Friday, April 17, 2015

Time to Remove the Evil from our Midst

Screenshot of the YWN video
Comment 1: How would anyone feel if one of their’s became a turncoat and joined the other side? During a time of war or shmad, when the enemies of the Torah are trying to force you to join them you must resist.
Comment 2: I am a jewish charedi yeshivish woman and all I can say is that I’m absolutely disgusted. If you don’t want to join the army then get a petur and don’t join how dare you call someone a nazi for being in the army. Where are these chuldrens mothers and fathers. I hope they are very ashamed of the chilul Hashem they made. There children have no middos at all. Have you ever taught your children who nazis are???? If you wanna call an boy in the idf and nazi then you should not live in Israel and be protected by them day and night. In fact they should be receiving so much respect from all of yisroel. 
These 2 comments were made in reference to a YWN video (below) showing yet another disgusting display of human behavior by extremists in the Charedi world. They represent the polarization taking place within the Charedi world itself.

The video shows a Charedi soldier walking through a neighborhood in Ramat Bet Shemesh B and being treated like a Nazi. Ramat Bet Shemesh B is populated by what can only be called extremist Charedim. And their extremist behavior is not getting any better. 

Most extremist Charedim are Jews that live in virtual isolation from the rest of civilization. To the extent that they have any contact at all with the outside world is to the extent that they need them. For example if they need a doctor, they will see one. (They cannot produce their own doctors.) But they will never have any social interaction with them. For fear of being influenced by their values.

This community has absolutely no clue how to interact socially with anyone outside of their world. They consider non Jews to automatically be Jew haters. They consider the Israeli government and their police force to be the equivalent of Nazis. They consider non religious Jews to be hopelessly anti Charedi. And even other religious Jews don’t fare much better in their eyes – if they are in the slightest way Zionistic.

They therefore have no problem committing what most people would consider a public Chilul HaShem. Like spittng on reporters covering public demonstrations.  Or calling  a little girl a whore if she does not dress by their extremist standards of modesty. And many other types of such behavior

These people are a world apart. They are Porshim  Min HaTzibur – separating themselves from the rest of world Jewry or even the rest of religious Jewry.  Increasingly the moderate Charedi world is beginning to see them that way too. Which I believe to be the vast majority of Charedim.

It used to be the case that these people were looked at with a certain degree of admiration by the Charedi moderates. I believe that is no longer the case. After so many events like this, moderate Charedim are beginning to see them for who they really are. Although there are still some Charedim that support what they did. Or at least understand and have sympathy for them – as the first comment above shows.

The fruit of such extremes produces behavior that is so bad that in my view it makes their piety worthless. I have seen them this way for some time. And now the moderate Charedi world seems to be coming around to the same view. That is reflected by the reaction of the second comment above to what they witnessed in that video.  

The truth is that I pity these extremists. In my view they are in the category of Tinokos SheNishba. When a Jewish child is captured by non Jewish thugs and raised by them – they are not aware of the Torah and Halacha. They therefore cannot be blamed if they are not religious. These extremists were raised the same way in terms of how to interact with the rest of the world. It’s not their fault.

Nonetheless as R’ Chaim Soloveichik said to someone who tried to judge favorably - an Apikores (heretic) that was raised that way:  Nebech an Apikores is still an Apikores’. You can feel sorry for them.  But it dosen’t change who they are.  They are a group of Jews that believe they are the epitome of a Torah Jew when in fact they are the exact opposite of that. They are better role models for the Taliban than they are for Jews. Nebech.

Most people know that I am not a fan of the extreme religious left. I have strongly criticized some of their innovations and believe they have crossed some theological lines. When Agudah Moetzes leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow spoke out harshly against them at an Agudah convention a while back, I supported him and agreed with what he said. I took my lumps from a lot of my friends on the left. But I have yet to hear that kind of condemnation of the extreme right from the Charedi religious leaders. If there is any at all, it is usually accompanied with apologetics… and words like ‘Yes, they were wrong but you have to understand where they are coming from’.

I don’t understand how they can only see the extreme left in such harsh terms and yet never the extreme right.  They should be every bit as determined to expel the extreme right as they are the extreme left! Not only that but when it suits their purposed they cater to their every Chumra so that they will join together in a project. Like that internet gathering a few years ago. They wanted that type of Chasid to join them in order to be united of purpose. So they gave in to their every demand. Which ended up with an event that condemned Internet use well beyond what they intended. Something they had to fix with subsequent smaller meetings.

If the extreme left has gone off the reservation to the point of expulsion, so too has the extreme right. It is more than time to speak in the same harsh terms about them.

There may be little that anyone can do about changing the behavior of these extremists. But there is one thing we can do. And that is to excise them from Orthodoxy once and for all - and have nothing to do with them! Their behavior is as un-Jewish as the extreme left. It’s time to call a spade a spade and to stop looking at their externals as though that was the Ikkar (primary expression of Judaism). It is at best the Tafel (of secondary importance). Once that happens religious Jews can hopefully once again be seen as role models for the rest of the world instead of being seen like primitive savages.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rising from Divorce

---------------------------------paid advertisement------------------------------

OHEL’S New Groundbreaking Rising from Divorce Video Is a Community-Wide Call to Action 

Dr Hindie Klein, OHEL Director of Clinical Projects

Though ubiquitous for centuries, divorce today has increased significantly in the Orthodox community. In today’s times, almost everyone knows someone affected by divorce.

Given this new reality, OHEL believes there is an important need to better educate the wider community about the impact of divorce, and the specific roles that the wider community, Rabbis, community leaders, and educators can play to help ensure that both parents of divorce, and children of divorce can thrive.

Promoting Community Awareness

It is this belief that drew OHEL to make the groundbreaking new video, “Rising from Divorce” a film for all members of the community.

OHEL believed that a video could powerfully address the issue of divorce and its effects on divorced parents and children from a variety of perspectives: parents, professionals, educators, Rabbis, community leaders, and adult children of divorce.  We believed that it would resonate and be meaningful for everyone and very importantly, serve as a “Community Call to Action.”

What Question Did We Want To Address? 

Our focus was the “day after” after divorce. This would not be a video that addressed why couples get divorced.  Rather, we were interested in hearing about what it was like after the divorce.  What happens to the children and parents post-divorce?  How are parents treated—by their ex-spouses, by family, friends, children’s teachers, and the neighbor next door?  How are the children treated—by their parents, extended family, neighborhood or school friends, or teachers? We also wanted this to be a piece that would address not only what is happening, but also what should be happening; a video that would provide insight, help and practical guidance.

Who Should See This Video?

As more and more individuals and children are affected by divorce, the question arises as to the community’s role and responsibility to divorced parents and children in need. Rabbis, Educators, Community Leaders and the community at large are being faced with the challenging task of how best to sensitively respond to those affected by divorce.   What responsibility do we have to our future generation? 

The answer is in US—in all of us.

Everyone has a responsibility to reach out, guide, support and help parents and children of divorce. 

Brooklyn Screening and Panel Discussion Sunday April 19th

OHEL is launching the new video in screenings in Brooklyn, New York, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Long Island. The screenings will be accompanied by panel discussions including local Rabbis, clinicians and educators.

The Brooklyn screening is taking place this Sunday April 19th at The Young Israel of Midwood at 7pm. The screening of the 35 minute film will be accompanied by Divrei Brocha from Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Morah D'Asra of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin as well as words from Rabbi Eli Mansour, Rabbi of Bet Yaakob, who will be joining the panel discussion.

They say it takes a village.  Indeed, this is our mission: to engage ALL members of our community as comrades in arms, advocating for the welfare of our families. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund

The Segulah Pushka - Not needed here!
As someone that cares deeply about the welfare of Klal Yisroel and believes that one has to be Chas Al Mamon Yisroel (care about the money of my people) I have decided to offer my lucky readers the Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund.

Yes friends if you are in the market for a Shidduch, a cure for a deadly disease, salvation from the Lord, not working and need a real job, or are simply seeking Nachos from your wayward children - you have come to the right place.

For the small price of a dollar-a-day your problems will be solved. The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund is now open for business. All you have to do is deposit a dollar-a-day for a 30 day period into my PayPal account (located in the upper right margin)… and all your dreams will come true.

This Segula is a proven method of help in the merit of R’ Chaim Yankel Wallowitz of Pidbish, the great, great, great grandfather of my paternal grandmother, Shprintza. Chaim Yankel was known to his followers as the Segula King. When you went to him for a Bracha, he was sure to give you one. I know this for a fact. As his descendant, I too have been granted this ability and I will give you a Bracha for the low, low price of a dollar-a-day. (Must be consecutive days totaling 30).

It is a simple and economical undertaking. Here’s how it works: Deposit one dollar-a-day into my PayPal account for the sick of Klal Yisroel and recite the phrases of Yeshaya in Nach: chapter one: phrases 13 through 16.

The miracles to those in need who have done this Segulah in the past, have been witnessed by thousands of Jews worldwide!

In today’s critical era when everyone is so desperate for Refuahs and Yeshuos of all kinds,  Emes Ve-Emunah has integrated the aforementioned $1―30 day Segulah into its website as a source of Yeshuos to all in need.

We have designated our popular PayPal account in lieu of a “Segulah Pushka” specifically for this purpose greasing your path to salvation.  PayPal accepts all credit cards. Deposit your dollar-a-day for 30 days and watch it work wonders!

In fairness I should note that this project is not original with me. I saw it first at YWN . They are featuring a Segulah of their own but at twice the price ( $2 a day for 30 days). And they require you to go to the trouble of ordering a Pushka, no less! True - they had the idea first. But it’s a good one so I went with it. Although I’m sure that their Segulah is just as worthy as mine – mine’s cheaper. It’s half the price! Why spend more?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

America’s First Female President?

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Will Hillary Clinton be the next President of the United States? I think there is a very good chance of that. But it is not a certainty by a long shot. To no one’s surprise she announced her candidacy a few days ago. Here are my quick thoughts on the matter.

One must look at the candidate as a whole when making up one’s mind one who to vote for. One issue candidates never really fare that well anyway. So who is Hillary Clinton?

The truth is that I don’t think people really know – despite the fact that she is perhaps the most well known candidate running for office among all announced - and yet to be announced candidates. The name recognition is immediate. She was the First Lady during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the US Senator from New York during the Bush Presidency, and the Secretary of State for the first term of current President Barack Obama. She has therefore complied quite a resume.  

Her tenure as Secretary of State does tell us something about her foreign policy views. Although  even there, as part of the Executive Branch of government she was mandated to reflect the views of her boss, the President. So I’m not really sure what her personal views might be on a matter that is of utmost importance to me – as it should be to anyone who cares about the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

As I have said many times in the past, Israel is the most important issue for me. Although there are other issues that I consider vitally important, like the economy, and the kind of moral leadership an individual brings to the Presidency,  I always look to see how the candidate will be treating my people.

Especially those that live in Israel. Because for them, decisions about them made by the President can have existential import. One need not go too far back in history to see how even this nation behaved during the Holocaust. We closed our doors to immigration.  We refused to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz. And even refused to publicly acknowledged that Jews were being systematically murdered… that a genocide of the Jewish people was going on.

The words, ‘Never again!’ keeps popping up in my mind when I look at Israel. And I am very attuned to what candidates say about her.

So even though Mrs. Clinton seems to be quite the social liberal in her views, which is counter to my beliefs, that is still secondary as to how she views the Jewish people and Israel.

First let me say that I am 100% convinced that she is not in any way anti-Semitic. She is in fact  a philo-semite. There is no better proof of that than to look at Marc Mezvinsky, a Jew that her daughter Chelsea married. And the kind of marriage ceremony they had. It had a decidedly Jewish theme complete with a Kesubah, a Chupa, and a Kipa wearing groom.

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not in any way condone intermarriage between a Jew and non Jew. It is against Halacha. But what this marriage shows is that the Clintons are clearly philo-semites in that they very much approved of the marriage and the way it was done.

But what about her views with respect to Israel? There I might have some issues with her. Although she is a strong and vocal supporter of the state… and has publicly defended her when the chips were down - I am not all that thrilled with the focus she seems to the so called peace process or the 2 state solution.  It’s not that I don’t support peace. Of course I do. And it’s not that I don’t support a 2 state solution. I support that too. In theory.

But a JTA article that quotes her on this issue concerns me. Here are some excerpts:
In December, during the Saban Forum in Washington — an annual forum of Israeli and American leaders — Clinton endorsed Obama’s positions on talks with Iran and a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. 
In a late March conversation with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Clinton said that the relationship between the United States and Israel should return to a “constructive footing.” 
… “Secretary Clinton thinks we need to all work together to return the special US-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests, including a two-state solution pursued through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Hoenlein said in a statement regarding the conversation. 
It seems to me that she is willing to push Israel into a position that it cannot afford to be in. My guess is that the refrain one constantly hears of ‘taking chances for peace’ is translated to mean pushing Israel into a two state solution. Even while an organization like Hamas is committed to her destruction. And has done everything it could to try and make that happen. It’s one thing to try and do that from Gaza. It is orders of magnitude more dangerous to give them the West Bank and enable them to try it from there. That would clearly put Israel into mortal danger.  

This is why Israeli Prime Minister has said that even though he supports a two state solution, the conditions for it are not right. The Middle East is too unstable. Hamas is still committed to the Israel’s destruction and is backed by a terror spreading Iran that has been supplying them with weapons and moral support in that cause.

Yet, instead of demanding Israel’s mortal enemies to cease their efforts in that regard if they truly want peace, Mrs Clinton is focused more on getting Israel to ‘take a chance for peace’.  It would be folly and perhaps even suicidal for Israel to take that kind of chance for peace.

I am open to hearing her views as a candidate and not what she has said as an official and supporter of the Obama administration. If she ends up with the view that Israel cannot make peace at the expense of security and demands that security be the first issue to be resolved before peace can go forward, I will be with her. If on the other hand she keeps harping on Israel to ‘take chances for peace’, I will be against her. And vote for the candidate that sees Israel’s security concerns taken care of before anything can go forward .

Other issues that have recently come up about her integrity may hurt her. But I’m not sure they will destroy her. She is very popular with her natural constituency, female democratic voters and the democratic party in general. I think most of them will overlook the ‘e-mail’ and ‘Ben Ghazi’ controversies. The only question that remains is whether her popularity will hold up for the long haul. And how well received her Republican opposition will be. It could just be that the electorate is just plain tired of the Clintons (the Bushes too for that matter) and turn elsewhere. We shall see. In the meantime, I am not endorsing anyone yet. Way too early for that.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hollywood's Amoral Agenda

Image from a Jewish Action article
I found the exchange between Orthodox  parents of gay children and Hollywood screenwriter Robert J. Avrech to be a sad commentary on the world in which we live today. It was in the letters section of Jewish Action Magazine. And I believe it to be a combination of misunderstanding on the one hand – and on the other – a reaction by those sympathetic to people that suffer the emotional pain of rejection that comes with being  gay in the Orthodox world.  

There is no question in my mind that the rejection is real. Orthodox Judaism rejects anal sex between 2 men as sinful.  So that even if a gay person doesn’t engage in such behavior, they are nonetheless viewed as though they do.  That can do great damage to the mental health of a gay man. There is an organization called Eshel whose mission is ‘to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities.’ 

One letter was written by a group of parents belonging to that organization saying that Avrech’s article deeply offended them.  Another was written by freelance writer Tova Ross who wrote: 
Reading Avrech’s article, with its underlying implication that anything other than married heterosexual parents and heterosexual children should be grouped into some deviant category, was not only extremely hurtful but frankly, surprising to see in your publication that reaches such a wide Jewish audience and, surely, a wide array of different kinds of genuine families. 
Avrech’s offending paragraph in his original article appears to be the following: 
There are several shows in development about married lesbians and married gays, plus a sitcom about an adorable soldier who just happens to be transgendered. Each of these shows is designed to condition a young generation of viewers, Skinner-box style, to a new version of family, redefining deviance as something to be celebrated. 
First let me repeat what I often say here. Gay Jews are not to be rejected. No one should ever be rejected because of who they are attracted to. Gay Jews deserve the same level of respect as any other Jew. It is the character of the individual that counts, not his sexual preferences.

It should be noted that Avrech’s article was not about sexual identity per se. It was about how far Hollywood has sunk in matters dealing with the sexual mores in this country. A point well taken. 

When my own children were growing up, the worst offender of this type was probably a show called Three’s Company.  It was a sitcom about a straight man pretending to be gay so that he could share an apartment with 2 single women. There were a lot of double entendre jokes about that situation which went right over the heads of my children.  But there was no nudity or anything remotely comparable, no profanity, and no overt sexual situations on that show. The rest of TV fare in those days was even more harmless. Contrast that with today where one can see both straight and gay lovemaking  right on broadcast TV which – unlike cable - is supposed to have decency standards. The standards of acceptable dress for women on many programs is practically non-existent – leaving little to the imagination.

Avrech’s point was that that Hollywood has a leftist agenda that seeks to take sex out of the moral equation.  And an accompanying agenda of equating all manner of consensual sex as morally neutral. Married couples with well adjusted families and decent good old fashioned American values are no longer depicted as the norm. No more Father Knows Best or Seventh Heaven.  Now it’s shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy where sexual situations (both heterosexual and gay) dominate their plot lines; and depict their show’s characters as glamorous people with high moral values

I think Avrech is right. Hollywood has lost any semblance of decency when it comes to sexual mores. Instead they promote amorality. For Hollywood, the sexual revolution of sixties with its slogan of  ‘If it feels good, do it’ guides them. Sexual mores are irrelevant and have no place in one’s moral compass.

Avrech’s article was not about devaluing gay people. It is about trying to stop Hollywood’s agenda to wipe the sexual mores of the bible off the map. Promoting them as value neutral. 

As to how Avech’s approach affects gay Jews, I have said many times here in the past, hate the sin, love the sinner. One must acknowledge that gay men have Halachic challenges that most straight men do not. We should admire those among us that are gay and try to be Orthodox.  We should in fact encourage them.  But at the same time we cannot say that gay relationship is the same as a straight relationship. It is not.  It is a fact that unlike heterosexuals, gay men have no Halachic way of  satisfying sexual needs. Which is not something to celebrate. 

And yet, that is exactly what Hollywood is selling these days. And they are succeeding in spades. I note that Hillary Clinton’s recent video announcing her candidacy for President has images promoting  gay marriage in glorious tones.

Here is how Avrech puts it  in his response to those letter writers: 
The point of my article was not to devalue these families but rather to underscore the power of the media’s value system. Hollywood chooses, very carefully, which cultural trends it highlights and romanticizes, and which it treats with contempt.
Thus, leftists are almost always viewed as cool, attractive and virtuous, whereas Republicans are seen as narrow-minded bigots. Atheists are depicted as intellectual giants, but pious people of faith are seen as superstitious dolts. The point being that Hollywood products not only reflect, but impose a super-commentary that is stealth propaganda for leftist ideology. 

He's right. And he ought to know. As a successful Hollywood screenwriter, he sees it up close and personal.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Whole World is Watching

Is this our legacy to the world?
When I read the editorial on YWN (Yeshiva World News), I became sick to my stomach. And then it made my blood boil! I wanted to explode in anger. Not at YWN. But at the very target of that editorial – members of the Charedi world. What makes this particular editorial unique is that it comes from a website that is decidedly geared to Charedim. I believe it follows guidelines set by Charedi rabbinic advisers. The YWN editor calls it a massive Chilul HaShem. 

What makes this Chilul HaShem so massive is precisely the type of Orthodox Jews doing it. Charedim.  This is not to say that all Charedim are like this. Most are not. Nor does it mean that there aren’t other people who behave this way. There are - Jew and non Jew alike. But I don’t believe that there is an entitlement attitude of the type that fosters this kind of behavior among other groups of people like there is among these Charedim.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that the more religious one looks, the greater the Chilul HaShem. Why do they look that way? I believe it is out of a sense of religiosity. Which I also believe makes them feel superior to other Jews. Even to other religious Jews.

And the world responds – calling them ultra-Orthodox. Where Orthodox are seen as the most religious of Jews, ultra-Orthodox are the most religious among them!

In many ways they are more religious. When it comes to Bein Adam L’Makom (laws between man and God - often called ritual observance) they go out of their way to be strict. Consider the recent story reported in the Forward about Chasidim refusing to eat any processed food on Pesach. No matter how reliable the Hechsher they fear the remotest possibility that processed food might contain Chametz.  And yet when it comes to the kind of Chilul HaShem described by the YWN editor, they seem to be clueless - and couldn’t care less. The following in his own words is what the YWN editor witnessed:
A Charedi woman with her husband and family in a NYC subway station. A fare was paid for the mother to push her baby carriage through. Along with her carriage, however, went through FIVE others – all without meeting the fare requirement.

Three Charedi children in South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan tossing empty Kosher box drink containers into the East River. The parents sat on a nearby bench as this behavior continued for 15 minutes. With the river littered with chocolate bar wrappers, empty snack bag wrappers etc., not one – not two – but THREE non-Jewish passersby told the parents to have their children stop this behavior.

On the second day of Chol HaMoed, this writer witnessed a Charedi father pull his child’s pants down on a major street and allow his child to relieve himself on a public sidewalk. Later that day, this writer witnessed a Charedi woman walk her child to the front of a line in a popular amusement park, and simply cut the entire line of more than 50 people patiently waiting for their turn.
What makes matters even worse is the response the YWN editor got from one of these Charedim after trying to get them to be aware of the Chilul HaShem he was making:
After this writer confronted her and told her respectfully that approximately 45 of the 50 people on line were not Jewish and she caused a massive Chillul hashem, her Charedi husband reprimanded this writer and told him not to give other people “Musar”, and “mind his own business.”
The YWN editor ends with a plea for his community to be aware that people are watching them and begs them to stop. Unfortunately (and I’d be willing to bet that he knows this) he is wasting his breath. These people don’t care - as was made painfully clear when he tried to give Mussar to one of them.   

There are two reasons which I believe explains their behavior and their over-all attitude. They seem to feel that as members of the Chosen people - and being the most religious among them, they are free to behave in any way they wish. But it’s more than that. There exists among them no concern about what the world around them thinks about their behavior. They seem to place little to no value on their fellow man… seeing the Goy as the ever hating anti-semite.

That is an attitude developed by their parents and grandparents in a Europe where Antisemitism ran supreme culminating in the Holocaust. An attitude their fathers brought with them when they crossed over to these shores. An attitude their leaders promote. Many of them feel that even if they were to be on their best behavior, ‘the Goyim’ would hate us anyway, so why bother behaving? If the trash can is out of reach, just throw your wrappers into the river. If you can sneak onto public transportation for free, why spend a nickel?

As if to underscore this sense of superiority and attitude of the New York Times had a front page article about Charedim (mostly Chasidim) who ask their seats be switched if they find themselves seated next to a woman.  This phenomenon is increasing as the Chasidim increase their numbers exponentially. This too is based on their sense or religiosity and superiority, taking the laws of interaction with women to extremes. Thus being ‘Frum’ at someone else’s expense. They disrupt the airline schedule and inconvenience other passengers by asking them to give up seats they pre-arranged. Often refusing to sit down until the flight attendant finds a passenger willing to change seats with them.

Here too they care little how it affects others. It’s one thing to feel so devoted to God that they seek to avoid sitting next to a woman for fear they might inadvertently touch them. But when they do it at some else’s expense it ceases to be a religious stringency and has the potential of becoming a Chlul HaShem. And what that is all it is.  A stringency. Rav Moshe Feinstein, whom most Charedim consider the Posek HaDor of the 20th century sees no problem with a man sitting next to a woman on public transportation. Chasidim want to be more Machmir?! That’s fine. But not at the expense of others.  

But they have their Chumros and everybody else be damned. They are going to hold the plane hostage until they get their way.

I recall another experience when a large group of apparently wealthy Chasidim boarded  a flight to Israel and started treating the flight attendants like their personal servants -  making ‘requests’ of them as if they owned them. I could not believe my eyes. Wearing my Kipa I was extremely conscious of of my identity as a Jew and embarrassed. After suffering through this shocking display of bad behavior I later apologized to one of the flight attendants - and said that I hope that it didn’t reflect badly on all religious Jews. It was with a sense of relief that she said it didn’t. That was immediately followed with the not so surprising comment that she was used to this kind of treatment from Chasidim.

How much value do their religious stringencies have in light of the Chilul HaShem they constantly make?  A Chilul HaShem that reflects on all of us.

It makes us all look bad. It is condemnable! God doesn’t take kindly to people that desecrate His name so carelessly. I don’t think the size of their Esrog will matter all that much when they finally meet their Maker and He asks them about their enormous Chilul HaShem.

This behavior ought to be condemned in no uncertain terms by all of us. I’m glad to see the a Charedi website has done pretty much that. But it shouldn’t stop there. The condemnation ought to be coming from the highest levels of Charedi and Chasidic leadership. And it ought to include severe consequences if the behavior continues. Something that will get their attention. Like expelling their children from their Yeshivos.  No apologetics. No exceptions.

This behavior must stop. Unless there are serious consequences to their behavior it will only continue. And probably increase as their numbers increase. If it does not stop - the light unto the nations we shine will not be a very bright one.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Knocking Out His Teeth

Inexcusable! (Forward illustration by Lior Zaltzman)
When the Rasha (evil son) of the Hagadah asks his rhetorical question about the point of Pesach, the answer we give him is to be so sharp that it literally makes his teeth stand on edge.  (Hakeh Es Shinov.) Naftuli Muster recently experienced this reaction in spades.

You might recall that name. Naftuli is an expatriate Belzer Chasid who filed a lawsuit... get the State of New York to enforce its mandate for requiring a decent curriculum in its schools.  For their part, Chasidic leaders in these enclaves are quite proud of being a century behind the times… 
According to a New York Times article, Naftuli is no longer observant. But if one reads the story in the Forward, one would not conclude that. I don't know if he is or isn't. But it doesn’t really matter with respect to the points I am about to make.

During Chol HaMoed, the recently married Naftuli had visited his Hasidic grandfather and their daughter (his aunt) and her husband… and later his wife’s parents who are Charedi, but not Chasidic. He brought with his some Kosher L’Pesach cakes.

The Hechsher (Kosher certification) on these cakes were apparently of the highest caliber. There was no question about their reliability. The reaction to these gifts from these two families could not have been more different. Radically so. His grandparents, now Lubavitcher Chasidim are very strict about food items on Pesach. Lubavitcher Chasidim do not eat any processed food, no matter how great the Hechsher. Even if it were to have an Eida HaCharedis Hechsher, they won’t touch it. 

Being raised in Belzer Chasidus and having the same standards, he nevertheless assumed that very young children would be permitted to eat those cakes, just as he had been as a child in Belz.  What happened next is shocking. I could not believe what I was reading. From the Forward
“What is that? Take it out!” my grandfather yelled at me, pointing at the box. I tried setting the box on the table, telling him it’s kosher, when he yelled, “Don’t put it there, take it out! Get out with the food!” I tried setting it above the fridge, in a less accessible area, thinking that would suffice, but still my grandfather yelled. 
Surprised at his reaction to my seemingly courteous gesture, I offered the pastries to my aunt and uncle in the adjacent room. 
“You couldn’t bring it there, so you think you can bring it here?” my uncle hissed. “Get out of here.”
“What’s going on with this family? I’m trying to offer kosher food and this is how you treat me! This is  ------- ridiculous,” I said, my aunt, too, now shrieking me out of the room… 
“How dare you use that language in front of my kids,” she screamed, while her husband seethed into my ear. His breath was on me, his long, grey beard quivering in my face. “Get out or I’ll ------- stick a fork up you and your wife and eat you,” he said… 
My aunt toddled toward me. “You talk that way to my father, and I’ll hit you.” … Then she lunged at me, throwing a few punches at my face, before another uncle managed to restrain her. Leaving the hotel, my grandfather yelled after me, “You shaygetz! You mamzer!”
Even if you factor in the fact that his grandparents may have had pre-existing anger at Naftuli for  no longer being observant, this was not the reaction to have. If it was only about the food, they could have just politely said no thank you. Naftuli did nothing except to try and honor his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins with a holiday visit.

He came bearing gifts And he was treated like a lowlife piece of garbage by his own grandfather. Naftuli certainly did not intend to make his grandparents eat this food. He thought his very young cousins would appreciate these Kosher L’Pesach L’Mehadrin cakes.  

If this is the kind of Chinuch transmitted by his grandfather to his children, one of whom was Naftuli’s father or mother - it is no small wonder that he dropped an observant lifestyle. It’s true that there is always personal responsibility. And it’s true that many very fine families with impeccable child rearing practices have one of more of their children rebel to the extent of dropping observance, Nonetheless the wretched behavior of Naftuli’s grandparents in this episode is an abject lesson in how not to raise your children. If the grandfather is upset about what happened to his grandson, and wants to blame anyone, he ought to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Contrast that with the visit Naftuli made to his in-laws the next day. Still having the unopened boxes of cake, he wondered whether his Charedi in-laws might have a similar reaction. His wife responded: 
“My mother loves cheesecake.” We set the box on the kitchen counter when we arrived, joined everyone in the family room downstairs, and told them we’d brought Passover cakes. 
 “You brought cake?” said my mother-in-law. I stood frozen, horrified at what I’d brought upon myself a second time. But in the next instant, my mother-in-law tore up the stairs, and by the time I joined her in the kitchen she had plated herself a piece of cake. 
Two Charedi families. Two opposite reactions. Makes you wonder why the reactions are so different. Perhaps Naftuli’s family was so angry at his dropping observance that all they needed was the slightest pretext to blow up. But his wife of less than a year must have been in the same boat. She too must no longer be observant. Unless he returned to observance at a more modern level before he got married and both he and his wife are now observant. Or maybe he never even left observance. Just Chasidus. I don’t know.

Whatever the case may be, the role models for behavior are clearly not his grandparents. Or his aunt and uncle. The role models are his wife’s parents. Parents that are warm and welcoming as any loving parent would be to their children.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Righting a Wrong

Charedim studying for professional degrees at Kemach  - JTA (5/5/14)
One of the most important achievements of the last Keneset in Israel is that it provided mechanisms for the Charedi world to enter the workforce and thereby better provide for their families and contribute to the overall economy. 

Some of these mechanisms are controversial by Israeli Charedi standards. Such as requiring Yeshiva elementary and high schools to offer a core curriculum in order to be supported by the state. But there are other incentives which have been established outside the state that are less controversial. Like programs in Machon Lev, and Kiryat Ono, and Adina Bar Shalom’s Charedi College. Additionally there are a variety of smaller programs designed to help Charedim. Like Kemach. 

The requirement of all Israeli citizens for army service before going to work is being satisfied by programs like Nachal Charedi. Perhaps the biggest incentive of all is the exemption of Charedim from army service if they reach a certain age before 2017… when the new draft laws are in place. That has freed up thousands of Charedim to materially improve their lives and those of their families.

There is a lot of work still to be done in this area. Not to mention the fact a there will be a new Keneset in place that will surely include the Charedi parties. And they may very well try and roll back some of this progress. In the meantime, though,  it appears that more Charedim than ever are entering the workplace.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. One that is very disturbing and can wreck the entire thing. From Arutz Sheva
Haredi men and women who do complete a form of National Service or university studies are stunned to find that employers shun them, Walla! News reports Tuesday, as the workforce is increasingly entering the catch-22 of requiring a broad range of experiences for entry-level jobs.
According to a March 2014 survey, commissioned by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there is significant discrimination against haredi workers. 30% of respondents expressed reluctance to work with a haredi man and over a third of employers (37%) expressed a reluctance to employ haredi men. 
I was disheartened to read some of the comments by Charedim that have been mistreated along those lines. Here is just one of them: 
"When I get an interview, they always look me over from head to toe, like I'm a strange bird," Shmuel, a 33 year-old from Ashdod, stated to the news agency. Shmuel served in the IDF and studied electrical engineering, despite some resistance from family and friends.
"Even my previous employer, who made me responsible for production workers, made sure I would feel uncomfortable and signaled me to leave," he lamented. "The feeling is hard: you want to fit in, but no one wants you." Shmuel feels helpless... he does not understand the complaints against him and the haredi community for not going to work - because he himself can barely eke out a living despite his choice.  "I feel like I've wasted my time…" 
If there is anti Charedi discrimination in the workforce, something ought to be done about it. Their civil rights should be no less protected than any other minority class that has experienced discrimination. Whether that discrimination is based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. These are all protected minorities that have experienced wholesale prejudice. Charedim deserve no less protection. I can think of little that upsets me more than a class of people trying to do the right thing and being rebuffed by pre-existing prejudices.

That said, we ought to examine that bias and see if it has any merit. In some cases reluctance to hire a Charedi individual may be because of legitimate concerns. I recall one entrepreneur in Lakewood who was sympathetic to the poverty so prevalent in that world. He went out of his way to hire former Lakewood Avreichim. 

But he found their attitude to be counter to the work ethic he expected of them as an employer. For example when interviewing an individual who has just left Kollel for a job, the job applicant demanded that he be allowed to leave early every Friday so that he could properly prepare for Shabbos. What this employer saw was a feeling of entitlement to a schedule they were used to as former Avrechim. Which does not fit with the demands of the job. So that even though he wanted to give these job opportunities to Avrechim, he found it hard to do so and run his business properly.

If employers feel that they will be getting some kind of religious prima-donna for a worker they may very well be reluctant to hire them… and with good reason.

I don’t know how much of this reluctance by employers to hire Charedim have to do with legitimate concerns and how much is due to plain old fashioned prejudice. But one thing is for sure, it ought to stop. Every applicant that qualifies for a job ought to be given a fair shot without prejudice. And they should be allowed to prove themselves at work without being watched with a jaundiced eye.

At the same time, Charedi workers must learn that their obligations to the job requires them to forgo their previous perks as Avreichim. Like leaving work early enough on Friday to make Cholent. They need to know that they are no different than their fellow non Charedi workers and not to expect special treatment. I think a little understanding and cooperation from both sides will go a long way toward solving this kind of prejudice in the workplace. In the meantime, anti discrimination legislation should be passed so that it will enable the Charedi world to achieve the financial success promised them by entering the workforce.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Funeral that Killed Someone

Funeral of Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, ZTL in Bnei Brak (VIN)
One of the greatest Poskim of our time passed away last Friday at age 102. Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, ZTL of Bnei Brak was one of the last of that great generation of Poskim that included (among others) Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Ovadia Yosef, and  Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. There are few if any people today that can take their place. And there is little argument about that. Even though I was disappointed at his statements a few years ago at the ‘Anti Internet Asifa’ in New Jersey, there is no denying his Gadlus BaTorah. (I believed then as I believe now that he was mistaken for reasons beyond the scope of this post.)

His funeral took place the following day on Motzi Shabbos. As is always the case when a Gadol dies, the masses pour into the streets. His funeral was attended by over a hundred  thousand people… all of whom wanted to pay their final respects.  But something went horribly wrong. From VIN
27-year-old Mordechai Gerber from Elad, and left many others injured.
 Gerber sustained injuries to his chest and abdomen caused by the huge amount of people in the street anxious to pay their respects to the rabbi, who died on Friday night at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak at the of age of 101.
Three people were seriously injured and were been taken to the Rabin Medical Center- Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva and Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Two of them, including a 14-year-old boy, were in critical condition along with one more in moderate- to-critical condition. 
“When we arrived… we noticed a lot of wounded. The way to them was very difficult... 
after we worked our way through we got to a boy of about 14 years old, semi-conscious, suffering from a head injury. We gave him medical treatment and evacuated to a hospital,” Magen David Adom senior medic Ami Mishari said. More than 100 people were treated for injuries, MDA said. 
I am reminded of what happened on ‘Black Friday’ a few years ago. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when stores offer major discounts on a limited number of items. It is when the traditional Christmas shopping season begins. People line up at the door waiting for the store to open. When it does they stream in to get the advertised bargains. In the process no one seems to care who gets stepped on. And people die from the stampeding herd. From a 2012 article in the Mirror:
In 2008, Jdimytai Damour was crushed to death when a mob of frenzied shoppers smashed through the doors of the Walmart store in Valley Stream, New York.  
I recall thinking that the desire to get a bargain by these people over-rides any concern for the safety of others. They are so focused on getting in and getting to their ‘prize’ that they are oblivious to anyone beside them or underneath them for that matter. They just trample over them in pursuit of their goal.  One might be tempted to say that these people have no decent values. They value only serving themselves.  How shallow must one be to oblivious to trampling people to death in pursuit of a bargain.

Well, the motivations may be different. But the values of at least some of  people attending Rav Wosner's funeral are not all that different. At least when it comes to serving themselves. In the case of ‘Black Friday’ it’s about ‘getting the bargain’. In the case of Rav Wosner’s funeral it was about getting one last look at this Gadol. But, just like the shoppers on Black Friday, they were oblivious to their fellow man. As a result one man was trampled to death and a hundred people were injured.

Let me hasten to add that the no one did anything on purpose. When crowds are pushing you, there is little you can do to stop them. So the crush of people pushing forward had no idea that someone up ahead was being  trampled to death. But still the very idea that one must push ahead to get that final glimpse is a form of selfishness that should not be part of a religious Jew’s consciousness. It is that selfishness that resulted in an unnecessary and tragic death.

Could this have been prevented? I would like to think so. How? I am not an expert in crowd control. But a few ideas pop into my head. Perhaps the funeral could have waited until the next morning when there was daylight and people can see better. Or perhaps the Rabbonim should have anticipated the danger of the crush of large crowds like this in the narrow streets of Bnei Brak and asked people to stay home. Or even though it was short notice perhaps they could have coordinated better with the police for crowd control. Or perhaps they could have set up well guarded police barricades that could not be crossed.  I don’t know.  But it just seems to me that this death could have been avoided. I hope lessons can be learned from this so that in the future it can be prevented. Educating people about not pushing others in a crowd would be a good start. 

How sad it is that a Kiddush HaShem honoring a great religious figure had to be tarnished in such a horrible way.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Why the Deal with Iran is So Bad

Iran's Basij force Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi
The destruction of Israel is nonnegotiable. Commander of Iran's Basij force Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi has said that ‘erasing Israel off the map is nonnegotiable.’ He also said, ‘Arming the West Bank has started and weapons will be supplied to the people of this region...’ 

That echoes similar statements made by Ali Hosseini Khamenei - the second and current Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shia cleric. This is an unconscionable statement to anyone who has the slightest inkling of what threatening the annihilation of large swaths of world Jewry means. And it has been the policy of this Shia Muslim nation since the overthrow of the Shah of Iran  in 1979. Let us recall that under the Shah Israel and Iran actually had diplomatic relations. Israel had an embassy there and El Al scheduled regular flights to and from Iran. The Jews of Iran flourished at the time… and had done so for centuries. Iran was also one of the closest allies the United States had in that region. . That all ended with the revolution.

Religious fanatics took control, made hostages out of American Embassy personnel,and has been shouting Death to America ever since. As recently as a few days ago. Instead of having diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, their religious leaders have declared it a virtual religious obligation to wipe it off the map. And they have done everything they could to try and make that happen. It is Iran that supplies Hamas and Hezbollah with the rockets they use to shoot indiscriminately into the Jewish State.

Iran not only hates the ‘Little Satan’, Israel, - they hate the ‘Great Satan’, the US too. And just as desirous of its destruction. That’s what shouting, ‘Death to America’ means. Besides spreading terror, all over the world they are also spreading their influence wherever they see an opening. As they recently have in Yemen supporting the Houthi rebels - Shia Muslims that overthrew Yemen’s  weak Sunni government.  They will no doubt use Yemen as a base for operations against the Sunni led governments of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. And that’s  why they are fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Islamic State is Sunni.

This is the government that the US is making deals with.  

I bring all of this up in light of the framework agreement reached last Friday between the United States and Iran. A deal that is so bad that the US congress is currently trying to pass a bill that will prevent the President from doing it.  A bill that may actually be veto proof . (The President has already said he would veto it.) According to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Corker, there are at least 65 senators committed to passing it. 67 are needed to over-ride a Presidential veto.

Not a single nuclear facility will be dismantled. Over 5000 centrifuges will still be running. After a 10 or 15 year period Iran will be able pick up where they left off and enrich uranium to weapons grade level. That should be a grave concern for everyone. It is certainly of grave concern to other Muslim Gulf States. In what has to be the first time in the history of the Middle East - both Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side of an issue. That’s because they both have the most to lose by allowing Iran an eventual path to build the bomb. For which they already have missiles to attack regionally. They are also in the process of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can reach the Great Satan. And this deal allows them to do it.

What Iran has actually agreed to depends on whose narrative you listen to. Sanctions will be removed immediately according to Iran - gradually according to the US. Iran is claiming that all of their nuclear facilities will remain intact. They will. The ‘Heavy Water’ reactor in Arak which converts plutonium to weapons grade uranium will be ‘modernized’ according to Iran and converted to peaceful purposes according to the US.

The inspections program will not allow spot checking. Even if the inspections regime were to be successful - in 10 or 15 years the infrastructure will be still be in place to build the bomb.

This is an terrible deal for the US to accept. The Obama administration is too eager to get a deal and has given up far too much without Iran giving up much at all. Which is why Iran has exploded in celebration.

For argument’s sake, let us say that this will delay a nuclear bomb from appearing for 15 years. Left unaddressed is that Iran will continue as a terror spreading nation as before. There is no provision stopping it. Giving Iran the means to spread terror - an Iran whose goal is to destroy a nation of 6 million Jews - and that has been screaming death to America since 1979 is mindbogglingly stupid. The US and the major world powers involved in those negotiations are doing exactly what Neville Chamberlain did. And no I am absolutely not comparing the two. But the lessons of appeasement seem not to have been learned.

Chamberlain was so desperate to make a deal with Hitler that he believed him when he said that all he wanted was a piece of Czechoslovakia claiming it was rightfully German territory. Hitler promised him that he would not go to war if he got that.

History is replete with dictators making promises that they don’t keep. Recall the negotiations the Clinton administration made with North Korea. They touted it as a major foreign policy success – preventing a rogue nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We all know how that ended up. That’s right. Korea reneged on their promise and now has nuclear weapons.

Imagine if what we know now about Hitler’s genocidal intention to annihilate the Jews of Europe – was known then. Would any sane leader have tried to negotiate a deal with him of any kind? Let alone allow him even the remotest capacity of building a bomb? Imagine what would have happened in WWII had Hitler built a bomb. Does anyone seriously think he wouldn’t have used it to further his cherished goals? And Hitler wasn’t even a religious fanatic who believed he was doing it for God which always ups the ante.

What we didn’t know about Hitler’s intentions in pre WWII Europe, we now know about present day Iran. They keep trumpeting their intentions of wiping Israel off the map and wishing death to America. Had the US made Iran’s recognition of Israel part of the deal, Iran would never have agreed. And yet the Obama administration is so wedded to the notion a deal that they are willfully ignoring that.  

The sanctions against Iran were crippling. This is what brought them to the table. But instead of increasing the sanctions they started letting them up.  If the deal is eventually consummated (and that is far from clear right now) - those sanctions will be removed pretty quickly giving Iran billions of dollars to further their terrorist ends.

The President keeps saying that this is a good deal – and is challenging those who oppose it to come up with a better alternative. He doesn’t think there is one. But he is plumb wrong. As Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said, a better deal can be reached.

No one, not even Netanyahu wants to go to war with Iran (although that option has not been removed from the table even by the US). If those crippling sanctions brought Iran to the table, then they should have been increased until Iran agreed to the nonnegotiable terms of destroying all of its entire nuclear program. Iran should be brought their knees, not just to the bargaining table.

For those who think that Iran would never give up that program, the same thing was said about Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad.  No one believed he would ever agree to give up Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. But after the international community applied enough pressure, he agreed. Syria’s chemical weapons were removed under international supervision. Iran could be pressured to do the same with its nuclear program. 

But instead the sanctions will be lifted and Iran will be able use the billions of dollars of sanctions relief towards spreading even more terror and influence. All while leaving their uranium enrichment facilities intact. And that will no doubt encourage the Gulf states to pursue their own nuclear weapons program. Can anyone imagine a worse scenario than an unstable Middle East riddled with nuclear weapons?

This is a bad deal which should be rejected by congress and the American people. The international community ought to step away from it and apply more sanctions until Iran is so desperate to remove them that they will agree to our terms. Anything less than that is foolhardy. And in light of their spreading terrorism all over the world - immoral.  Lest someone think that Iran will never give up its nuclear program and will eventually go to war with the nations if the sanctions become too unbearable, let them try.