Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Thank You, Mr. President

The President, Vice-President and 2nd Gentleman
Only in America. How many times have I heard this comment being made in favorable terms! I don’t know if that is literally the case. But when it comes to religious tolerance, I do not think there is any other country like this liberal democracy of ours. 

When it comes to the Jewish people America does not simply sit back and watch it happen. Recognizing that antisemitism is on the rise, this great nation of ours is doing something about it. 

There have indeed been more antisemitic incidents in this country over the last few years than there has been in decades. From both the extremist right and extremist left. 

Some of it violent and deadly. That has been more the province of the kind of white supremacists that motivated one of their members to attack the ‘Tree of Life’ synagogue in Pittsburgh a few years ago killing 11 Jews worshipping there on a Shabbos.

While I do not recall that kind of violence from the extremists on the left, their antisemitism is no less vitriolic. Usually disguised as anti Zionism.  There are two recent examples of that which stand out. One involves CUNY (City University of New York). Their faculty and student body have endorsed BDS and refer to Israel as an Apartheid state. More recently the  following happened: 

New York City’s public law school on Thursday released a video of a commencement ceremony held earlier this month, including a speech the city college system’s Jewish allies decried as discriminatory.

The speaker accused Israel of “indiscriminate” murder, encouraging “lynch mobs” and lauded resistance to “Zionism around the world.”

The City University of New York (CUNY) Law School had hidden the video after coming under criticism for the ceremony. 

I wonder why CUNY hid the video? could it be that they preferred their views not be subject to public scrutiny? In any case, so ouraged were some  public officials that there were calls to defund the school!

And then there is this event that recently occurred in Germany of all places: 

Roger Waters has said he is the subject of a “smear” campaign after being criticised for ”dressing as a Nazi SS officer” on stage in Berlin.

The Pink Floyd musician shocked revellers who were attening his show in Germany earlier this month when he performed while wearing a long black jacket, gloves, and a red armband adorned with hammers, rather than the Nazi swastika.

Waters, who is currently under police investigation due to the matter, has now commented on the controversy, stating on Saturday (27 May): “My recent performance in Berlin has attracted bad faith attacks from those who want to smear and silence me because they disagree with my political views and moral principles.”

Waters’ antisemitism is by now well documented. His vitriol against the Jewish state cannot simply be  about sympathy for the plight of Palestinians on the West Bank. He clearly crossed that line by performing in a Nazi uniform. Protesting fascism?! Who does he think he’s kidding? Jew hatred is in his blood. But I’ll bet that in his misguided sense of justice he probably tells himself that he doesn’t have an antisemitic bone in his body. 

Right. And I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

What is happening at CUNY is unfortunately happening in a lot of other schools, whose liberal interpretation of justice applies only to the Palestinians on the West Bank. Who they see as being mistreated by an occupying force. That these occupiers are Jews is to them incidental and irrelevant. That is what they believe. 

And I have another bridge to sell you. 

Their claim to be seeking  Justice for Palestinians is little more that a thinly disguised attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state - and in effect wipe it off the map.

Which brings me back to what the President of the United States just did. A Democrat that many people on the political right believe is in the clutches of far left progressives like Rashida Tlaib. Yet another antisemite disguised as defending her people

Sadly there are more than a few Orthodox Jews that believe Biden and the Democrats can no longer be trusted to support Israel. 

But they are wrong. Biden reflects the views of many in his own party who supported what he just did. He commissioned a panel -chaired by 2nd Gentleman,  Doug Emhoff to devise a plan that will do exactly that. This they did. In spectacular proportion. They created an unpresidented  sweeping plan that has received  overwhelming approval and appreciation from mainstream Jewish organizations across the board. From the ADL to Agudah.

This may not stop the Roger Walters and Rashida Tlaibs of the world. But it sure does put their antismetic views in proper perspective on both sides of the political aisle. The vast majority of congress and the American people whom they represent will not countenance the Tlaibs and Waters of the world. They do not tolerate any antisemitism in any way shape or form. 

For that I am eternally grateful to the President and the American people. Which makes me proud to be an American. God bless the United States of America.  

Monday, May 29, 2023

Enemies of the Jewish People

Putting up a Mezuzah at the Yeshiva in Homesh (TOI)
The settlers in this photo may look like devout Jews. (Especially if one judges being devout by the length of the Peyos of one of them). But in truth they are  enemies of the Jewish people. Much the same as the extremists on the other side of the religious/political spectrum Neturei Karta. More about these settlers later. 

How I yearn for the day that the Jewish people will once again  inhabit all the land of Israel, as promised by God! A day that will once again see the glory of God restored through the rebuilding of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately we are not there yet. The time for our redemption has not yet come.

Until then we have to play the hand we were dealt. A hand that after 2000 years has returned a great portion of our land to us. Which we have developed both physically and spiritually to a pretty high degree in both instances. Something truly worth celebrating.

There are unfortunately some fervent Jews that are not content with that. They are intent on settling all the land of Israel right now. By hook or by crook. Consequences be damned. Consequences for which they do not even recognize having any responsibility. 

Which in any case they truly believe don’t matter since they believe they are fulfilling the word of God. Despite the fact that the majority of Orthodox religious leaders do not agree. And therefore stridently oppose any activities that incite our Arab enemies. Like restoring Homesh in the middle of a Palestinian enclave on the West Bank (also known by their ancient biblical names, Yehuda and Shomron - Judea and Samaria.) 

My views about settlement activity have been discussed here many times. To repeat, I have no issue with the long established settlements that border on what is known as the ‘Green Line’. A line demarcating pre 67 Israel and the land captured during the six day war over 50 years ago. There is no way that families that have lived there for more than a generation should be uprooted. Even the late founder of the terrorist PLO (now the PA) Yassir Arafat conceded those settlements to Israel as part of a deal that would have established two states. 

What I am opposed to is what I have always been opposed to. Settlements in the West Bank that is heavily populated by Palestinian Arabs. There s little doubt in my mind that these settlements have increased the spilling of Jewish blood. Despite the settlers refusal to take any blame for it. These extremist settlers are Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s people

They say that their activities are not the source of their lethal animosity towards us. This is true. But what is also true is their settlement activities increases the bloodshed, their denial to the contrary notwithstanding.

These is not the slightest doubt in my mind that restoring Homesh is yet another step in the direction of more bloodshed.

No less than the hero of the six day war and the Yom Kippur war, who is also the ‘Father’ of the settler movement and then Prime Minisiter of Israel, the late Ariel Sharon, had the wisdom to see the folly of that movement, changed course, and shut down Homesh almost 20 years ago (in 2005).              

These dangerous zealots now consider Sharon a traitor -who should have never handed over Gaza to the Palestinians. They may have a point. But Gaza should have never been settled by civilians. It should have been a military base from the start and stayed that way. But I digress. 

Are these extremist zealots so deluded that they believe building a Yeshiva there is the will of God at this moment in time?  Or are they trying to prove to the Charedi world how right they are by building a Yeshiva. It’s probably both. But what they are really doing is endangering any students that decide to study there.

I know they have their own Poskim that support what they are doing.  But they are either blind to the dangerous reality or believe  placing young students in harm’s way is worth the price of settling the land. 

I am so sick of these settlers who are so engulfed in their religious fervor over one Mitzvah that they do not understand or don’t care about the consequences. Consequences to themselves, their families, and all of Israel. 

Restoring Homesh also gives antisemites like Representative Rashida Tlaib cover to support BDS and condemn Israel as a brutal occupying force whose ultimate goal is to replace indigenous Palestinians with Jews. She is not wrong with respect to what these extremists want.

And this doesn’t even speak to the reaction of Israel’s allies to the restoration of Homesh who have condemned Israel for allowing it to happen. One of which is the US without whose generosity  Israel would not have had an ‘Iron Dome’ anti missile system that has saved countless lives. Nor would it have its massive defense capabilities. Not the least of which is its fleet of high tech American made aircraft.

I realize that the US needs Israel too. Israel’s intelligence capabilities in places like Iran is invaluable.. But still, antagonizing an ally of such massive importance is never a good idea – even if they value Israel’s contributions to their own defense and security. 

I know the current Israeli Prime Minister is beholden to Ben-Gvir and Smotrich whose party supports the dangerous stupidity of resettling Homesh. 

If the governing coalition breaks up over this, it will be sad day for the Israeli people who will yet again be asked to vote for a new government. But the welfare of the nation ought to come before self interests. A true patriot should be wiling to sacrifice his self interests for the benefit of his people. I’m sorry this hasn’t happened.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Seeking Truth in the Wrong Place

Nissim Black - an Orthodox  Jewish convert (Wikipedia)
First the good news. There has apparently been an uptick in the number of people that want to convert to Judaism. As noted in a JTA story: 
According to a 2021 Tablet survey, 43% of American rabbis are seeing more conversion candidates than before. The reasons for conversion are diverse. Some candidates fell down an internet rabbit hole that led to a passion for Judaism. Others took an ancestry test and wanted to reconnect with their Jewish heritage. Many were raised as Reform Jews but weren’t Jewish according to stricter halachic, or Jewish legal, standards and decided to convert under Conservative or Orthodox auspices. Despite the common stereotype that Jews by choice must be converting for the sake of marriage, many rabbis said that converts are less likely than ever to be converting for a Jewish partner.  
It is always good news to someone like me who believes in the truth of the Torah to see people who are not Jewish come to that conclusion. Here is how one teenager described her journey: 

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I was only ever exposed to Christian theology. Almost everyone around me was a Baptist. Although my parents intentionally raised my brother and me without a focus on religion, I grew up going to Christian preschool, Christian summer camps, and being surrounded by other Christians–just because there weren’t other options. While this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I always knew that Christianity wasn’t right for me. 

At first, the idea of eternal life and an all-knowing God provided comfort, but as I got older I started to feel disconnected from Christianity. Concepts like the Holy Trinity never made sense to me, and by age 12 I thought I had given up on religion entirely. 

I first started looking into Judaism towards the end of 2020. I’m not really sure what led me to this; I just stumbled upon it and found that its emphasis on making the ordinary holy, repairing the world, and the pursuit of knowledge was a perfect fit for my already existing beliefs.  

We want people like this. 

Contrary to popular belief Judaism seeks converts. Three times a day we say the Aleinu prayer which contains the phrase: L’Saken Olam B’Malchus Shadai - to repair the world with the Kingdom of God. We want the world to accept the Truth of the Torah. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch said that one of the reasons God placed us in the diaspora is to convince non Jews of the truth of the Torah and to ultimately convert them.

The reason we did not actively seek converts was in part due to the fact that throughout our history in the diaspora, our host countries were mostly Christian. And they were not too keen on Jews converting their Christian citizens to Judaism. They were in fact kind of nasty to us if we tried. (And by using the word ‘nasty’, I am being kind.) 

We also discouraged potential converts in order to test their resolve and assure that they were not converting for the wrong reasons. And to make sure that they knew how difficult it is to be fully committed to observance. And to make sure they understand the persecution that Jews have had to endure throughout history. 

The teenage converts in the JTA story seem to fit the bill of converting for the right reasons. It is a tragedy that when they finally decide to go through the difficult process of conversion, that they end up doing it in a way that is not recognized by all denominations. Especially by the one group that is by far the most observant. I don’t know how any sincere convert can can feel comfortable  knowing that. they are not fully accepted. as Jews. By way of analogy, imagine a baseball team only being accepted by the National League.

The bad news is that once anyone decide to convert for the right reasons, they do not know where to turn for a proper conversion. While many of them might realize that Reform Judaism does not represent their newfound  religious ideals, they may look to Conservative Judaism in the belief that they represent centrist  Jewish ideals without realizing that their denomination is not recognized as legitimate by Orthodoxy. And therefore neither are their conversions - no matter how similar their conversion process is to Orthodox conversions. 

The JTA article suggests that all of the very sincere teenagers discussed therein did not have a Halachic conversions by any Orthodox standard. And if they are female converts their children will not be Jewish although that is what they are led to believe by the heterodox rabbis that converted them.

I don’t know if there is an Orthodox organization that seeks out sincere teens who have rejected their secular or Christian upbringing and in seeking truth, find it in Judaism.  But I think there should be. There has to be a way to reach out to ideological teenagers like this. They need to be shown what authentic Judaism is really all about and convinced to convert in ways that are acceptable to all denominations. And the only denomination that comes close to that is Orthodoxy.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Shavuos - An Encounter with Holiness*

R' Mayer Twersky (YU Torah online)
We are about to celebrate the anniversary of an event that changed the world. An event that took place thousands of years ago that is as relevant now as it was then.. I am of course talking about the holiday of Shavuos. Which is the day that God gave us the Torah.

I have to admit that - in my  attempt to rectify what I believe have been some bad decisions in the Charedi world where Torah study is the primary focus, I have been remiss in not emphasizing the importance of Torah study itself. What better time to do that than on Erev Shavuos. It is after all customary for many of us to stay up all night on Shavuos and study Torah.

Aside from the obvious reason for Torah study - which is to know how to follow God's laws, there is an intrinsic value to Torah study that goes beyond getting that all important knowledge. There is a concept known as Torah L’Shma – studying Torah for its own sake. Torah L’Shma is the motivation instilled in every Yeshiva student.  It is why such subjects as the laws of sacrifices to God that are no longer relevant today are studied. There is, however, another aspect of Torah study that might be even be more important. 

God told Moshe to tell His people to sanctify themselves today and tomorrow - and on the 3rd day He will descend on Sinai before the eyes of all the people. (Shemos 19:10-11). The sages tell us that this meant we had to abstain from sexual relations for 48 hours and then immerse ourselves in a Mikvah. That’s because an encounter with God is the highest from of Kedusha man is capable of.

Since the acceptance of the Torah was such a unique, world changing event, the degree of preparation was to be unique as well. God’s descending on Sinai on that day was indeed a manifestation of His ultimate Kedusha - holiness via the Torah itself. The Gemara in Brachos  (22a) tells us, ‘just as we stood before Sinai with awe, fear, trepidation, and trembling, so too must we study Torah with awe, fear, trepidation, and trembling.’ 

Obviously in our day it is neither required nor recommended that we abstain from relations for 48 hours and immerse in a Mikvah before we study Torah. It would be ‘too onerous’. Nonetheless, preparation is warranted before our encounter with the Kedusha of Torah study. 

How do we do that in our day? 

In his masterwork, Nefesh HaChaim (which deals with complex understandings of the nature of God, and the importance of prayer and Torah) Rav Chaim Volozhiner recommends that one reflect upon the endeavor for a few moments before we begin. These few moments will ensure the appropriate awe. Without doing that, we cannot fully absorb the Kedusha of what we are about to do. 

Good Yom Tov. 

*Adapted from Rav Mayer Twersky (Insights and Attitudes)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Nature of the Left/Right Divide

Senator Tim Scott - a social conservative (Wiki)
Rights versus obligations. What does one do when there is a conflict? As is often the case it depends on who you ask.

If you believe in God and that He has a plan for mankind as expressed in the bible, then obligations must trump rights. If on the other hand one does not believe in God or that the bible expresses His will, then of course rights take precedence. Obligations based on faith are at best not clearly understood or may not even exist to someone who is an agnostic or an atheist

But if you are like me and believe that the bible expresses the actual word of God, then its obligations are very real and must be followed. Always trumping individual rights. 

Judaism is in fact a religion of obligations. It is not a rights based democracy. Although Judaism does recognize democratic values and rights in many areas, it is mostly in the realm of human interactions such as financial rights or property ownership. Obligations to God always win over personal rights. There is no such thing as a right to have gay sex, physically change one’s sex, or cross dress just because it doesn’t hurt anyone else 

This more or less defines the basic dispute between the right (social conservatives) and the left (social liberals). These two opposing ideologies are best reflected in what I believe is the most important social issue of our day the LGBTQ+ community.

If you are a religious person who believes that certain obligations are Divine, you will always choose obligation to God over your rights or anyone else’s. If you are not a religious person and do not see the obligations of the bible to be the actual word of God, you will pick rights over obligation. Adding that faith traditions vary. Just because my faith tells me that God wants X doesn’t mean someone else’s does. Thus individual rights must be the defining factor in determining what is fair and just. Because we cannot know for sure what God wants anyway - since there are so many different religions telling us what our obligations to God are (if one even believes in God in the first place).

But in a nation founded by Christians whose motto is ‘In God we trust’, I think it is safe to say, that the bible is where God is found and from which the founding fathers drew their founding principles. 

This is why the right opposes legislation that forces us to accept LGBTQ+ lifestyles as normal. The left would say that everyone has the right to live the way they choose as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. The left and the right defines morality differently. 

The right sees those obligations set in stone. Violating them is a violation of God’s will. They will dare not defy the will of God by normalizing behavior they believe violates God’s laws. And will certainly oppose any legislation that tries to do that.

The left will ague that rights are a universal good that applies to all human beings. And therefore should always be chosen over obligations when they conflict - since mankind is divided over what those obligations are. What about God? ‘Who knows what God really wants’, might be their reply since they do not view the words of the bible as the final word of God, if they even believe in God! They see such legislation as a violation of human rights and an outrageous and unjust treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. A community that only wants to be treated like everyone else.

Therein lies the conundrum. At the end of the day this is an ideological war between the right and the left. A war that has become extremely polarizing. Is America going to be a Godly society... or a humanistic society? That is the question. Should the bible is trashed because some of its obligations are seen as unjust in our more enlightened times?

If you listen to the left, that is exactly what they want. 

As someone that believes that the word of God as expressed in the bible is the ultimate truth – I obviously do not think anything in the bible should be trashed. Certainly not where the beliefs Judaism and Christianity coincide based on a shared bible. (Our Torah and their old testament) Beliefs which are shared by Islam too even though Christianity and Judaism do not share a bible with them.                      

What about atheists? Don’t they have rights too in a democracy like ours? Of course they do. But no one is forcing them to believe in God. Sure they see human rights trumping what they believe are non existent obligations. But until such time they become the majority they will have to live in a country where the vast majority are not atheists.  

The sad reality is that culturally - the left is winning. Choosing rights over obligations every time.  Which is why I support efforts by the right to counter the trend of normalizing lifestyles that are conducive to countering obligations to God.

All that being said, I want to be clear, I actually sympathize with the struggles of LGBTQ+ people. Depression and suicide is much higher in their community than it is in the general population. I also realize that their sexual orientation and sense of which gender they are is a situation not of their own making. So treating them with anything other than with the dignity that all human beings made in the image of God deserve is just as much of a Godly obligation for us as is their not acting in the prohibited ways their sexuality might lead them. 

Disparaging or ridiculing LGBTQ+ people is not an option. No human being deserves to be treated that way. That is just plain evil. The Gemara is very clear. Embarrassing anyone in public is tantamount to murder. One must separate our obligation in how to treat forbidden behavior from our obligation to treat LGBTQ+ people as human beings worthy of respect and dignity.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Who Does He Think He's Fooling?

UTJ head, MK Moshe Gafni (VIN)
You would think that MK Moshe Gafni (who is head of the Charedi political party, UTJ) was a bit more intelligent than his recent rant indicated. But I guess the irony of his words supporting his critics instead of his own constituency escapes him. VIN reports the following: 

In a fiery speech responding to the growing incitement against chareidim in Israel, UTJ leader Moshe Gafni spoke about his brother, who fought in the first Lebanon war and about his granddaughter who received inferior budgets for her education in comparison with secular students…

“My brother, who is even more chareidi than me, was in the Peace for Galilee operation. He was at the fight in Sultan Yaakub [June 1982 tank battle], in mortal danger. We were sure that, heaven forfend, he had been killed in that battle. He volunteered- he’s chareidi, if you saw him you would say: parasite, go to the army… 

Gafni added that “I have a granddaughter, she works, got married and had a son, my first great-grandson. She’s a young woman, working in hi-tech, makes good money, contributes to the economy together with her chareidi friends who studied with her in Wolf seminar in Bnei Brak… 

She learned all of the disciplines, whatever was needed for her profession. Unfortunately her school was poorly funded. Every time there are different excuses, they learn all the core curriculum, she’s working in hi-tech but people are sitting here and saying she doesn’t deserve [to be funded]. 

The fact that Gafni’s even more Charedi’ brother volunteered to join the IDF and serve in dangerous combat missions merely highlights the fact that he is the exception that proves the rule. A rule that is as clear as the sun. 

Charedim are 100% opposed to serving in the military. Even in areas that do not include dangerous assignments. They insist that all Yeshiva students be completely exempt. They see the IDF as a danger to their spirituality that will negatively impact their religious values and level of observance.  Not the least of which are all the negative sexual situations and promiscuity that exist between male and female recruits.  The idea of Charedi soldiers participating with a female soldier in in any kind of military operation is  prescription for violating sinful sexual behavior. All of those influences increase their chances of going OTD. 

But even if they were guaranteed serving in all Charedi units designed to respect their religious stringencies they are still opposed. They believe that Torah study is mandated for every male. As a practical matter military service would cut that obligation short. Short changing their obligation to study Torah full time for as long as possible. They also consider secular Zionism (even religious Zionism) as anathema to the Torah.

That Gafni’s brother volunteered for dangerous army service says more about his brother personally than it does about the Charedi Hashkafa which is the diametric opposite of what his brother did. 

That his Charedi granddaughter joined the workforce in a highly technical field requiring a lot of training says nothing about the lack of training Charedi men get. It might surprise Gafni to know that his granddaughter is a woman.  Charedi women actually do get an education in core secular subjects. Making his granddaughter more prepared for the type of technical courses she needed to get the job she has. 

I have no problem with schools specifically designed to  help Charedim get the training they need for the kind of jobs his granddaughter got. But that Charedi men have no education whatsoever beyond 8th grade makes catching  to their female counterparts a lot harder. Not all men are able to catch up.  Add to that the fact that it is Charedi women that now support their families makes it no surprise that his grand daughter has a great job.

It would not surprise me that there are more Charedi women the workforce than there are Charedi men.. The fact that women get a better education probably also means that Charedi women probably have better paying jobs thant Charedi men.

Who does Gafni think he’s fooling with this rather stupid outburst?! He has convinced no one with his defense of Charedim getting a all that money. I assume he is referring to the over billion dollars their schools are getting. But those schools have nothing to do with his granddaughter education. 

Additionally, the complaints by non Charedim that Charedim do not serve in the military are legitimate. Despite his protestations to the contrary. Protestations that his feeble defense did nothing to advance.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Funding ‘No Limudei Chol’ Schools

Belzer Rebbe, -Yissachar Dov Rokeach
A billion dollars is a shocking amount of money. Even for a government. Especially for a government of a relatively small size like Israel.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin has registered his protest against the current Israeli government’s  allocation of over a billion dollars in financial aid to the Charedi schools. No strings attached.

His point is that this aid hurts them more than it helps them. I actually agree with him about that. That aid cripples their ability to provide an adequate income for their families and be more contributing to the country that protects and defends them. As Rabbi Slifkin noted: 

…when you consider how one-third of first-graders are charedi, it becomes clear that the very low rate of professional employment in the charedi world does not only harm them, but also threatens the entire national economy and the country’s very survival.

The amount of harm that the charedi mass-poverty system causes both to themselves and can bring upon the country is incalculable. And it’s something that the previous government was about to start solving… 

The previous government offered to give the Charedi schools a lot of money too. But only in exchange for teaching the basics of a core curriculum that would enable more of them to have a better shot at earning a living. Which one Charedi faction accepted:

This became known as the “Belz arrangement,” because Belzer chassidus agreed to it. It would have been absolutely revolutionary in helping charedim out of the poverty cycle and towards contributing to the national economy instead of draining it

My criticism of the ‘No Limudei Chol’ curriculum in Charedi schools is well known.  Like a few other issues that are near and dear to my heart, I have discussed this issue to death. And as recently noted the lack of a Limudei Chol curriculum in the Charedi schools in Israel is a far bigger problem than in the US - where it is primarily limited to a few of the more extreme (but very large) Chasidic sects like Satmar. In Israel it is almost every school in every segment of the Charedi world, From Chasidic schools to Lithuanian type Yeshivos. With the notable exception of a minuscule number that do offer Limudei Chol. Charedi high schools offer zero secular studies!  Hence, Rabbi Slifkin’s lament. A lament that I share.

How ironic it is that the one segment that had agreed to change their  ‘No Limudei Chol’  paradigm into a dual religious and secular curriculum was the rather large Chasidus of Belz. They decided that it was worth the ‘price’ of offering core secular subject in order to get the government funding they so desperately need. Funding that all other schools get. I’m not so sure they are all that unhappy with this new paradigm.  It will surely open up more options of employment for their Chasidim. 

This is not to say that these ‘No Limudei Chol’ schools shouldn’t get any aid. But it should be limited to health and poverty issues. I do not want anyone to get sick or starve just because they are stuck in a system not of their own making. But in no way should there be any funding of their ‘Limudei Kodesh only’ curriculum. They should not be punished for the ‘sins of their  fathers’. Who have indoctrinated them to believe that God prefers religious studies and nothing else. 

What about the the following point made by Rabbi Slifkin: 

Chazal (the sages of Talmudic times) were very clear about the problems of relying on communal support and the obligation upon parents to ensure that their children will be able to support themselves. 

How do they explain this and other references to support oneself such as Ein Kemach, Ein Torah - without sustenance - there can be no Torah? 

They explain it all away by saying times are different now since there is so much more material to study. They are encouraged to live a more austere lifestyle. Sustenance should be achieved in other ways. Primarily by working wives, parental support, maxing out credit cards, free loan societies (Gemachs) and not the lest of which - government aid.

Living a more austere lifestyle may sound like a truly altruistic sacrifice for the sake of Torah. But forcing your children to live that way can backfire and cause them to abandon the Torah. Blaming it as the reason for their poverty. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. I realize of course that many – perhaps even most Charedim end up in the workforce at some point anyway. and often they do make ends meeat eventually. But without the preparation that a decent Limudei Chol curriculum would have given them their ability to find good jobs is severely hampered. Thereby depriving  themselves of the opportunity to give their children a better life. Which would reduce by at least one factor that leads young Charedim astray.

That being said, unlike Rabbi Slifkin, I do not wish for this government to collapse. I don’t know what kind of government will replace it. I prefer that they instead reconsider their ‘No strings attached’ policy and attach the one string that will serve all Israleis. The same string accepted by Belz in the last government. Which is that full funding will depend on whether a school teaches  core secular subjectsin addition to religious subjects. That will help both the Charedi community and the rest oif Israel. Without that government allocations should be limited to the health and poverty concerns of the students.

If the Netanyahu government does not give into Charedi (and extremist religious Zionist) demands, does that mean they will become toast very quickly? I’m not so sure about that. They have to know that carrying out their threats to bring down the government will result in their losing everything - if the polls are even remotely accurate,. Are they that stupid?

My guess is that they are not. As things stand now those are empty threats. (Either that or they are that stupid!) In my view the Netanyahu government should have the courage to do the right thing and not accede to every demand made by their coalition partners. Because by doing so, they will do great damage to the Jewish people in a multiplicity of ways. Some of which are too scary to even think about. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Stupidity of Showing the Arabs 'Who's Boss'

Itamar Ben-Gvir on Har HaBayis (VIN)
I do not wish yet another election upon the Israeli people. First because – as an Orthodox Jew, I’m not sure I would be happy with the results. And second I’m pretty sure that Israel’s electorate is sick and tired of going to the polls so frequently with little if any chance of forming a stable government. Of late, the ‘shelf life’ of an Israel’s prime minister is pretty short. Not long enough to govern effectively.

That said, the current government is infected by a serious malaise that seems to be descending into madness. While I support  the current government agenda to reform the judiciary, I do not support the extremes their current bill wants to implement. Hopefully a compromise will eventually be worked out that will allow balance of power between Knesset (Israel’s legislature) and the judiciary rather than power going from one extreme to the other.

The  serious malaise I am talking about is not about the unprecedented power the Charedi parties now have. While I understand why a lot of voters are upset by that, I do not see it as an existential threat for the following reasons. 

I truly believe that a compromise can be reached between Charedim on the one hand, and the rest of Israel on the other. A compromise that will make the country a lot stronger both politically and religiously. If only the politicians would get out of the way, I think common sense compromises on issues such as compulsory army service,  government support for Charedi education, and Charedi participation on the work force can be worked out. Other than to say that religious coercion ought to be rejected, the details of a compromise are beyond the scope of this post. I will leave it to people of goodwill on both sides to work out the details.

The malaise I am taking about are the people in the ruling coalition whose insistence on ‘showing the Arabs who’s boss’ will bring untold tragedies to the those of our people that live in the holy land.

I am increasingly disgusted by Jews whose religious fervor impels them to  ‘spit in the face’ of Arabs.. This is one of the things that Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is good at. 

As is his habit, he went up to Har HaBayis (the Temple Mount) not so much to Daven there (which he did on his cell phone) but to demonstrate who really owns Israel. All of it including the West Bank and especially Har HaBayis! As noted in a headline at VIN: 

Ben-Gvir Visits Temple Mount: ‘We Are The Owners Of Jerusalem And Israel

Ben-Gvir accomplished nothing with that little stunt. One that he is fond of repeating as often as possible. He relishes garnering more attention with his increased notoriety. 

Here’s the thing. There is not an Orthodox Jew in the world that doesn’t know that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jewish people. It was God’s gift to us. A gift promised to all 3 patriarchs. Anyone that has studied the bible knows this. It is not a secret. And although the Arabs (who are mostly Muslim) do not share that belief, they know quite well that the two major faiths of Judaism and Christianity believe it. We do not have to keep shoving it down their throats, Especially when devout Muslims have had defacto control over the Temple Mount, given to them by the Israeli government when they re-captured it in 1967.

No one gains a  thing by Ben-Gvir’s stupid insistence on showing the Arabs who’s boss. What he does gain is Arab incitement, that often sparks violence where Jews are hurt or even killed! He gains giving ammunition to BDS supporters. He gains the condemnation of the world for violating agreements made by Israel 55 years ago! He gains the animosity of an American president and his state department. An animosity that –  if Ben-Gvir continues along his present path could hurt Israel’s relationship with its closest ally.  These actions have already rattled support by congressional Democrats. 

I realize that a lot religious Zionist Israelis support Ben-Gvir and actually cheer him on. Not caring a whit about what anyone else thinks. ‘It’s our country and were are going to do what we want!’ ‘Including exercising our religious rights to pray on the Temple mount.’ Countering claims of inciting Arab violence by say things like ’they attack us anyway – so why not exercise those rights?!

I also know that many (most?) religious Zionist Poskim approve – perhaps even encourage going up to the Temple Mount in areas that they are certain there would not be a violation of the biblical prohibition against a ritually impure person treading on holy Temple ground. A very serious violation of Torah law. 

But on this issue I agree with the  Charedi rabbinic leaders who all say that no one should go up there. Fist because they may cross that line inadvertently. And more importantly because of Arab incitement which increases danger to the Jewish people.

Like I indicated at the outset, I am loathe to see yet anther election foisted upon the Israeli people, But with people like Ben-Gvir having so much power and influence, it sure is tempting.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Even Though They're Right...

Rav Gershon Edelstein 
I don’t know if it was the right call. But I get why they did it. A ‘grass roots’ Charedi boycott of Angel’s Bakery, perhaps Israel’s largest bakery took place in Israel last week. A bakery that has the Hechsher of the Eida HaCharedis. It sprung out of what seems like nowhere. and spread like wildfire. 

I say grass roots because not a single Charedi rabbinic leader or politician called for one. And certainly not Rav Gershon Edlestein, the 99 year old Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh who is at the center of the protest. Rav Edelstein is considered one of the Gedolei HaDor if not THE Gadol HaDor by the Charedi world.

The boycott was the spontaneous reaction by Charedim in Bnei Brak where the protest took place in front of Rav Edlstein’s home. The purpose was to a protest the automatic exemption of Charedi students from army service. It was attended by former Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, currently the Chairman of Angel’s board of directors. Hence, the boycott.

While Rav Edelstein surely supports. those exemptions, I do not agree that a mob of protestors should be out in what might be perceived  as threatening by a 99 year old gentle and kindly Rosh Yeshiva  - who does not have a mean bone in his body!.

I understand why the protestors are upset. It is the same reason that I am upset by it. Is their blood not as red as Charedi blood? The protestors (correctly in my view) believe that their lives are subjected to mortal danger in combat whereas Yeshiva students sit in their study halls without needing to worry about  ‘mundane’ things like being killed protecting their people.

Now it’s true that many, perhaps even most most army inductees do not participate in combat. And I’m equally convinced that the country does not need them to fill combat roles. Or even all the ancillary services that army requires. But that does not remove the possibility that a an inductee will serve in battle if he is qualified to do so, That Charedim never have to worry about that is indeed unfair. No matter how you slice it.

Charedim often counter that Torah  study is just as protective of Israel’s populace as fighting in a battle. If not more so.  That does not make a grieving mother who lost her son in battle feel any better. Making this attitude even more problamatic is the lack of appreciation to the those young Israeli soldiers that do put their lives on the line in battles so that these Yeshiva students can sit and learn without fear of being attacked.

I keep hearing from Charedi circles that they do appreciate it. And have expressed it publicly. Although I haven’t heard it myself. I will take their word for it. But in truth the real way they could express gratitude would be to say the ‘Prayer for the safety of the soldiers’ written by the Chief Rabbinate at the founding of the country. They do not. And they will not as a matter of principle. 

The principle being that by doing so they will recognize the validity of a secular Zionist state. Which in their view is considered an abomination. Their consider their refusal to say a prayer written by even a religious Zionist rabbi a religious imperative. In my view that is at best ridiculous.  And  worse it places religious politics over the lives of fellow Jews serving in the army. Many of whom are observant. (Not that makes any difference.)      

None of this is  new. I have discussed this subject many times. But in spite of my own views on this subject, protesting a 99 year old frail Rosh Yeshiva about an issue not of his pwn making that has been the case for over seven decades is both counterproductive and an unbelievable Chutzpah.  And an understandable affront to the community he serves. So I completely understand the boycott. And although I love Angel’s bakery products, I might have even joined that boycott had I been there.  

On a somewhat related note, the current controversy raging in Israel has generated some pretty mean caricatures of Charedim. That is just as wrong as when extremist Charedim did the same thing to Charedim that  joined the IDF. In both cases these images would have made Hitler’s chief Nazi propagandist, Josef Goebbels proud. That is sick and ought to stop. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Sexualization of Women in The Charedi World

What an insult! ...this image  is to Judaism (TOI)
I know I’ve discussed this issue to death.  I was in fact reluctant to bring it up again this time. But I can’t help it.   A Timesof Israel article on the subject just stirred up my anger all over again:

The Bnei Brak branch of a major pharmacy chain has been concealing the faces of women on the store’s products to comply with extreme ultra-Orthodox modesty customs widely decried as discriminatory, marking the latest instance of women being erased from Haredi public life…

(They attempted to) cater to the demands of Israel’s large and growing ultra-Orthodox population, where public displays deemed immodest or outside rabbinical approval are shunned and can lead to vandalism or organized boycotts. Photos of women, including young girls and even babies, are generally kept out of newspapers or magazines, advertisements, product branding, or any other printed material aimed at the ultra-Orthodox community.

This has generated a counter protest calling for a boycott of this pharmacy chain’s products.

I am sickened by this new ‘morality’. The idea of covering up the face of a woman as a moral constraint does not exist in Halacha. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Gemara or the Shulchan Aruch. Which means that a woman’s face is not considered a source of erotic thought (better known as ‘Hirhurim’ in Halachic literature) .

Halacha does require men to refrain from looking at erotica (pornography) because it can lead to sinful behavior. But the face of a woman is never mentioned as a pornographic image. The wives of some of the most respected Charedi Gedolim of this and the last century never covered there faces. Nor did they or their husbands object to photographs of their wives being published.

A recent example of this is ArtScroll who famously published a biography with pictures of Rebbetzin Bat Sheva Kanievsky, the daughter of R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and wife of R’ Chaim Kanievsky (both of whom were considered among the greatest Rabbis of their time!) ArtScroll’s publishers made sure that R’ Chaim would have no objection to publishing his late wife’s picture before they went ahead with her bio. Clearly, R’ Chaim would never have permitted that if he thought there was the remotest chance that pictures of his late wife being might be considered pornographic to anyone!

Unfortunately normal attitudes about what is considered pornographic these days has ‘left the building’. Extremism has taken its place and is catching on big time in places like Bnei Brak.

I have to blame the the extremist segments of Chasidic world for this. Their sense of what is pornographic is reflected in Charedi publications that refuse to publish any pictures of women. 

I’m sure they know the Halachic approach as reflected by R’ Kanievsky’s abovementioned permit to ArtScroll. But their ‘Poskim’ forbid it as a matter of Halacha. I have to assume that their Poskim are Chasidic. Or that they want to increase their circulation numbers by catering to Chasidic readers who they believe would mostly boycott any publications that included pictures of women.

I have no clue why Chasidim believe that a woman’s face will result in erotic thoughts.  Don’t know where they got that from. Perhaps they feel that it is part of the mission of a Chasid – described in the Gemara as someone whose piety was well beyond the typical observant Jew. They see that piety expressed in matters of sexual morality.  

Or perhaps they looked to our Arab cousins – most of whom are devout Muslims and decided that the Jewish people will not be outdone by Islam  Islam apparently does consider a woman’s face to be a source of erotic thought. Which is why the more devout Muslim women will not go out in public without fully covering their face..

Or perhaps it is the most extreme interpretation of a Gemara in Brachos (24a) which says that anyone who looks at a woman’s little finger is considered as if he looked at her genitalia!

Obviously this comment cannot be taken literally. The Gemara is referring to when it is purposely looked at  with erotic thoughts. The point of the Gemara is to avoid doing anything with erotic thoughts as a motive. Not that a woman’s baby finger is in an of itself erotic anymore than her face is. 

And yet that is apparently exactly what the extremists of the Chasidic world are saying. They are in essence sexualizing anything remotely to do with a woman. Even her name as indicated by blacking out woman’s names on billboards and posters in Bnei Brak a while back! Bnei Brak has a huge Chasidic population. Some of which have been known to take these matters into their own hands.  

That is sick! 

Extending what is considered a pornograhy to the point of absurdity is now the order of the day. And no Charedi rabbinic leader seems to have the courage to challenge that. They are at best looking the other way. Or worse jumping on board lest they be accused supporting immorality.  

What they do not seem to understand is that going too far in that direction may actually be the cause of more immorality. Not less. The sex drive is very powerful. The more things are banned, the more the  these sex starved men find other ways to satisfy it. Real pornographic material is as easy to access these days as an ice cream cone. Thus undermining the very intent of those bans. 

I don’t know why Charedi Rabbinic leaders don’t recognize this. Why can’t they look to the Gedolim of the recent past as their role models? That they do not will surely lead us down the rabbit hole of  depravity. Where women will be imprisoned in their own homes for fear of being looked at even if they are wearing burkas. Is this how we are supposed to live?!