Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Enablers Must Suffer Consequences

One of 22 sex abuse suspects arrested in Israel yesterday  (screenshot -Ynet)
22. That’s the number of people that were arrested for sex crimes in Israel yesterday. Why were so many arrested all at once? Were they a cult? No. They were individual perpetrators that were never reported to the police. Instead they were dealt with ‘in house’.

What kind of community would deem it appropriate to do so? I think we all know that answer to that one. But in case there is any doubt, the location of these arrests should tell the story: Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Beitar and Bnei Brak. 4 cities noted for some of the more extreme Charedim. Let me be quick to add that by far not all the of the Charedi residents of those cities are extreme. That should be obvious, too. But it is also clear that a large number of them are. As are the rabbinic leaders they listen to. Especially in the smaller cities. And the more extreme, the more closed off from the civilized world they are.

Unfortunately when a society is so closed off  (as these people are - by choice) you end up with a situation like this. Advances in how to more appropriately deal with sex abusers and survivors are not learned. The main concern therefore, is as it used to be for all communities where sex abuse took place - for the welfare of the community, the abusers, and their families - instead of concern for the abuse survivors.

Here is how Ha’aretz reported the story: 
The investigation by the police’s Jerusalem District began after they received information that ultra-Orthodox elements were concealing information on sex crimes in their community. 
These Haredim allegedly received their rabbis’ blessing to seek and collect information on sexual predators in the community, without involving the police. They did so, even maintaining written records of attacks and the people involved. At the end of the process, the perpetrators were forced to agree to undergo therapy within the ultra-Orthodox world. 
During their investigation, the police seized the notebooks in which the records were kept. Tens of alleged attackers were documented, some of whom had committed serial offenses, including against children, the police said. 
Based on this information, the police arrested 22 suspects, ages 20 to 60. Each is alleged to have committed several attacks over the last two years. 
No matter how many times I hear a story like this, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the people that have committed serial sexual offenses continue to be allowed to roam the streets with impunity. While their crimes are no doubt concealed from the public. While it may be laudable that their leaders require them to get some from of therapy, this does not excuse them from concealing their identity. Nor does it excuse them from not reporting them to the police. And certainly there is no excuse for simply expelling them as Ha’aretz reports they did in some cases  – leaving the communities to which they migrate vulnerable to their attacks.

Also, unsurprising is the way some in those communities reacted to those arrests:
In some cases, ultra-Orthodox residents in the four cities – Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak – attacked the police, throwing stones and other items, and tried to block the arrests. In Jerusalem, the windows of two police cars were shattered by rocks.
Of course they reacted that way. They had no clue why these people were arrested. Why should they? No one ever told them.  And even if they were told, they wouldn't believe it - unless it came from their own leadership.

Not long ago Agudath Israel of America seemed to have come around to the idea that enablers should suffer consequences.

But in extremist Charedi enclaves in Israel, the leaders are not only are they not concerned with enablers, by dealing with it in house they actually are the enablers. What does this do to survivors? Who knows what their lives are like now! But based on the testimony of hundreds of survivors of sex abuse, it is highly unlikely that their lives are anything but hell! How could it not be - knowing that the people that molested or abused them sexually are walking their streets with the protection of their leaders - as though nothing happened! All while survivors are left to their own devices.

It isn’t too difficult to see the thinking of the leaders in those communities. They believe that it is the best interests of their community to take matters into their own hands. We know their mindset from the way cases of abuse was handled in the past. Not only in the Charedi world… not only in the modern Orthodox world… but in society in general.

It was always the institution that was protected. That concern rose above all other considerations.Certainly above the welfare of the survivor. Just ask the Graham Spanier, the former president of Penn State who tried to protect his school by covering up the serial sex abuse of Penn State’s assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. And then consider Spanier’s well deserved fate. From the New York Times
On its second day of deliberations, the jury in Harrisburg, Pa., found Graham B. Spanier guilty of one misdemeanor count, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 
The consequences of a cover-up to survivors are by now unfortunately very clear to those of us that live in the real world. As are the consequences to that those that covered it up as in the above mentioned Spanier case.  But in the extremist world of the Charedi cities where 22 sex abusers were arrested, Charedi leaders seem to be clueless. They live in an opaque and almost impervious bubble.

I don’t know what the law in Israel is with respect or those who cover up sex abuse. As noted, they are enablers and that ought to be considered a crime. Is subjecting them to arrest what it would take to see justice being served?

If they were to suffer the same fate Mr. Spanier did, maybe things would change. Purposeful ignorance should never be an excuse to get away with ‘murder’. Which is how many professional therapists - even the most religious ones among them - describe the consequences to a survivor that was abused sexually. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

An Immodest Response

Leggings  (for those of us that are sartorially challenged with respect to women’s clothing) are  tight-fitting stretch pants, typically worn by women or girls. It goes without saying that this kind of apparel is considered immodest by Orthodox Jewish standards. It appears that Orthodoxy is not the only institution that considers it so. United Airlines (UA) feels the same way. At least as far of its own ‘family’ is concerned. 

It appears that UA has an actual dress code required of employees and their family members when on board one of their commercial aircraft. (Who knew?)

As it applies to leggings - this is how that rule is stated: 
The following attire is unacceptable in any cabin… Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses. 
I believe that most other airlines have similar rules. There are of course other modesty rules. But I focus on this one because of what followed after an instance of enforcement of this rule was made public. From the Washington Post
A United Airlines gate agent barred two girls from boarding a flight Sunday morning because the girls were wearing leggings…
At first I thought it rather strange that these teen aged girls were barred from the flight considering the fact that I have seen all manner of clothing worn on female passengers with whom I have flown. In some instances, leggings may have been more modest. To the best of my recollection no one I’ve ever flown with was ever barred from boarding a plane because of what they wore. But then I read the following.
United Airlines spokesman Jonathan Guerin confirmed the two teens were not allowed on the flight. But he said they were traveling using a United employee pass and “were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel.” 
First let me say that I am happy to see that there is such a thing as a dress code by a major corporation in our day when anything goes. True, it is not applied to paying passengers. But that it exists at all shows that our even in our permissive culture the concept of modesty in clothing is still a value. How long it will last after this debacle (for UA) remains to be seen.

When the news of this broke, it generated a flurry of protests. I have to wonder why it wasn’t obvious to all that this was not business as usual for UA. Have they never flown before? Surely they should have realized that there was something different about this case. Which was the fact that these were employee rule to which regular passengers were not subjected. On the other hand if they did realize that and were still protesting, they were wrong to do so. UA has the right to set its own employee policy. They have every right to expect it to be honored. And they have the additional right to enforce it.

Those that do not like the rule or think it’s unfair, can petition the airline to change it. Or they can call for a protest against an ‘unfair’ rule or boycott the airline altogether. But employees of these airlines know the rules (or at least they should) and they violated them. Which makes what UA did justified. 

But that didn’t stop the apoplectic response on social media: 
Social media exploded Sunday with users calling the incident horrendous, outrageous and nonsense. Several users asked why leggings aren’t proper clothing… 
Are people so clueless about the impropriety of form fitting clothing that is so tight that they leave little to the imagination? Has our culture sunk so low that even this is no longer a value except to the airline executives who crafted those rules?

What is really sad is the level of protest. As though UA had forced all of its passengers to wear Burkas. But even more disgusting is who the media focuses on as protesting it. Like Supermodel Christine Teigen who tweeted "I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. 

Nice. What a  paragon of virtue!

And then there is he queen of smut, comedienne Sarah Silverman. As if she were a legitimate voice in any of this.  She said she was going to boycott UA. I have no issue with her – or anyone else doing that. My issue is about using her as an example in the first place.

This woman is one of the most vulgar comedians on the planet. She loves to highlight her Judaism and then goes about dishonoring it with her extreme vulgarity. In her twisted mind Judaism is just fine with that. But of course that is the furthest thing from the truth. How vulgar is she? In one instance that was posted online - I recall she thought it was funny to offer to perform a lewd act on a man who donates millions to Conservative Republicans if he would instead support her candidate. If what I read in the media about her performances is true, this story is mild by comparison.

Her ‘comedy’ routines are extremely vulgar. Which probably means that her stuff isn’t that funny. Any legitimate comedian will tell you that if you have to resort to vulgarity in order to get a reaction, then you probably wouldn’t get a laugh without it.

Is this the person we want leading the charge? Is she the example of virtue we should be looking at? Not in my book.

In any case, my bet is that UA will end up changing its policy because of this reaction. Which is too bad... as our culture descends even further into an amoral abyss.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fearing the Other Party

Fearing the Other Party (Huffington Post)
A June 2016 poll by Pew shows what might to some people be startling results. 49% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats are afraid of the other party. AFRAID! I am not, however, so shocked by these results. Here’s why.

It’s all about the values that are prioritized by those groups. Although it is not 100% true, I believe that an individual’s values and what they are sourced in is what determines whether they are Republican or Democrat. Or more accurately liberals on the left or conservatives on the right. I think it is fair to say that in 2017, the divisions between these two parties are more than ever correctly defined that way. 

There was a time when one could find a conservative Democrat. They were usually located in the South. And there were (and still are) some liberal Republicans that would feel quite comfortable as Democrats.  Adding to this phenomenon is the fact is extremists on both the right and the left  are pulling these parties further away from the center. (Creating an almost unbridgeable chasm.)

What are these values and where do they come from? I think one has to look at whether those values are based on whether one is God centered or Humanistic. I believe that what most motivates people on the right is how they see God looking at the issues of the day. And the people on the left are motivated by what they see as objectively best and fair for all of humankind.

This creates a clash of values. One that was recently demonstrated by a conflict between 2 constitutional guarantees.The constitution guarantees both freedom of religion and freedom of expression. When the two come into conflict the right will favor protecting religious freedom and the left will favor individual rights. That is what the debate about same sex marriage was all out. 

The Supreme Court decided in favor of individual rights with the claim that it would not affect the religious rights of those that oppose same sex marriage. I don’t want to rehash the arguments made by ether side. But any fair minded person could see that it was a clash of rights and the decision to favor civil rights over religious rights is how a 5-4 split decision of the Supreme Court came about. The swing vote (Anthony Kennedy) determined the outcome should go to the left on that one. (He is one of those liberal Republicans I spoke of earlier.)

So why is there fear? If you are God centered, you see an erosion of traditional values. Values that are based on the bible. A bible that is considered the word of God by billions of people in the civilized world. A bible that has been the source of morality and righteousness for many centuries. They see the current Democrats as a  group of people that places little to no value on the bible. Which they see as irrelevant to modern man. The right is afraid of the heavenly consequences of what they see as a Godless society developing if the left keeps getting their way.

The left sees the right as a impediment to social justice. And patently unfair to human rights. To the left the right of a gay man to marry another gay man is an inherent right of the human condition. It views morality through the lens of a humanity that considers all human behavior perfectly fine as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Religious objections are of little import when it comes to individual rights. They see man as ethically superior to the bible.

Why should a homosexual man be denied the right to do the same thing his heterosexual friends do? Just because someone’s religion says it is against God’s laws to live a certain way does not give them the right in a free society to deny a personal freedom. Society will not be harmed if 2 gay people can get married. The idea of a heavenly retribution is laughed off as an ancient relic of a superstitious past. Man’s moral and ethical responsibilities are towards their fellow man. God hardly enters into the equation.

The fear is that the other side will destroy civilization if their views are carried out to their fullest potential. The left will argue that religion is responsible for all the ills in the world – pointing to religion as the source of Islamist terror as a prime example. The right will say that when one takes God out of the picture, you can all toot easily end up with  genocide as government policy. As did Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. If here is no God, mass murder is just a survival tactic.

Now as I said earlier, there are plenty of exceptions. There are some very religious people on the left. But they tend to be more about helping one’s fellow man or protecting the environment - regardless of the cost - rationalizing away the moral objections made by the right on other issues. And by the same token there are some atheists on the right. But they tend to be fiscal conservatives rather than social conservatives. Which makes them more libertarian than Republican.

The financial component motivates a lot of people. The right believes that the economy will be ruined by the tax and spend ways of the left. And the left fears that the little guy will be stiffed by the right at many levels – Or that the environment will be destroyed by the right. The economy is at best a secondary consideration - and be damned if necessary! But I think that the divisions fall more along religious or philosophical lines than they do fiscal lines. 

True, this all might be an oversimplification with plenty of exceptions. But I think that at its core, it is the truth. At least the way I see it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

He Is One of Ours

Accused teenager hiding his face in an Israeli court (NYT/Reuters)
I’m not in the habit of quoting myself. But in this case I just can’t help it. In response to a spike in bomb threats to JCCs and other Jewish institutions that had some people thinking that we are on the precipice of another Holocaust, I said the following: 
No, I don’t think we need to be worried, although we should always be vigilant, keep our eyes and ears wide open. We are not on the precipice of a new Holocaust. Not even close... 
I added that we have no clue who is doing this or why.

That post generated a variety of responses saying that I was treating this new wave of antisemitism too lightly. Responses that ranged from accusing me of the kind of denial Jews of Europe had about the dire circumstances that Hitler’s virulent antisemitism presaged - to outright stupidity for not seeing this as an obvious white-supremacist plan to actually carry out the false bomb threats they were making. And of course they blamed it all on the President.

I considered that just another conspiracy theory by some on the left who are so blinded by hatred of the President (an easy target if there ever was one) - that they were eager to pin every ill in American society on him. So the spike in antisemitic incidents which were mostly (but not exclusively) those bomb threats was blamed on Trump’s rhetoric that often sounded racist - even employing some racist code words like America First.

It was after all Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh that were involved in the America First Committee - a group created in 1940 to keep the US out of involvement in WWII. America First is a phrase Trump uses a lot. As did another presidential candidate of the not too distant past, Pat Buchanan. Who is not exactly a philosemite.

I conceded then and still believe that Trump’s rhetoric frees up the existing antisemites and racists to toot their horns a bit louder. But I also believe that we are in no greater danger from antisemitism than we were before Trump even thought about becoming President. (…with the possible exception of the kind of virulent anti Israel activity by extreme leftist academics that egged on gullible students to act out in sometimes violent anti Israel demonstrations on some university campuses.)

I also thought that it was quite possible that all of these threats were being made by a sick individual in his basement as a prank using sophisticated techniques to disguise his voice, location and phone number. Techniques easily available online to anyone interested in purchasing them.

I was ridiculed for that by some who claimed that professionals in law enforcement that specialize in these things said that my ‘lone wolf theory’ was highly unlikely. The operation was too sophisticated. It was more likely that this was a sophisticated and organized group ‘testing the waters’ so to speak until such time that they will carry it out. And that I was burying my head the sand… just like many Jews did in the prewar years of Hitler’s rise to power.

That I had clearly said that we still need to be vigilant (and that is still true) but that we should live our lives normally fell on deaf ears to those who were convinced that the sky was falling. I also said that to the extent that a there was any threat, the FBI, local law enforcement and international counter terrorism agencies were all over this. That too was ignored.

Well, we now know that it was exactly what I thought it might be. Not only was it NOT right wing white supremacists who called in all those bomb threats, it wasn’t Muslim terrorists either. Nor was it an organized effort by a group of any kind. It was indeed a lone wolf. A teenager. A Jewish one. Who lived in Israel with dual Israeli-American citizenship. The international manhunt succeeded in apprehending and arresting this fellow in Israel.

We don’t know his identity. Nor do we know whether he will be extradited to America and charged with a hate crime. We also don’t know if he is so sick that he will be committed to a mental health facility for treatment. But that is not my concern or purpose in writing this post.

My purpose is to restate my view that we Jews have never had it so good and we need not be any more concerned today than we were last year or the year before that. Yes, there is still antisemitism and as I have said so many times we still have to be vigilant. Thank God we Americans live in a country that takes these things seriously and goes the extra mile when needed.

I do find it kind of funny that there are still some advocacy groups that refuse to let go. For example there is this excerpt from the NewYork Times
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, cautioned that many of the people responsible for anti-Semitic threats, vandalism and “a torrent of abuse online” remained at large. 
I guess Jonathan knows how his bread is buttered. What a great country we Americans live in. Let me end the way the New York Times did: 
In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who described the threats as “hate crimes,” said, “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Doing the Right Thing the Wrong Way

Rabbi Baruch Zalman Melamed (Arutz Sheva)
If there is anything about me that people can be assured of, it is that I am a centrist (small c). I am not talking about my Hashkafa or world view. Although I am a Centrist in that regard too, I am also a centrist in a general way. I am a firm believer in the Rambam’s ‘Shvil HaZahav’ – the golden mean. With apologies to Barry Goldwater I actually believe that extremism in pursuit of just about anything is a vice. And that includes what passes for religious fervor in both the Charedi and religious Zionist camp.

My issues with the Charedi camp in Israel are well known. It is not I am opposed to their values. I am opposed to the extremes to which they take them, and the negative impact that it has not only on themselves but on the rest of the country - and even the world. 

For example - abandoning secular studies while increasing government subsidies as their population grows is not the best formula for survival. Not for themselves and not for the country. And although I am a firm believer that a Jewish state needs an official rabbinate, it troubles me that it seems to have been taken over by people that don’t recognize them as their own religious leaders.  Control of an institution that is not accompanied by belief in it - is what led to choosing the previous Chief Rabbi who was recently convicted of corruption.

One might surmise that my issues with the Charedi camp in Israel would lead me to support the religious Zionist camp. But I have issues with them too. And just like th Charedi world, it isn’t that I am opposed to their values. I am a huge supporter of the State of Israel. Which is clearly a Zionist State. Israel is the ancestral home of the Jewish people.All of them, including me. Originally given to us by God. That is what gives us, the Jewish people, the right to be there and call it our own. Not to mention the fact that Israel’s doors opened up for Holocaust refuges and Jews all over the world. And the ‘Never again’ aspect of living in a land where we Jews can, with the help of God, determine our own fate, and not rely completely on others for our salvation.

I am not, however, a believer that we are witnessing the first flowering of our redemption. Which means that living in Israel means that you are still living in Galus (exile). Until the era of the actual redemption, that is where we all live - no matter our geographic location.

Unfortunately it is the belief by far too many religious Zionists that by the establishment of a state we have begun the redemptive process. That in my view is the source of much of the extremism. Like those who view settling all of Eretz Yisroel (including the West bank) a goal worth shedding blood over. Not just Palestinian blood but even our own. This mentality produced the Baruch Goldsteins and Yigal Amirs of the world. And the many admirers these two murderers still have.

And now both the Charedi world and the religious Zionist world seem to have combined in the person of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein the religious Zionist rabbi who is one of the heads of a prestigious mechina (pre-IDF preparatory) yeshiva in Israel. 

One may recall a few months ago when Rabbi Levinstein made some truly disgusting comments about the IDF’s approach to a variety of groups and issues. It isn’t that he had religious problems with them. I have them too. It is the extreme – even inflammatory language he used about the IDF in raising those objections. Placing himself squarely in the extremist camp.

Arutz Sheva has found another ‘eminent’ religious Zionist, Rabbi Baruch Zalman Melamed backing him up. 

The issues are real. For example I agree that blurring the differences between the sexes in the IDF is wrong. I agree that it would undermine the moral values that ‘have preserved the Jewish people for millennia’. I too am in vigorous opposition to same sex units in the army. But to back up a man who said what Rabbi Levinstein said - backs up extremism. And that almost always leads to no good. 

There has to be a happy medium between agreeing with the underlying Halachos expressed by Rabbi Levinstein and endorsing a man who used such extreme rhetoric. That can only turn people away from the very values that he promotes. Rabbi Levinstein deserves to be reprimanded for those comments, Not supported. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. And the right way is to abide by the Shvil HaZahav. That is always the better choice.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Chasing Chasidic Chumros

Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky - Should this image be banned?
Modesty has become a big item in the 21st century Charedi world. But not in the broad sense that this Jewish value is intended. The way modesty – or Tznius is used today in this community is mostly applied to women and how they are to be seen (or not seen) in public. This is a subject that seems to be hammered into the psyche of every Beis Yaakov girl.

There is a very good reason for this focus today. It doesn’t take much effort to come across images of the most immodestly dressed women when one is out in public. Whether on billboards, in movies, on TV, in magazines or shopping malls that that will have at least one shop exclusively selling women’s intimate apparel with pictures of women wearing their products in seductive poses.  It is almost impossible to avoid all these images. Even the corporate world where modest attire was once standard has given way to this new culture of less modesty. The typical young woman today must feel compelled to have that ‘look’ if she wants to be accepted as ‘normal’.

External influences being what they are it should therefore come as no surprise that Orthodox Jewish educators focus on modesty in dress.

It is this cultural climate that has spurred Charedi world to pursue other less desirable and even questionable restrictions. Among the many unfair restrictions is banning the publication of any pictures of a woman. No matter how modestly she is dressed.

This restriction seems to have always existed in the Chasidic world. (Why that is the case is beyond the scope of this post.) But this was not the case in the Lithuanian based Yeshiva world even among their Gedolim until very recent times. I am not here to debate the right of Chasidim to do as they please. As long as their own women are comfortable with this restriction, or any of the restrictions placed on either their men or their women, God bless them.

I am here to protest what has become a habit in the non Chasidic Charedi world to chase down every Chumra practiced by the Chasidic world. There seems to be an attitude among some rabbis on the right that cannot countenance being ‘out-frummed’ by anyone: ‘If Chasidim are doing it, we better be doing it too, lest we lend credence to their claim of superior Torah observance’.

What many of them may not realize (or perhaps even care about – feeling that their concerns override it) is how this affects their own community.

If women in their own community are negatively affected by such strictures, I believe that their rabbinic readers have an obligation to review their policy to see if it does more harm than good.

One may ask, what possible harm can there be from raising modesty standards? Isn’t that a good thing?

For me the answer is clearly no. Not if it goes too far and there are negative consequences. Not if there is absolutely no Halacha or even a Minhag requiring it. And certainly not if great religious figures like Rav Moshe Feinstein and other Gedolim of the past didn’t require it or practice it themselves.

What harm might there be? Plenty. I was sent a list of reasons by a woman who is a concerned public figure. One which reflects many of the things I have mentioned in the past: 
•  It fails to provide healthy role models for girls and women 
Such a void is short- sighted considering the myriad inappropriate images of women that bombard us in the secular world. Our blank spaces have no chance of competing with their powerful images.

•  It communicates  a negative message about how our community regards women
Taking women literally“out of the picture”implies that they are unimportant, uninvolved, or irrelevant. A page containing  only images of boys and men carries the message that only males are important. The literal erasure of all females calls into question the weight accorded to women’s opinions and contributions and may act as a deterrent to intelligent, accomplished  women who may otherwise be interested in adopting a Torah lifestyle.

•  It contributes to the objectification of women and girls.
The message that a mere glance at a tzenua woman or child can lead a man into temptation fuels the notion that women are essentially dangerous and men are weak. By viewing women as simply as a source of temptation rather than as sentient, intelligent human beings with brains and  hearts, we are ironically saying  that the only thing that matters about women is their bodies.

•  It is a failure of journalistic integrity and creates a Chilul Hashem.
Erasing images of women from photographs of historical moments is a form of censorship and historical revisionism. Many of these photoshopped pictures are from large news agencies that prohibit altering them in any way. Secular media inevitably publicizes this practice while making a point of mentioning that excluding pictures of women and girls is standard practice in  the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The impression given is that traditional Judaism is on par with the most radical elements of Islam, a view which is not only untrue but also a chilul Hashem.

•  It makes a mockery of our precious ideals.
Photographs and illustrations of Shabbos tables, parks, and chasunas depicting only men and boys ultimately present an inaccurate and at times even absurd portrayal of religious life.  This presentation of a world with no female figures may have the unintended consequence of making a mockery of our ideals and even of the idea of tzinyus itself.

 •  It sets a dangerous precedent
 Look back at biographies of gedolim from just a generation or two ago, as well as historical pictures of yeshiva dinners and community gatherings, and you will see pictures of a world populated by men as well as their wives and daughters. Today not a single photograph or image like these is to be found. At a time when fringe clusters of observant women have taken to wearing burkas and some communities have instituted “men’s only” shopping hours at stores, we are concerned that the major chareidi publications present their distorted view of the world as something to aspire to.  
I am convinced that the vast majority of the mainstream Charedi (non Chasidic) world is moderate and more or less agrees with the above. The question is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ I was asked to publish a petition that reflects these concerns and am pleased to do so.I am told that are already almost 80 ‘Yeshivishe’ Rebbetzins and laypeople signed onto it. Please click on this link to find out how you can help.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Is This the New UN?

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres
I used to think the UN was - at best - a complete waste of time and money. And at worst an antisemtic body whose primary goal was to destroy Israel. Despite the ironic fact that the State of Israel was created in 1947 - partitioning Palestine in a majority vote by the UN General Assembly.

It is no secret that this body extreme bias with respect to Israel. Israel has been the constant focus of condemnation and scorn.

In recent years, the Middle East was the subject of 76% of country-specific General Assembly resolutions, And 100% of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions. These resolutions most often criticized Israel for its ‘occupation of Palestinian land and its oppression of Palestinians.’ They condemned Israel almost exclusively about committing violence against Palestinians, and rarely about the reverse. On the other hand UNHRC has mostly failed to condemn other human rights abuses. Like what is happening in the people in the East African nation of South Sudan. Which by comparison makes Palestinians in West Bank seem like they are living in paradise!

This climate of anti Israel animus culminated with the recent US abstention on a vote condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It was them passed with all the other members of the Security Council voting on favor of it. I could go on. But any unbiased observer of the UN’s attitude towards Israel can see the obvious. No matter what kind of atrocities were going on in the world. Syria, Libya, East Africa… they are all practically ignored by the UN when one looks at who they focus the majority of their animus on.

It did not help matters that the UN Secretary-Generals in the past seem to harbor that same anti Israel bias. Even though they tried to hide it – it wasn’t that hard to notice that they did little to stop the Israel bashing going on there. Nor did it help that one of their past Secretary-Generals was Kurt Waldheim, a Nazi officer during the Holocaust.

Until a short while ago, when former US representative to the UN Samantha Power refused for the first time to veto a one-sided resolution condemning Israel (on instruction from her boss, the former President) it that seemed like things were only going to get worse. But just when I thought the UN was hopelessly antisemitic, Nikky Haley was appointed US representative to the UN by the New administration. She was not only aware of the bias that permeated that body, she actually did something about it. She minced no words in forcefully condemning it!

But I was not prepared for what happened on January 1st of this year. That is when former Portuguese Prime Minister, António Guterres was elected the new Secretary-General of the UN.

Unlike past leaders of the UN, he actually understands what Jewish suffering was all about throughout history. He even acknowledged his own country’s participation in that during the inquisition when they expelled all the Jews from their country. And he spoke about the Holocaust in terms of it being primarily Jewish tragedy.

It is one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard by a non Jewish leader. Mr. Guterres addressed entire body of diplomats in the UN on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The very same diplomats that focus on condemning Israel all the time.

I had no clue about this speech given back in January. Someone sent me a link to it yesterday. I would have publicized it sooner if I had. This 11 minute speech is well worth listening to. If this is the ‘New UN’ then I am a fan.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sliding to the Left

Intermarriage. Is this the new normal for Conservative Judaism
Roberta Rosenthal Kwall has written another insightful article in Commentary responding to the direction the Conservative Movement is going. She suggests that recent innovations will have the opposite effect from the one they intended.

I have always had a fascination with Conservative Judaism. In many ways their founding fathers had the same thoughts Modern Orthodox leaders of their day had. They saw the challenges of the new world in America where assimilation endangered our very existence as Jews. They felt – with some justification – that the American Jew could not relate to the Orthodox European rabbis that had come here to serve them. They felt the need to train American rabbis that understood the culture. 

This was the same rationale Dr. Bernard Revel, founder of Yeshiva College (later to become YU) had. He felt the need to relate to the American Jew on American terms. In his day Jews sought to fulfill the American dream the same way their non Jewish counterparts did:  by going to a good university, and getting the kind of education that would enable them to get good jobs. If there was any chance of getting them to continue their religious studies and thereby better insuring their commitment to observance, Orthodoxy would have to accommodate them.

Weren’t Orthodox and Conservative Judaism trying to do the same thing? Keeping Jews Jewish by via Halacha while participating in modernity? I used to think, ‘Why could we not work together?’ ‘Why do we have to fight with each other when our goals are ultimately the same?’

And yet, Orthodox rabbis saw Conservative Judaism as completely unacceptable. It had to be fought!  They were right. What started out as a noble cause to conserve Judaism has turned into something quite different. History is a great teacher.

I know why we have succeeded and they have failed. There are several factors. While they believed in Halacha in theory, they ignored it in their members practices. In the misguided attempt to keep them in the fold they looked the other way while their members ignored fundamental Halachos like Shabbos. Focusing mostly on issues relating to Tikun Olam. That is still true today. Even though there are Conservative Jews that still observe Kashrus as their rabbis interpret it and observe Jewish holidays, it would hardly be considered observance by Orthodox standards (in most cases).

Orthodox rabbis never compromised on the need to follow Halacha. If a Jew did not observe Shabbos,– even though he might have been accepted as a member in an Orthodox Shul, there was clarity about it being a violation of Halacha.

More importantly, however, was the fact that Orthodox rabbis knew that Jewish education was the key to our salvation.

It was a struggle to build day schools that could accomplish this. But once the mass immigration of religious Holocaust survivors arrived, many of them demanded it. Day schools mushroomed. Orthodox Jewish education has succeeded beyond its builders wildest dreams. And saved us from extinction.

Meanwhile the Conservative Movement was focused on the synagogue. They believed that as long as a Jew belonged to a Shul they and their children would retain their Jewish identities. Armed with an approach which was tolerant of non observance, the movement exploded to become the largest denomination of Jews in America. But that did not last. As we all know the Conservative movement is now dying a not so slow death. They have lost members in droves. By the time they realized what Orthodoxy already knew, their attempt to rectify it via their own educational system, Solomon Schechter - was too little too late.

Part of their problem was that most Conservative Jews consider their synagogue membership expense to be too high. They felt that synagogue membership was expendable. Also, as much as many of them might have liked to send their children to a good Conservative day school, the tuition was so high that Jewish education too was considered expendable. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars per child when they can get a quality secular education in their highly regarded suburban public schools for free? Conservative Jews believe that their children could learn how to be Jewish in the home. That has not worked out so well for them.

Most Orthodox parents on the other hand understand the value of a day school education and were willing to sacrifice in order to send their children there.

This is the dilemma the Conservative movement faces. For which they are now scrambling to find a solution. But as Professor Kwall notes, the latest innovation of opening up membership to non Jews is clearly the wrong one. Another mistake in the wrong direction.

The idea of dealing with intermarriages by allowing non Jewish spouses to become members is a bad idea. It gives ‘permission' to other young Conservative Jews to do the same thing. This is as bad a mistake as was their 1950 responsa allowing their members to drive to Shul. Which they were doing anyway only now it was with the permission of their rabbis. That they limited driving only to Shul and back home was basically ignored by most of heir members.

That was a mistake and destroyed any chance of creating a Kehilla (communal) structure. Something JTS Chancellor Arnie Eisen admitted and lamented. He attributed Orthodoxy's success to the necessity of needing to live walking distance from a Shul. Thus creating and maintaining a Kehilla. (He was wrong in attributing our success to that. It contributes to it - but it is not the reason for it. As noted, education is the reason for our success.)

Professor Kwall points out Conservative Judaism is going in the direction of Reform. I don't see how anyone can stop it. Their membership is dwindling and their response has always been to go leftward. 

Ironically, for their part, Reform has done a 180. Although the very idea of practicing any ritual was anathema to Reform’s founders, they are now advising their members to embrace as many rituals as possible albeit without considering any of them mandatory. With Conservatives moving left and Reform right - it is even more likely that there will be a merger someday. Although the Conservative Movement does not yet accept patrilineal descent, it can’t be that far off if they are now accepting non Jews as members and embracing intermarried couples. All while some of their rabbis are beginning to perform intermarriages. The  chasm between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism widens as acts like these become standardized.

There are a couple of other impediments in that regard. The egalitarian ideal as practiced by their synagogues is incompatible with Orthodoxy. As is a belief system that legitimizes an allegorical view of the events at Sinai (and all the other events described in the Torah).

In the current sociological climate, I do not see too many Conservative Jews gravitating to Orthodoxy.

But still. As the Conservative movement continues to slide to the left, our doors continue to remain open. For those who want to live a meaning full Jewish life, I see very little alternative other than a commitment to observe the Torah as it has been handed down to us and applied to the times (including our own) throughout Jewish history.

There was a  time when a Conservative rabbi saw one of his congregants becoming Orthodox as a positive thing. I know of some formerly Conservative Jews who were influenced to be more observant via their experience at the movement’s summer camp program, Camp Ramah. They eventually gravitated to Orthodoxy - to the cheer of their counselors and/or rabbis.  But I am afraid that this phenomenon is decreasing. How could it not when they are going in the opposite direction?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Role Model for All of Us

Rav Yaakov Edelstein (left) with Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Mishpacha)
I have had little patience for the way some of the right wing Charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel actually leads. Not because I don’t respect them as major Talmidei Chachamim with few peers. I actually do respect them for that.  But because their views on many issues are the opposite of mine and because of their sledgehammer approach to getting their way. I have felt that many of the positions they have taken are harmful to the very thing they are dedicated to – the preservation and perpetuation of a Torah society. I am not going to go into details of those views here. I’ve done so more times than I can count!

I have also felt that in recent times the way they have handled things has done more to divide us than unite us.  While I realize that was not their goal, that seems to be the result. That is even true among some the moderate Charedi leadership in some instances. (Although I am absolutely convinced that they all firmly believe they are acting in the best interests of the Jewish people.)

This has caused much of the non Charedi world in Israel to see Charedi Jews in a mostly negative light. They see Charedi leaders concerned only for their own community’s welfare with a seemingly callous disregard for anyone else.

It was therefore hard for me to imagine someone like Rav Yaakov Edelstein existed in our day. He has proved this characterization wrong. His life was dedicated to both the Charedi Hashkafa and an unmitigated love of all of Klal Yisroel.

There is no question about his Charedi credentials nor his values with respect to the Klal. I had no idea this man even existed let alone to what he dedicated his life. Which was recently described by Mishpacha Magazine in a memorial tribute to him upon his passing. He embraced every Jew regardless of their level of observance.

He was not just all talk. He was all action. He lived his life dedicated to that premise. Ahavas Yisroel was his raison d’etre. He lived for his fellow Jew. And they knew it.

Rav Edelstein was the Rav of Ramat HaSharon, a mostly secular and upscale suburb of Tel Aviv. He served them in that capacity for 67 years. 67 YEARS! If one looks at his appearance it would seem highly unlikely that a town like this would ever hire him as their rabbi – let alone give him an almost 7 decade tenure. But that is the case. This is a man that consulted with the Chazon Ish and followed all of his directives. He was a founding student at Ponevezh. His brother, Rav Gershon Edelstein is one of the most respected Charedi leaders in Israel. Thousands of students flock regularly to this Rosh Yeshivah of Ponovezh.

And yet this is a description of how Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s town responded to their loss of this great man: 
While the Torah world has keenly felt the loss of Rav Yaakov Edelstein — who passed away three weeks ago on 25 Shevat — none are more broken than the residents of the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon… 
Deputy mayor of Ramat HaSharon, Yaakov Koretzky, one of Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s many Baalei Teshuvah, described him as follows: 
Rav Edelstein was like our eved (slave). He was bound heart and soul to the community, to the residents, the students, everyone. He worked for us. He davened for us. He thought about us and worried for us. He was our spiritual father and we’re now just beginning to understand what we lost. I used to meet Pinchas the shoemaker, who’s been here as long as the Rav, and he would tell me, ‘Koretzky, we have to get the Rav new shoes. Look, his shoes are falling apart.’ People didn’t realize how the Rav would walk all over town in service of the community.  
That he had reached so many secular Jews is a testament to not only Rav Edelstien which assures his legacy... it is a testament to what Israel could really look like if there were more like him.

I’m sure, for example that he followed the Charedi Hashkafa that is opposed to army service for young Chardim. I am also sure he supported government funding for Yeshivos and Kollelim. I’m sure that he supports full time Torah study for all Charedim for as long as possible without the ‘burden’ of additional secular studies. Mostly positions with which I disagree. These are the kinds of issues that have divided – and continue to divide the country. And I doubt that his Charedi views were not known by the secular Jews that he served. And yet he was a beloved figure despite such hard core Charedi views.

Imagine what Israel would look like if there were more people like him! Imagine if the Charedi leadership would embrace the secular Jew the way he did. Imagine if the Charedi world would look at Rav Edelstein as their role model instead of someone like Rav Shmuel Auerbach. 

I’m not saying there wouldn’t be differences of opinion between Charedim and the rest of Israeli people. There surely would be. Those important issues will not go away even under the most ideal of relationships. But if the Charedi world would learn from the pleasant ways of Rav Edelstein, those differences might be respected instead of disparaged - right along with the people that have them.

If only they would see the world through Rav Edelstein’s eyes - oh what a different world it would be.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump, Antisemitism, Liberal Jewish Leaders, and the Media

Liberal Jewish leader- J street head, Jeremy Ben-Ami (Jerusalem Post)
Most people that read this blog regularly know that I am no fan of the President. I am as thoroughly disgusted by his rhetoric and behavior as are his political enemies to the left. As I am embarrassed by his tweets that are often simply retaliations against those that have criticized him. Or designed as a distraction from some of the more serious issues that plague him.

The left is out to get him. That is not arguable. It is what all this focus on his ties to Russia is all about. That Trump somehow conspired with Russia to undermine the election… or that his agenda with Russia is based on personal gain is ridiculous. But that is exactly what the left is seeking to determine. They will leave no stone un-turned in the hopes of finding dirt on him. I will be shocked if the find even a grain of truth to those suspicions. They certainly haven’t yet. And not for a lack of trying.

I am not going to go into a whole litany of his shortcomings. They are obvious and I’ve done that so many times, that it would bore most people. The short version is that he continues to be an embarrassment to this country.

That said, most people also know that I support some of his polices. I wish he would just stick to discussing them instead of making ridiculous accusations about his phones being tapped during the campaign at the behest of the last President.

That is at best highly unlikely if not an outright lie. Although there might actually have been some surveillance of his campaign by intelligence agencies based on suspicions that the Russians were influencing the election, his accusation that Obama did tap his phones implying a political motive has pretty much been discredited.

Isi Lieber has penned an oped in the Jerusalem Post that makes a lot of sense. He expresses much of my own thinking a lot better than I ever could have. The subject is antisemitism and who he feels is responsible for it. It is us. Or at least our left side: 
 (T)he crass political exploitation of their Jewish identity by American leaders of purportedly “nonpartisan” mainstream Jewish organizations is unprecedented. Today, in what must be described as self-destruction, a substantial number of irresponsible leaders of the most successful and powerful Jewish Diaspora community seem to have gone berserk, and are fueling antisemitism. 
This has nothing to do with free speech No one denies anyone that right. Least of all me.  But that does not minimize the damage these people do with their irresponsible characterizations and exaggerations of antisemtism and who they accuse of fomenting it.

Leiber calls it a ‘self-induced collective breakdown’. The left is filled with ‘progressive’ Jews.   And they are in full blown anti Trump mode. Not because of his rhetoric. But because of his politics. And they are taking advantage of his considerable shortcomings to capitalize on it. Blaming him for the so-called increase in antisemitism. As I have already said, there is no increase in antisemitism. Only an increased amplitude on the part of the racist fringe groups that have always been there.

Trump is continually described as an antisemite despite the unprecedented number of Jews at the highest levels of government in his administration. Despite his warming of relations with Israel. And despite having an observant Jewish daughter that underwent an Orthodox conversion.

And it is the left leaning progressive Jews that are screaming the most. Many of whom are heterodox rabbis that believe that Tikun Olam is all there is to Judaism. And for these mostly non observant Jewish leaders it is Israel; its prime minister; the settlements; and the ‘occupation’ that are to blame for all the woes of the Palestinian people. The same Palestinians - most of whom would prefer Jews go back to ‘where they came from’ (ala  former UPI reporter, Helen Thomas) so they can have ‘their land’ back.

It is no mere coincidence in my view that the left has so many non observant Jews in it. The rabbinic leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements are leading the charge.That’s what happens when the Mitzvah of Tikun Olam is the only one that is sacrosanct. They want to fix the world of the underdog. And Palestinians clearly are the underdog of the moment. Blaming right wing Jews is a no brainer for them.

Unfortunately some of these Trump hating progressive Jews are Open Orthodox rabbis ordained by YCT. (Like Shmuley Yaknlowitz who has pulled some pretty stupid stunts to make his Trump hating point.)

These mostly non observant liberal rabbis and their constituents see the politically conservative perspective as an archaic vestige of the past. Orthodox Jews to their right are seen as selfish, unenlightened, and primitive. And not having the high moral convictions that they do. That misguided  - and frankly insulting approach blinds them to the reality.

Most of the mainstream media is clearly part of the liberal establishment. They have been egged on by Trump’s foolish obsession with them. To say that Trump has been unkind to the media is an understatement. His constant negative rhetoric about them (not the least of which was the ridiculous and incendiary comment they are the enemy of the people) makes it hard for me to believe that reporting about him is unbiased. 

They can’t stand him. And it shows. They hardly hide it. One can see it in almost every TV reporter that covers him.  Every roll of the eye; every smirk; the ridicule in their voices; and even the contempt… it’s all there for anyone to plainly see. I see it every day. And they get away with it because Trump is an easy target. He has given them plenty of ammunition and they are thrilled to use it. They are capitalizing on it.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being a Trump loving right wing fanatic, I will repeat here what I’ve said many times. I did not vote for him. I voted for his opponent even though I thought she was a terrible candidate. And I don’t regret it. I do lean right, but I also have some liberal views. I am certainly no Rush Limbaugh.

But I see an unprecedented focus by the left on ‘getting Trump’. And I therefore feel compelled to defend him. Because I am absolutely convinced that the unprecedented animus Trump faces now is either entirely political or personal. The only criticism of him that isn’t - is from Republicans who are in the unfortunate position of having to agree with their political opponents on certain issues. (Although some of the animus from the right might be personal. Like that of John McCain. I can’t really blame him.)

Point is - the truth is buried among all of this ‘antitrumpism’. There are distortions galore for political and personal reasons. I feel obligated to tell it the way I see it. I am happy to see Isi Lieber do so by nailing the people that are really responsible for the increase in antisemitism. Someone has to ferret out the truth about what is really happening in the world because the mainstream media is incapable of doing so right now.