutions proceeded anyway – being used by misguided rabbis who formed ad hoc religious courts to help desperate Agunos out. But they have only made matters worse by creating a class of women whose children will be suspect – as possible Mamzerim.   

Although some solutions have been successful in preventing a  woman from becoming an Agunah - such as a halachic pre-nuptial agreement - this only helps if it is done prior to the marriage. And not every Posek accepts it (although it does seem to be catching on more than it used to be.)  

In any case, I am not here to evaluate the various novel solutions that have been sought or actually tried. Needless to say, many of them have not produced good results. In some cases those attempting radical solutions using violence against recalcitrant husbands have ended up in prison.  Not to mention the fact that a Get issued by force is not considered Halachicly valid. 

This doesn’t mean we just sit on our hands, do nothing, and say ‘Nebech’. Although a forced Get is invalid, communal pressure may be used to convince a recalcitrant husband that it is in his own best interests to willingly grant his wife a Get. In that vein a Beis Din can issue a Seruv against him  – which is a form of communal isolation. 

Their names are published in religious periodicals as recalcitrant husbands; Shuls are told to shun them; they are not called to the Torah; or allowed to lead the services; or be given any honor.  But as one can imagine, this has met with limited success. Many recalcitrant husbands are so spiteful that they don’t care about a Seruv preferring to ‘torture’ their wives into agreeing to whatever outlandish demands they might make as a condition of a Get. This might involve custody issues or extortions of huge sums of money. 

Perhaps more importantly - the truth is that very few people pay any attention to a  Seruv or may not even know about them.. There has been little else anyone could do about it. Until now. 

This is where social media comes in. As detrimental to one’s spiritual and mental health social media might be  - this is where it can be used for good. Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt makes this point in a recent issue of Religion and Politics.  She tells us the story of Chava Herman. Herman, a mother of two daughters, who had been an Agunah since 2011 when she got her civil divorce. 

Herman messaged an Orthodox 25 year old ‘Social Influencer’ by the name Dalia Oziel who has 34,000 followers on Instagram She asked her to... 

...share a poster calling on her husband to issue a divorce. And so Oziel did, on February 9—with the hashtag, #freechava. 

Within a few weeks, the hashtag would explode into a rallying cry among young Orthodox women demanding their right to divorce, some going as far as demanding transparency and accountability in the Orthodox rabbinical system, with close to 1,500 posts and thousands more stories. Teenagers, housewives, wig-makers, and food bloggers started coming out of the woodwork across Orthodox communities, posting about women’s rights, creating lip-syncing reels, and some even taking to the streets to protest on behalf of Herman and other women…

“The past month the #freechava campaign took off and has quite literally rocked our world,” wrote Dini Weinberg of Monsey, New York, known for her high-end eponymous wig brand, to her 110,000 Instagram followers… 

“It’s gotten us to look around and see the abuse, the inconsistencies, and total falsehood. But it’s also shown us that together, we are unstoppable.”

Indeed it has. There are of course no guarantees. Chizhik does not say whether Chava Herman got her Get. But clearly this kind of massive negative publicity about a recalcitrant husband is a new way to put real pressure on him. Far more effective than the heretofore little publicized Seruv. It will surely move some recalcitrant husbands to give their wives a Get - freeing them from their chains. 

That said, there is always the possibility for abuse - by using these platforms to  perpetuate a false narrative. I would think that the best way to go about it is to get a reputable Beis Din to issue a Seruv first. But one thing seems certain. Social media has given these women a voice they have heretofore never had. If used properly it will hopefully help free a lot of women.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Jewish Hate

Oded Menaster in his 2 roles (Mishpacha Magazine)
There is a lot of hate in the world. Sorry to say that nowhere is this more true than among our own people. At least that’s what can be derived from an experiment conducted by Mishpacha Magazine

I’ve got to hand it to this Charedi publication. They minced no words in describing the outcome of that experiment. Or more correctly allowed the agent of that experiment to tell us his conclusions about it - without comment by any Mishpacha editors. This is a lesson in intellectual honesty rarely seen in publications like this. So, kudos (whatever that means) to them. 

The experiment was as follows. Mishpacha hired Oded Menaster, a (presumably secular) professional actor to go undercover in both the very secular Tel Aviv and the very Charedi Bnei Brak. He was disguised as a Toldos Aharon Chasid in the former and an Israeli cop in the latter. The description of his experiences are both revealing and at the same time - not all that unexpected. Unfortunately his experiences in the more observant community of Bnei Brak were more hurtful to him than his experiences in the less observant community of Tel Aviv. 

It’s true that there is reason for both communities to be upset with the other. But despite the hatred expressed by both sides, the secular Jews Oded encountered seemed far more tolerant than the Charedi Jews he encountered in Bnei Brak.  

Oded experienced no one in Bnei Brak that reacted in any way positive. Some instances were worse than others -  but all were negative. Not true in Tel Aviv. it appears that there is something about being secular that makes one more tolerant. And something about being Chreadi that makes one less so. 

That Oded felt more hurt by Charedim while disguised as a cop than he did disguised as a Charedi in Tel Aviv is easy to explain after reading his description of both experiences. Here is a sampling of each. The first one is what he encountered in Tel Aviv. 

 ...the conversation took a very unexpected turn. All his inner Tel Aviv soul burst out all at once, like he was starved for conversation:

“Tell me, what do you think you’re doing? The entire country is terrified of COVID while you dance at these mass weddings. Do you think that’s okay?”

“No. It’s not okay at all. But you need to realize that not everyone’s like that,” I said in defense of the community I was representing.

“Not everyone, but many are. You actually seem to be a very nice person. I can see you’re wearing that mask properly. If only all chareidim were like you.”

Later I learned from my chareidi companions that this refrain —”if only all chareidim were like you” — is a familiar one.

“You look like a nice person,” he went on. “It’s a pity not everyone’s like you. You chareidim need to find your way. You take care of yourselves, and we’ll take care of ourselves.”

Nothing comparable occurred in Bnei Brak. Not even close. One case after another – all bad. As the following will illustrate: 

Another fellow explained reasonably, if a bit resentfully, “You don’t belong here and it would be a pity if trouble started.”

Honestly? I felt hurt. To a certain extent, more than in Tel Aviv.

But the most disturbing moment was when a little boy yelled “Nazi!” at my passing back.

Look, I understand that to a chareidi, a cop represents a different world — an establishment that’s been portrayed as an enemy of their values and lifestyle. This no doubt comes from bad communication, bad decisions, and even worse optics. It’s sad.

But as someone who’s descended from Holocaust survivors and martyrs, I was appalled to be called a Nazi. Does he even know what a Nazi is? What the Nazis did? How can that accusation even come out of your mouth?

It’s true that both communities have reasons to be disdainful, and dismissive of the other. But based on this little experiment,  the Charedi world is far better at being hateful than the secular world seems to be. 

There are reasons for the hatred on both sides. Some of which I have discussed here. But there is no excuse for extremes Oded experienced in Bnei Brak. 

There are also lessons to be learned here. The Charedi world in places like Bnei Brak must learn how to be more tolerant. Even when they experience what they feel is gross discrimination. Perhaps a more important lessen would be that the secular world can be reached. They  seem to be more inclined to hear another point of view. I don't know... maybe it is the nature of a secular person to be more open minded. and the nature of a Charedi to be more closed minded. 

But as an Orthodox Jew that believes following Halacha is the right way for a Jew to live, I think we have an obligation to find ways to reach out to them. Based on Oded's encounter (as a Charedi Jew) with secular Jews there seems to be a  way to do that so that secular Jew can channel his inner Jew.  Which desires to serve God the way He intends us to. I believe that feeling resides deep in the heart of every Jew. What happened to Oded in Bnei Brak is the antithesis of that. 

I don’t know how we can change the hearts and mind of that part of the Charedi world. I don’t even know if it’s possible. But if it could be done, it would go a long way toward both worlds understanding each other better and in the process bring a lot of people closer to God than ever thought possible.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Will Identity Politics Destroy Us?

Rachel Levine, Biden's cabinet level  pick representing LGBTQ (Wiki)
I am not a racist. When someone says that, he is often seen as having some degree of latent racism.  Just like someone saying  ‘some of my best friends are Jews’ might be seen as having some degree of antisemitism. Comments like those are in a category of ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’. I therefore understand why someone might see me that way when when I say it.   

But there is no other way for me to communicate my feelings about racism other than to say I am not one. In fact I oppose racism and any form of prejudice with every fiber of my being. 

I mention this because of my sincere belief that what is going on in America right now is a harmful form of racism in reverse by a left leaning  Zeitgeist with the best of intentions. Because of what happened to a black man by the name of George Floyd this phenomenon has gone into hyperdrive. George Floyd’s death ‘woke’ a lot of people up in what I believe is a counterproductive way. 

To be ‘woke’ as it is currently being used is to be awakened to the degree of racism in this country. Which in the minds of many requires a radical remedy. 

First let me acknowledge that racism still exists in this country. Probably a lot more than most of us are willing to admit.  For example I firmly believe that being black in America today places one at a distinct disadvantage in many situations. Not the least of which is when a black man encounters law enforcement. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, I believe that a black man will generate more suspicion on the part of the police than would a white man under the same circumstances. Whatever the reasons for that might be, it is nevertheless real and a gross injustice.  

The problem with being ‘woke ’is what it is generating. Well meaning people are ‘going the other way’ – in order to make up for past injustices based on race. While in theory that might seem like a good way to achieve an eventual equitable outcome, you cannot correct one societal inequity by creating another. That is exactly what Affirmative Action (mandated by the courts decades ago) does. 

The idea behind Affirmative Action is to give preference to the a member of a race that has historically suffered discrimination over someone from a race that hasn’t and yet might be more qualified. Whether for a job or entry to a top university. I have always found this form of equitable outcome troubling. 

What it does in the world of higher education is tend to lower the standards of excellence required of students. This does not mean giving unqualified students preference over qualified students. But it does lower the bar for entry and perforce success in academics or in some cases job performance.  For example medical schools might be producing good doctors under a program of Affirmative Action,. But are they producing the best possible doctors? 

The argument by its proponents is that the so called lesser qualified students are not necessary less qualified but did not do as well on standardized college entrance exams because of cultural biases built into them.  There may be some truth to that. But the solution to that is to fix the exams to make them culturally balanced. Not to pass over those who did better on them. In my view this is patently unfair.  

Instead of realizing the folly of Affirmative Action we now have a ‘woke’ President doing it. He is choosing cabinet members and judges based on race and ethnicity instead of on qualifications. Something the President promised to do from the very outset of his campaign. This is a conscious choice by a President who promised to have the most diverse cabinet he could find. Which means not necessarily the most qualified.

This is not to say that the people he’s chosen aren’t qualified. I’m sure they are. But are they the best people for the job?  By chance, some of them may be. But clearly they were chosen by group identity first and qualifications second.  

This is no way to run a country. True leaders need to be color blind. You look for the best people and hire them. You do not look at what color they are. This is how for example Condoleezza Rice, a black woman, was chosen to be Secretary of State by former President George W. Bush. She was chosen for her qualifications, not for her race. There are plenty of black people like her. But the now woke President seems to prefer his team look more like America than he does their degree of qualification.

That being said, racism must be opposed in all its ugly manifestations. But identity politics is not the way it should be done. Because that’s a prescription for mediocrity. 

And yet this is the direction the country seems to be going. People that feel as I do are seen as latent racists no matter how much we protest we are not. We are being told by the extreme left that if we don’t buy into their narrative - we aren’t sufficiently ‘woke’; - blind to just how racist this country is; blind to how its very founding is based on racism. 

And we are therefore told just how far we must go to eradicate it. The more extreme among the left (which seems to be increasing in number thanks to people like White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo) are telling us just how far we must go to root racism out of the system. Which incudes vilifying our founding fathers as irredeemable racists who built this country on the backs of black slaves. If you aren’t at least sympathetic to that point of view, then you are as racist as they were. 

This is where we are now as a country. If things keep going in this direction then in my view we are headed for disaster of epic proportions. Identity politics could very easily turn the US into a second rate power giving way to countries that value excellence over diversity.

Friday, April 02, 2021

If Not for the Women...


The splitting of the Yam Suf - the reed (red) sea - is considered the greatest miracle of Pesach. I can only imagine the euphoria of that moment. Israel’s oppressors were taken down in one fell swoop -  drowning in them in the sea while chasing Israel as they were crossing it on dry land. 

Mida K’neged Mida. It is God’s way to mete out justice in kind. Years earlier - fearing a leader would be born at that time that would arise and free Egypt’s Jewish slaves, Egypt proceeded to drown all the male Jewish children. God repaid them in kind by drowning them. 

Tomorrow is the anniversary of that event. This is why we read that portion of the Torah that describes it. That portion also tells us that it was at that moment that Moshe and all of the Bnei Yisroel broke out in spontaneous song (Shemos 15:1). So great is that song - Chazal has incorporated it into our daily prayers – recited every morning of the year. 

It is not insignificant that the Torah also mentions that Moshe’s sister, Miriam, took out her tambourine and led the women in song, too (Shemos 15:20). Why single them out? It is because it was through our righteous women that the entirety of the Jewish people were saved. The Gemarah (Sotah 11b ) tells us that it was the women who maintained the Jewish names of their children. It was the women who enticed the men into having children – even though they were slaves suffering under the most oppressive of conditions.  

Chazal also tells us that the Jewish people had descended into the 49th level of spiritual impurity (Tumah), which was the last chance for their salvation. Had they sunk one more level they would not have been saved. It was the women who saved us from that fate.

How ironic it is that we live in a word today wherein the most righteous looking among us are trying to erase women from the public eye when it is the Torah itself that does the opposite. And as indicated by Chazal - it is they who deserve the entire credit for our salvation.

Something to think about on this day as we are about to enter the final day(s) of Pesach.  

With that, I would like to wish all – a joyous rest of Pesach. 

Chag Sameach

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Reverting to the Failed Policies of the Past

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken (Wiki)
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Although the source of this piece of wisdom is unclear, its message is not. Nowhere does it apply better than it does to the Biden administration’s policy of returning to the failed polices of the past. 

It should be more than obvious that past American attempts at making peace between the Arabs and Israel has for decades been a massive failure. For over 53 years the US has tried and failed in multiple attempts at doing so. 

Until 2017 the assumption had always been that for Israel to make peace with its Arab neighbors, it would first have to solve the Palestinian problem. In that vein every administration pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. Something that saw its ultimate failure in the 90s when during the Clinton administration then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave Palestinians just about everything the asked for - including East Jerusalem (with the proviso that Israel would have full access to the Kotel at all times) - in exchange for peace. That got us a 2nd intifada. They did not get 100% of what they were asking for so Palestinians leaders told their people to riot. Which they happily did. 

That failure should have precipitated the US thinking out of the box. It didn’t. 

A few years later, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally gave up Gaza to the Palestinians as a gesture of good will and - more importantly - because of the demographic time bomb of increasing Palestinian population due to their high birth rate. 

Not surprisingly, the Palestinian leadership  rejected that as any kind of gesture at all, nonetheless taking control of Gaza anyway. Instead of trying to build good will with Israel by building up that area, Hamas (the Palestinian faction labeled by the US as a terrorist organization) took control of Gaza and proceeded to terrorize Israel with a variety of attacks – not the least of which was sending rockets  indiscriminately across its border with Israel and endangering innocent Israeli lives. 

That did not stop foggy bottom (the State Department) from advising every administration to stick to a policy that has shown failure after  failure - believing there was no other way to go about making peace. The policy was to keep appeasing the Palestinians by using their narrative of occupation and illegal settlement activity. The idea of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and considering Jerusalem the capital of Israel was seen as counter productive. They thought it would cause additional Palestinian animosity toward the US and precipitate violence. The Golan Heights that Israel captured in 67 and later annexed by them was not recognized by the US for the same reason. Settlement expansion was illegal no matter where or how little. Even if was to only add a bedroom to an existing structure in a border city that would surely go to Israel in any agreement. 

In contravention to the America’s generous intent to provide humanitarian financial aid to their people, Palestinian leadership promptly used that money to reward families of terrorists who died as ‘martyrs’ blowing themselves up in Israel. 

Along came Donald Trump. Regardless of what one may think about him, in my view his polices with respect to Israel changed everything. For the better. 

The US embassy was moved to Jerusalem which was then recognized as the capital of Israel. Soon after anyone born there could for the first time declare they born in Israel on their passports. Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights was finally recognized as part of Israel. The word ‘occupation’ was removed from the official lexicon when speaking of the West Bank – as was the word ‘settlements’. Financial aid to the Palestinians was eliminated because of how they used it.  

Although the idea of a ‘Two State Solution’ was not abandoned, a new policy was formed. It was generated by a belligerent Iran threatening to wipe Israel off the map - and attempting to build nuclear weapons. That threatened neighboring Arab states. And that created a new status quo in the Middle East. Neighboring Arab States started seeing Israel as an ally rather than an adversary. In relatively short order, the Trump administration took advantage of that and managed to get 4 Arab nations to recognize Israel and exchange ambassadors. 

Prior to Trump, so called Middle East experts considered that an impossibility. At least not without making peace with the Palestinians first. Those same experts thought that without focusing on Israel’s occupation and ‘illegal’ settlements they would lose any credibility and leverage they had with the Palestinian leadership - and the rest of the Arab world. 

They have been proven wrong. It is true that the US lost credibility with Palestinians under Trump because of all of that. But so what? That did not change a thing. Israel has not suffered from any kind of negative reaction by Palestinians - who are no worse off now than they were before. In fact the promise of huge financial aid if they decide to make peace by giving up some of their ‘non-negotiable’ demands would improve their lives immeasurably and give Israel a Palestinian state they could live with. 

In short the new world order gave rise to new policies that actually bore some fruit. 

In comes a new President whose state department promptly reverts to some of the failed policies of the past. The words ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ are once again part of the lexicon. Financial aid to the Palestinians has bee restored. The hope being that the US will be able to restore its credibility with their leaders. 

Which begs the question, why bother? After a half century of zero progress by the failed policies - why go back to them if they have little prospect of doing any better over the next half century?  

Now if a resident of one of the large border cities on the West Bank side of Israel’s border wants to add a bedroom he will not be able to without the US objecting. Which may end up being significant in the UN where the new US ambassador surely does not have the same passion for Israel that those under the previous administration had. Are we going to see a repeat of a US abstention in a UN Security Council vote allowing them condemn Israel again? 

Reverting to the failed policies of the past and expecting better results is  pure insanity. 

That being said, not everything the Biden Administration is doing is bad. They are not abandoning all of Trump’s polices. Jerusalem will still be the location of the US embassy and still be recognized as Israel’s capital. Israel’s annexation if the Golan Heights will remain recognized.  And Biden will continue pursuing more Arab nations to recognize Israel. 

What this means going forward is hard to predict. But if I had to guess, I wild say that little will come of Biden’s return to the policies of the past. That the Palestinian leadership might have better relations with the US will not help a single Palestinian in the street. 

Had Biden instead stuck to Trump administration policies, it is at least possible if not likely that Palestinians would finally realize that they cannot get what they want under any administration. And with the promise of financial aid being dangled over their heads, they would seek to improve their lives in other ways. Sadly, that kind of thinking has just about been entirely washed away by reverting to the polices that give Palestinians the false hope that they can have it all. Which is as ridiculous now as it ever was. If it couldn’t happen under Ehud Barak, it will surely not happen now.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Vaccination Passports and the Holocaust

Israeli performer holding up his Green (vaccination) Passport (Jerusalem Post)
As a child of Holocaust survivors, there aren’t too many things that upset me more than people who use the Holocaust for their own agenda. One of the more egregious examples of that is when PETA compared slaughtering chickens to it. 

There is no comparing what happened to our people to any other atrocity happening in the world.  No matter how terrible it might be. There just isn’t. Just ask any Holocaust survivor what they went through. If I understand correctly - in addition to the six million Jews that were slaughtered, there were about six million that survived. Each one having experienced their own unique horror. 

The depth and breadth of those horrors were so terrible that they were not to be believed – until it was exposed by the allied forces who liberated the concentration camps and death camps. And what they witnessed only scratched the surface of  the worst of man’s inhumanity to Man’. As more details started trickling out this became more apparent. 

That along with masses of archival footage of Nazi atrocities committed  against us is now available for the whole world to see. Ironically most of those images were filmed by the Nazis themselves who just loved to film and archive everything they did. But even those films barely scratch the surface. The horror stories that my own family faced are too horrible to tell. Had they not witnessed them, they too would not be believed. 

The world had gone mad. Entire countries had become mass murderers (or collaborters) who first tortured before they killed en masse. Or who used our people as human guinea pigs in torturous medical experimants before exterminating  them. 

I could go on. But I think I made my point. Which brings me to the latest abominable use of the Holocaust: Comparing the idea of vaccine passports to  Jews being forced by the Nazis to wear a yellow armband with the star of David (Magen Dovid) on it. So that they could more easily round us up when they wanted to torture and/or kill us. The penalty for being caught not wearing a yellow armband was death. 

The complaint about vaccine passports is as follows. The idea is that one will be able to download an app saying they have been fully vaccinated against COVID. This will enable them to have freedom to lead a more or less normal life by substantially reducing (but not eliminating) the risk of infection or at least eliminate its serious consequences in those few vaccinated people that somehow get it anyway. 

I happen to think the idea is a good one. One that was first implemented by Israel and some states are copying now. But here – from the Jerusalem Post is what the naysayers are saying about those left unvaccinated (which is still most of this country): 

Political activists are comparing the idea of “vaccine passports” to Nazi Germany, with many invoking the yellow Stars of David that Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust. 

Not only is this comparison outrageous, it does not even discriminate in any way based on racism or antisemitism. No one is being singled out or mistreated as inferior. This is about trying to open up the country as safely as possible. And incentivizing people to get vaccinated with a goal of achieving herd immunity.

What about people that don’t have smart phones because they can’t afford them or for some other reason? They can’t get the app. Aren’t they at an unfair disadvantage? 

I hate to use a cliché but it fits. ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.’ Apps need not be the only way to get a vaccine passport. One can get an ID issued by the government that can be used as easily as a credit card or any app.  

What about people that cannot get vaccinated for health reasons (e.g. allergies to vaccines). How is that fair to them? 

If someone has a legitimate reason not to be vaccinated they should be able to get a passport too. They too will be at lower risk in an environment where everyone else is vaccinated. As a group they are too small to prevent herd immunity. It is precisely for them where herd immunity becomes important. The only people that should not be able to get a passport are the antivaxxers. They have no health issue preventing them from getting it.

But isn’t their freedom being limited? The answer is yes. But freedom must be limited when it endangers the public welfare. If the antivaxxers reach a critical mass they can prevent the herd immunity that will eventually fully open up the country. 

They have the freedom to not be vaccinated if they so choose. But in my view - doing so means giving up the right to mingle freely among people that have been vaccinated along with those who can’t be for legitimate reasons. They have the right to be stupid. But they do not have the right to inflict their stupidity on the rest of us. 

Bottom line for me is that I favor vaccination passports. Implementing them has zero to do with the Holocaust. If properly done I believe that we will get to herd immunity a lot sooner. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fighting for the Right to Remain Ignorant

A Yeshiva in Williamsburg (JTA)
It is truly maddening when the truth gets obscured by politics and agendas.  Let me therefore once again outline what I see as the truth about how the American Orthodox Jewish community educates its children. This subject has once again reared its ugly head in the epicenter of Orthodox Jewish life in America: New York City. The candidates running for mayor have been questioned about what their policies will be on that subject. 

The truth is complex but not all that difficult to understand. First it should be recognized that there is no more uniformity in Orthodox education than there is uniformity on  Orthodoxy itself. 

Second, let me state the obvious. The primary function of a religious school is to give their students a religious education. That is true of all Orthodox Jewish schools.  (How they define that varies in ways that are beyond the scope of this post.) But when it comes to secular studies there is a glaring gap between the best and worst of them. 

The vast majority (if not all) modern Orthodox schools are high on the list of those providing a decent secular curriculum for their students. The problem lies within the Charedi world. The disparity between schools there varies greatly. On the plus side of the Charedi spectrum are schools that provide a secular studies curriculum. That includes most of the non Chasidic Yeshiva world (sometimes referred to as the 'Litvishe' Yeshiva world). The quality of that secular curriculum ranges from excellent to adequate. (Although that too is changing. More about that later.) 

The Chasidic schools is where the problem mostly lies. Some Chasidic schools offer a decent secular studies curriculum. But some don’t offer any at all. That is the crux of the issue. But that is being obscured by advocacy groups defending the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit - as a matter of their religious rights. Meaning that if a religious school chooses not to offer a secular curriculum at all, it is a right protected by the First Amendment. 

The retort that the public welfare is negatively affected by the lack of educating so many young Chasidim is refuted by advocacy groups defending those schools by claiming their students somehow do better in life than many public school graduates do.  But that is at best a specious argument. While it might be true that they do teach some secular studies  as part of their religious curriculum, in no way does it compare to what is taught in the public schools. That their students may fare better in life than many public schools students do - is more of a cultural issue rather than educational one. 

Generally speaking, many of the graduates of the ‘no seculars studies’ schools utilize every available government financial aid program to supplement incomes. Incomes that suffer because the jobs they end up with are low paying menial jobs. Job opportunities are limited by the education they received. (Or  more precisely - didn’t receive.) It is true that there are many very wealthy Chasidim that did not have the benefit of a secular education. But they are a very small percentage of the whole.

Since this demographic is the fastest growing one in all of Orthodoxy, this problem becomes exponentially greater with each passing generation. Living off the government is not the right way to live and should not be the way forward. While it is true that even with decent incomes, in many cases they would still be legally eligible for government aid because of their large families, that doesn’t excuse not doing their Hishtadlus  by doing what is necessary to  maximize income and minimize government aid. But the opposite is happening. They are denied opportunities for lack of having had a decent secular edication.

This is not something that should be defended as a matter of religious freedom - even if that might be the case (which at best is questionable). By defending it they end up hurting the people they are trying to help. Ironically the people doing that are Orthodox Jews that had the benefit of a decent secular education – having become capable attorneys.  Defending the right to be denied such a path in life does not do them any favors. 

To me it is simple. Living in America in the 21st century requires being educated. Without it, places one at a major disadvantage – whether they realize it or not. 

Making this even sadder is the fact that this mentality is taking hold in much of the non Chasidic world too. As charedi yeshivas that once had great secular studies programs are increasingly dilutng them – and is some cases eliminating them.  For some reason they think this will make their students better Jews. I do not believe this was ever a part of authentic Jewish thought. 

Judaism is not a monastery where the only thing that maters is religious studies. My message to the Yeshiva world is that we cannot function as a society much less be a light unto the nations by doing only one thing: studying Torah. My message to the Chasidic world is that we cannot survive by an overdependence on government stipends. 

The politics of protagonists on this issue muddies the waters. Accusations of nefarious agendas are irrelevant even if they are true. The focus should not be on the messenger, but on the message. Which in my view should be to educate our young in the ways of the Torah. Which has always included having a good grasp of general knowledge. In that vein the new normal demeaning secular studies should should revert to the old normal of valuing them.  

It is with this in mind that I would base my vote for mayor of new York. If I were an Orthodox Jewish parent in New York, I would be voting for the candidate that best understands the truths as I just outlined them. And insist that schools that deny their students a secular curriculum be required to do so or close. Because the current anti secular studies trend denies too many of our young a decent future. And that fighting for the right to remain ignorant does not help anyone.