Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Misguided Ideals - Opting Out of Orthodoxy

Maharat ordainees at their 2013 graduation ceremony - idealistic but misguided
It appears that the OU (Orthodox Union) is following up on its directive to their member synagogues. Which was that they may not hire women to serve as rabbis. Last February, a group of distinguished rabbis released a Teshuva (reponsa) that outlined what a woman may – and may not do – in the broad spectrum of professional roles in a Shul. 

The short version is that a woman may not be a rabbi in the traditional sense of the word. She may not lead a Shul in that capacity. However she may be heavily involved in many of the services usually reserved for a rabbi.

For example a woman may be a mentor, an educator, teach, give lectures, serve as a visiting scholar in residence, serve as a director of various synagogue programs, or serve as a spiritual or pastoral counselor. And although there was some disagreement about the legitimacy of Yoatzot – female Halachic advisers to women on matters of Taharas HaMishpacha - it was agreed that Yoetzet can be a valuable resource in furtherance of that Mitzvah… and that employing a woman trained as a Yoetzet would certainly not disqualify a Shul from membership in the OU.  

At the time this responsa was released, I made note of the fact that virtually the entire Orthodox establishment had rejected the legitimacy of a woman as a rabbi.  And yet some modern Orthodox Shuls that were otherwise members in good standing of the OU hired women to serve as rabbis or assistant rabbis. In some cases even using the title rabbi.  

These women were ordained by Yeshivat Marahat – a seminary created by Rabbi Avi Weiss for that purpose of ordaining women. These women study the material traditionally studied by male students for the rabbinate, tested the same way, and if they pass the exams, they are awarded Semicha.

I have no problem with women studying the material and being tested on it. Nor do I have a problem rewarding them with some sort title recognizing their achievements. But I do have a problem with flouting the repsonsa of virtually all rabbinic authorities, from the Charedi authorities of organizations like Agudah; to the  rabbinic authorities of Centrist organizations like the RCA and the OU; to the rabbinic authorities of the  European rabbinate; to the Israeli rabbinate. All of whom all consider female rabbis to be violating tradition and possibly even Halacha. 

I am not aware of a single recognized Posek from any Orthodox stream that approves of it. Those who are pushing it are nowhere near the stature of those who disapprove. But that hasn’t stopped some synagogue rabbis from asserting themselves in this regard. These rabbis may be pretty intelligent. and knowledgeable. And they may indeed have their heart in the right place – feeling that the time has come to recognize that women can do anything as well men. But that does not give them the right to overturn the Teshuvos of men far wiser than them who have rejected it.  

Which is why the  OU is now backing up its Teshuva with action. From VIN
(T)he Orthodox Union is pressuring synagogues that have hired the women to change their titles… (They sent) a three-member delegation to meet with the four synagogues to discuss compliance with the ruling — including requesting that at least two of the women clergy change their titles.
The delegation met with Thomas-Newborn and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky at Bnai David-Judea earlier this month….  But Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom told JTA that the delegation did not exclude the possibility of expulsion from the O.U. over the issue.
“It felt like a threat because they sent three men to our congregation and interrogated us about our practices,” he told JTA. “And they said everything is on the table, and they said we’re not in compliance. I took that as a threat, that there’s a possibility of expulsion from the O.U. They did not deny that.”
Both Friedman and Kanefsky said they would not compromise on the title. 
It seems to be finally happening. There is going to be yet another split in Judaism. There will be Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, and this new (yet to be named) breakaway movement, that will no longer be considered part of Orthodoxy. Now it’s true that the OU has not yet decided whether these Shuls will be expelled. But based on the above I don’t think the OU will have a choice. If there is no change, these Shuls will no longer be able to call themselves Orthodox since they will no longer have the imprimatur of any Orthodox institutional body.

How sad it is when one places an ideal – even one as worthy as egalitarianism – above the principles of the Torah as expressed by virtually all Poskim of stature. This is not about what I or anyone else thinks is fair or just. It’s not about any kind of hierarchical structure dictating  policy from on high based on the misogyny of the past.

It’s about the right of virtually all contemporary Poskim…  Poskim that are not in any way misogynistic… Poskim that have  just as much compassion and sense of fairness as those supporting it - rejecting it for idealistic reasons based on  their superior knowledge, understanding of the Halachic process. And respect for tradition which they believe should rarely be altered except in the most dire of circumstances. Of which this is not one.

As I’ve said many times in the past, none of this makes me happy. Because despite my profound disagreement with them, I realize that it is their own sense of idealism that motivates them (misguided though I believe it to be).  I hate to lose bright, idealistic, and highly motivated Jews from Orthodoxy. Which these women and their supporters surely are. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump’s Trip

President Trump at the Kotel - which is on the West Bank (Jewish Press/ABC)
I am a big fan of peace. Especially in my ancestral homeland, Israel. Which is why I support any reasonable plan that can be accepted by both sides. And why I supported Ehud Barak’s attempts to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000. It almost happened. Except that ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

Arafat could not bring himself to sign off on that treaty. President Clinton, who tried mightily to make it happen blamed Arafat for letting that golden opportunity slip by him.  

One may ask how I could have supported a peace plan that gave up East Jerusalem? I didn’t like it. But for me a treaty that would bring acceptance by the Arab world of Israel as  Jewish State; allow unfettered access to the Kotel; allow for larger border settlements like Maale Adumim to be retained by Israel in exchange for un-populated land swaps; bring about the end to the violence and bloodshed; and that would usher in  a new era of peace and cooperation between Israel and her Arab neighbors - was worth the price.  Are these parameters unreasonable? Not at all. They have already been agreed to by Israel and Palestinian leaders at Camp David in 2000 under the President Clinton.

What about giving up Jewish sovereignty on Har HaBayis (the Temple Mount where our holy temple once stood)? I don’t think we ever really had sovereignty there accept in name only. Muslim clerics did -and still do. In my view giving up East Jerusalem is a small price to pay for the kind of peace I just described.  

I know that a lot of my friends will see me as some sort of traitor. Give up Har HaBayis? How dare I?! What kind of a Jew am I?! Well it isn’t me giving it up. It was the then Israeli Prime Minister (and current Defense Minister) Ehud Barak giving it up as head of state. Who had the right as the democratically elected head of state to do so. I merely supported it for the reasons I stated.

That was the ideal. But realty is elsewhere. Giving up Gaza has demonstrated that giving up any land for peace in a climate where terrorists like Hamas calls the shots - is a fool’s errand. And should not be done under any circumstances. So at the moment I wouldn’t even give up the West Bank even if they agreed to cede all of East Jerusalem to Israel.

Because that will not bring peace. It will only bring more bloodshed. As has proven to be the case after we gave them Gaza. Instead of showing what peaceful relations and cooperation could achieve, Hamas has doubled down on what they really have in mind: retaking by any means necessary - all of Palestine from the ‘Zionist Jews that (with the world’s complicity) stole it from them’.

I bring this all up now since we have a new President who is following in the footsteps of his predecessors in the belief that he can do what they could not: forge a real and lasting peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

Many people are guffawing at that. Trump?! He is the least qualified of all to accomplish this task! What does he or any of ‘his men’(Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and David Friedman)  know about the Middle Eastern mindset? They are novices whose expertise lies elsewhere. Others that actually are experts and familiar with the slightest minutia of that mindset have been working on this for decades. They have all failed! Trump thinks he can just walk in knowing next to nothing about the situation and pull off the impossible?! What can he possibly do differently that will allow him to do it?

To make matters worse, Trump did his level best to alienate every Muslim in the world, disparaging  them during the campaign. And after... banning them from entering this country; treating them all like terrorists . Does he really think he’s going to have any sway with an Arabs in the Middle east, the vast majority of whom are Muslims?

With resumes like this, it is not too difficult to predict big time failure. Trump will accomplish nothing. World leaders already hate him. The Media hates him. The Democrats hate him. More than half of America hates him. How is he going to convince anyone to do anything, let alone change over 100 years of Jew hatred in the Middle East.

Well a funny thing has happened. He is currently on an overseas mission to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Rome trying to unite the 3 major faiths to fight terrorism. Muslims not only do not hate him, they have given him honor like no other President in history. He managed to convene a conference in Saudi Arabia attended by leaders of fifty Muslim countries. And he spoke truth to them, telling them that they must rid their countries (and even the world) of the people in their midst that persecute Jews, murder Christians, and commit all kinds of terror in the name of Islam.  

Not a single leader walked out on him.

He also scrapped the Obama ban on selling Saudi Arabia weapons.  Which they will now use in the fight against terror. He spoke of the two biggest enemies of the Arabs in the region: ISIS and Iran. There is no doubt that this is true. It is also true that ISIS and Iran are the biggest threat to Israel. Which makes Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Israel natural allies.

It appears that there is already behind the scenes cooperation between them. One of Trump’s goals is to make this cooperation more open. These circumstances did not exist a few short years ago. But they exist today and Trump is going to take advantage of them. And he will use the above mentioned people he put in place to accomplish it. Jason Greenblatt, for one has has already earned the respect of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas despite his well known support of Israel.

It should not be lost on anyone that Abbas has said about Trump that if anyone can achieve peace it’s him. He said he really thinks Trump can succeed where Obama has failed. If one thinks about Trump’s negative rhetoric about Muslims during the campaign, it should be shocking that any of this is happening. And yet – it is!

What about my fears that giving up the West Bank to Palestinians is a prescription for more bloodshed than ever? I still feel  that way. But I also trust Israel’s leadership. If they are willing to accept a peace deal brokered by the Trump administration, it will not be at the expense of more violence and bloodshed. Whatever one thinks of Israel’s leadership, they are not stupid. Nor are they suicidal.

How will it all happen? I can’t answer that. I acknowledge that the chances for a peace deal are slim if history is any kind of teacher.  But then again you never know. Trump seems to have made a peace deal between Israel and the Arabs his top foreign policy objective.

No matter how one feels about the President... even if you despise him and think he should be impeached, I believe we should all hope and pray that he succeeds. Because that will save Jewish lives. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Why Rabbi Mazuz's Tirade Against Reform Judaism is Wrong

Rabbi Meir Mazuz - center of photo (Arutz Sheva)
Reform Jews are Jews in every sense of the word. I mention this in light of yet another tirade by Charedi rabbinic leader, Rabbi Meir Muzuz, head of the Sephardi Yeshivat Kashei Rachamim. He has joined the ranks of other rabbis who have said that Reform Jews are not Jews.  

I believe that he knows better. Anyone born of a Jewish mother is a Jew. It doesn’t matter what movement they belong to. It doesn’t matter if they don’t follow Halacha at all. It doesn’t even matter if they are anti Torah. They are still Jews. What is true about Reform is that their movement has redefined what a Jew actually is. Their rejection of Halacha as a mandate for all Jews has spawned new laws of their own that contradict Halacha. 

Like that of patralineal descent. Halacha does not accept a the child of a non Jewish mother as Jewish even if the father is Jewish. Even if he is the most observant man in the world, his offspring is still not Jewish if the mother is not. Additionally if I understand correctly they no longer require any kind of ritual conversion process. If a non Jew starts identifying as Jew and lives his life that way (whatever that means in the Reform movement),they are accepted as Jewish.

So  why the tirade? He was expressing his overall views of the Reform movement citing examples of how callous they were to observing Halacha: citing  their history and  their failures. All in reaction to their current attempts to get ‘a piece of the Kotel’ for themselves. He is adamantly opposed to it and expressed it in a heated  tirade.

Although I agree with him about the Reform movement’s failures, I don’t believe he advances the cause of the Judaism with that tirade.  Most Reform Jews are simply ignorant of their own Judaism. Until recent times Reform Jews did not necessarily lead their lives in any way that is specifically Jewish. Those that were committed to the worthy goals of Tikun Olam and worked hard on those goals were not doing anything specifically Jewish. Tikun Olam is not specific to Jews. Non Jews believe in those same goals and work just as hard as Reform Jews do. (There are also plenty of Orthodox Jews that work towards Tikun Olam.) Tikun Olam is therefore not a distinctive identifier for a Jew.

With no identifying feature, A Reform Jew hardly needed to maintain any Jewish identity. What was the point?  So a few years ago, the movement changed direction. Instead of discouraging the performance of Mitzvos as archaic and unnecessary, they started encouraging them (although not requiring them). As an example, many of their their rabbis started wearing Kipot and their temples started putting up Sukkos for that holiday on their premises. They finally realized that without a distinct way of life, there was nothing Jewish about how they lived their lives. and were therefore losing members.

That is a positive development. And we Orthodox should not only take note of it, but encourage it. This is not the time to disengage with them. We should instead reach out to them – and enlighten the Reform Jew that wants to express their Judaism in the more concrete way of Mitzvah observance. Who better to show them how to do it than the Orthodox Jew? Which is why to this day I lament the kind of outreach attempted by Rabbi Yosef Reinman, a Charedi rabbi who befriend a Reform rabbi and then authored a book together with him. They had one appearance together on a book tour where Rabbi Reinman saw an unprecedented  opportunity for outreach. 

The people he addressed on that tour were unlikely to ever meet an Orthodox rabbi any other way. Imagine the potential… But he was told by the American Charedi leadership to cease and desist from doing that since appearing on the same stage with a Reform rabbi gave the appearance of tacit recognition of their movement. Even though they made clear that appearing together should not be construed as agreement, it didn’t matter to the rabbinic leaders who told him to stop. So he did and lost a tremendous opportunity to reach out to Reform Jews.

Back to Rabbi Mazuz. His tirade has done nothing except make matters worse. This does not mean that we should not oppose Reform attempts at getting recognition. We should. It is in fact not a legitimate expression of Judaism. In my view we are obligated to oppose all attempts at recognition by movements that we see as illegitimate. Which includes opposing Israel recognizing them.  Yes, Israel must accept Reform Jews as full fledged Jews as they should. That is what Halacha requires provided they are born of a Jewish mother.  But a Jewish country should not accept a movement as a legitimate expression of Judaism that denies the Torah’s requirement to follow Halacha.

At the same time, one should not say or do things that alienate them. Which Rabbi Mazuz’s tirade certainly contributed to.

His tirade against Reform was intended for the ears of the Charedi Kenesset members. He urged them to reject any attempt at giving then any portion of the Kotel. The fact that he felt the need to express it  indicates that the Charedi parties are not necessarily on board with him. This is not to say they wouldn’t prefer not giving them anything. I’m sure they would. But at the same time, they realize that giving them a different part of the Kotel will end the controversy and constant conflict that takes place at the Kotel - allowing the Kotel to remain with their traditional Orthodox customs and practices without interference. 

As long as doing that does not include any official recognition of their movements, I support the idea of giving them their own portion of the Kotel. Not only for the above mentioned reasons. But also for the outreach opportunities that will surely arise. There are many indications that a lot of non Orthodox Jews are ready for it. They are looking for a spirituality that has been missing from their lives and we Orthodox Jews can help them find it. 

This is not to say that this will stem the tide of total assimilation that has been the hallmark of Reform Judaism since its founding. That is truer today than ever before. But that should not free us from the task of trying to preserve Judaism for as many Jews as we can. The one thing we should not do is what Rabbi Mazuz did. Because that will not only not help outreach, it will do exactly the opposite and chase them all as far away from us as possible.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Can Religious Zionism Survive?

RZ  students in Merkaz Harav  -They are exempt from army service (JP)
One might think that Modern Orthodox (MO) Jews are doomed after reading the somewhat shocking results of a survey in Israel. Well, not so much Modern Orthodox Jews, but Religious Zionist (National Religious) Jews. They are often seen as the Israeli equivalent of modern Orthodox.

The headline of a Jewish Press article says it all: ‘Only 46% of Next Generation National Religious Israelis Keep the Faith.’

With all of the talk about the record number of Charedim going OTD, what is happening in modern Orthodox circles along these lines seems to have been ignored. Until now. What gives? Why is this happening at such an alarming level? Are Charedi critics of modern Orthodoxy right? Do we – because of our engagement with the culture  - suffer a higher rate of attrition? I honestly don’t know the answer to that. Suffice it to say that this problem exists in both worlds. I have discussed this phenomenon in the Charedi context. But as of yet I haven’t done much about it in the Modern Orthdodx context.

First, I think we need to separate Israelis from Americans.  The experiences of these two groups are so radically different, that the two cannot be compared. Let us look at some of those differences.

Americans have one great disadvantage over Israelis. Aside from their  homes and schools American influences are mostly secular. While most MO homes are generally religious Zionist (RZ), they do not live it the way Israelis do.

RZs in Israel are born and bred into this philosophy as a way of life. Which is constantly reinforced especially by their mandatory army service.  Modern Orthodox American youth are weaned into an RZ mindset, but (except for the most idealistic)  tend to focus on the American culture. True they mostly attend religious schools that whose orientation is RZ. They thurs learn to respect ‘everything Israel’. However their connection with the actual state might come during what’s called the ‘gap year’. Which is the year spent in Israel post high school - most likely at an American Religious Zionist Yeshiva.

After that they go on to college for career purposes. If motivated enough about their Judaism they might attend YU or HTC.  But  the focus is mostly on career even while Torah study is an important priority. There are of course exceptions that go 'right' and end up in places like Ner Israel or even Lakewood eventually. But they are the exception. What percentage of them keep the faith of their parents - I don't know. But their circumstance is different from the Israeli circumstance - which is the focus of the study.

RZ Israeli youth live their Religious Zionism every day. Most see army service as a sublime duty. While there are some that go into Hesder type programs… and even a few that might go into Nachal Charedi, I believe it is mostly the case that they serve in the regular IDF – often choosing highly specialized programs that lead them into dangerous assignments.

The regular army is not a good culture for the religious student. It is an army culture stringent about its rules without paying much atenttion to religiosity. This is not to say that the army is anti religious. But the culture that has evolved is at best agnostic about religion.

One can be entirely observant serving in the army. And I assume that is largely the case. But it is also quite easy to becomes entirely non observant. The peer group and friends one makes while serving can easily be fine people but not religious who expose these young students to an exiting and entirely different world from the one in which they are raised.

It is also a fact that the army is by definition the great equalizer. So that religious and secular recruits lead pretty much the same lives. They wear the same uniforms, eat the same food, live together in barracks and fight along side each other. This creates a bond unlike a simple friendship that might develop for Americans in a college environment. One that will surely impact greatly on ones religiosity.

I want to be clear. The army is not purposely disabusing their recruits of religious observance. I know a lot of RZs that have served in the IDF and came out unscathed. But it can’t be denied that the army experience weighs heavily on one’s religious observance. If one does not enter the army highly committed to it, it is can easily slip away.

This is my theory, although I admit it is anecdotal and based on my own personal observation. Nonetheless I think it might be one reason why (according to this study) the majority of RZ children do not live up to their parents religious standards.

I’m sure there additional factors. Or entirely different ones in many cases. But they may apply in both countries. The one thing that stands out  that is different from Americans is that army service is required of all Israelis.

Which is a double edged sword. On the one hand, living one’s Judaism is far more likely in a Jewish country. Serving in the military should just be a extension of that. But the nature of the army may undermine observance. And observance is the epitome of Judaism.

While 46% is a large number of Religious Zionists that remain in their parents religious orbit, it is obvious that the 54% that don’t is a majority that doesn't. That is shocking and should not be ignored. I think it would be wise for religious Zionist leaders to face this reality and change the army dynamic.

Perhaps Nachal Charedi or a similar army  program designed for RZ families should be implemented. It seems that parents cannot rely on the idealism that was instilled in their children. While that is wonderful when it happens and an idealistic soldier can easily maintain his religiosity in a secular army - it seems not to be working for the majority. Is this a acceptable condition for Religious Zionists in Israel as we move forward? Not in my book.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is it a Witch Hunt?

Robert S. Mueller - newly appointed special counsel to investigate the President
Once again, I find myself in the awkward position of defending a President that I wish would never have been nominated – let alone elected. I am not going t re-hash all of my issues with him. Been there and done that ad nauseam.  But since I am in the  ‘business’ of Emes (as I understand it)  I feel the need to do it. This should not, however, be misconstrued as having changed my negative views of the President. It hasn't.

Yesterday,  Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced his appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel to investigate the possible coordination with the Russians to influence the election.

The last time that happened was when Ken Starr was appointed to investigate President Clinton. Upon the completion of that investigation it was determined that Clinton lied under oath to congress. Who then voted to impeach him.  They did not however vote to remove him from office.

The only other time in my own lifetime this happened was when President Nixon was investigated in the Watergate affair. He was in danger of being impeached because it was determined that he too obstructed justice. He decided to resign (in disgrace) rather than face impeachment.

Now it’s Trump’s turn. Or is it? My own view is that it is not. Trump will not be impeached. At least not for this. Let us review the series of events that led up to Mueller’s appointment.

It has been determined by US intelligence agencies that the Russians did indeed try to influence the election. Not by fixing votes. But by leaking some of Hillary Clinton’s private emails (sent to them by Wiki-leaks). That weakened her candidacy - thereby strengthening Trump. Upon discovery of these additional emails, (now ex) FBI Director James Comey said he would reopen the investigation of Clinton. This happened shortly before the election. Hillary Clinton blamed Comey for her loss to Trump.

Since the election Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn was fired because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about contact with Russian officials during the election. He was later replaced by General H. R. McMaster. Who has been a staunch defender of Trump’s innocence in disclosing secret Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign Minister.

Last week, Trump suddenly fired Comey. Shortly after he was fired, Comey released a memo he had taken during a meeting with President Trump the day after Flynn was fired. That memo said the following: 
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” 
The media, Democrats, and even some Republicans seized on this as evidence that Trump tried to obstruct justice by telling the FBI director to stop the investigation of his ties to Russia. The assumption being that Trump's intent was to avoid being discovered show that he did conspire with them to influence the election. 

That’s a great narrative if one believes that Trump is a scoundrel who had ulterior motives for becoming President and therefore used whatever means he could - including  illegal ones - to get there. I’m convinced that many people think this is fact. I do not.

There has not been one shred of evidence produced to date that Trump had any ties with the Kremlin. Just a lot of speculation.  

Why did he fire Comey? That’s an easy one. He didn’t want to be investigated. Not because he’s guilty of anything. But because you never know what they are going to find under some rock that will make him look guilty of something. And perhaps more importantly because he didn’t want to spend his time defending himself of false accusations. There has been a lot of speculation about such ties. Nothing has been produced that show that he is guilty of anything. I am certain that no effort has been spared in trying to find something to pin on him. So far, nothing. 

What about Comey’s memo? Doesn’t that show that he tried to obstruct justice by telling him to stop the investigation? No, it doesn’t. All it shows is that Trump is a man of compassion who doesn’t like ‘good people’ like Flynn to get into any more trouble than he was already in. 

He felt that Flynn had suffered enough because of this and just wanted to spare him and his family any more grief. Remember also that the meeting with Comey happened the day Flynn was fired. If one looks at the wording of the memo, it is obvious what his intent was. He didn’t threaten anyone. He didn't insist on shutting down the investigation. He just asked him to consider the consequences to a ‘good man’ if this were to proceed. The point being ‘intent’. 

Obstruction of justice is all about intent. If one tries to end an investigation because he fears being caught in a crime, that would be obstruction of justice. If on the other hand he asks that perhaps the investigation into Flynn end for reasons of compassion, that does not show intent. He wasnit ryting to avoid being discovered of a crime since he didn't commit one. That is not obstruction. He did not threaten to fire him Comey if he didn’t. He just asked. From the way the memo was worded, it seemed Trump was just expressing a moment of compassion for a ‘good man’.  And in that memo, Comey seemed to agree with that description of Flynn.

Trump may someday be impeached. But not from this. This is not like Nixon who was guilty of covering up the Watergate burglary and tried to obstruct justice - lying about his friends’ (Haldeman and Ehrlichman) involvement in it. 

It is not like Bill Clinton who lied under oath about his sexual escapades with a young female intern. 

I don’t see any lies here by Trump. Nor do I see any evidence of a Trump conspiracy with Russia to influence the election. 

Which begs the question, why are so many others saying (or implying) that Trump did obstruct justice?  One Republican, John McCain has even said that the investigation is now at Watergate levels. And what about the media? They are all but salivating at this news and have all but declared Trump guilty. 

In order to understand why there is so much animosity towards Trump one does not have to be a rocket scientist. The one thing Trump has been consistently good at in spades is making enemies of the media. As he has been in alienating some of his natural Republican constituency. Trump has no idea how to react to criticism except to lash out (or hit back as he likes to put it) at his critics as harshly as he can with exaggerations and lies. His ‘diarrhea of the brain’ has resulted in insulting national heroes like John McCain. And his limited vocabulary doesn’t help him either.

Democrats are more than happy to paint him guilty. Because he wants to destroy a lot of their sacred cows – like Obamacare and taxing the rich.  The media is making it easy for them. Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House oversight committee is a constant presence on the air whose dulcet tones make his characterization of Trump sound credible and fair. 

But if one really pays attention one can see that Chaffetz is enjoying the party (and the limelight) - allowing others  to do the dirty work. He thus sounds objective.  Liberal Republicans like Susan Collins have been saying some of the same things their Democratic colleagues have been saying. Which gives Democrats cover by saying that this isn't partisan - and not a witch hunt at all. Just an attempt to get the facts.

I’m kind of glad that Mueller has been chosen as an independent counsel. I doubt he will find anything. I don’t believe there is anything there to find. Let them get on with it – and end it once and for all so that Trump can get on with his agenda, which is not all that bad. Unless you are a Democrat or liberal Republican.

Now if I’m wrong. And Trump is guilty, that will be a win for Conseratives. If Trump is impeached for obstructiong justice and removed from office, then he will be replaced by man that will bring honor back to the Oval Office.

I don’t however think that will happen. Trump will remain in office despite the best efforts of his political opponents and the media to paint him in the worst possible tones.

At the end of the day, Is this all just a witch hunt? I think it might be. It’s OK to hate the President. Free country. But it is not OK to view everything he does in negative tones. Because that’s just plain old fashioned prejudice at work.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A People Extremely Apart

This is what they protest! (Jerusalem Post)
These Jews of Ramat Bet Shemesh-B  are not my people. Anyone that can behave the way this crowd did, cannot possibly be from the seed of Israel. One look at the video below will explain why. No words are necessary.

I realize that to consider fellow Jews not part of our people is an astonishing comment. Especially when these Jews are so meticulous in so many other aspects of Judaism.

There is not a doubt in my mind that most of them pay close attention to detail and go beyond the letter of the law in many of the Mitzvos.  Whether it’s Shabbos or Kashrus;  Tefilla, or Torah study…  Or simply the idea of wearing clothing that is designed by Jews – for Jews. So as to avoid violating Chukas HaGoy – the prohibition in the Torah of emulating non Jews (as they interpret it).  They look to their rabbinic leaders as icons. And follow their every directive – their every word!

One can admire their vigilance in going as far as they do – even if we disagree with their interpretation of Halacha and with the Chumros they have accepted upon themselves. They live that way because they believe their way of life is the most pristine way of observing the Torah. Living their lives in a higher state of holiness. We can and even should admire people that sacrifice so much in service of God. As long as they don’t impose that way of life on others. And by living isolated lives for the most part, they don’t.

So how can I say I don’t consider them part of my people- that they are not from the seed of Israel? Because of the behavior seen in that video.  Behavior that keeps happening.  

Degrading a fellow human being because he joined the army – especially in army units that are geared towards the Charedi way of life is not how Jews act. No matter how much you disagree with him. You can preach your disagreement from the mountaintops. I don’t  care. And they have that right. But when you keep doing things like what this video shows. You are doing far more than expressing a view. You are ‘murdering’people by ‘whitening their faces’. The Gemarah compares embarrassing a fellow Jew to murder.

Even though I don’t agree with I understand their objections. But I do not understand how they express them.  It isn’t just a few people that feel this way. It is all of them.  Most of them do have the will to out and protest. But enough of them do and often! Which means they agree with their goals if not with their methods. (I’m not sure they don’t agree with their methods as well. They might just be too scared to do it themselves.) 

They see a fellow like this as a traitor. And harass him a lot more than a non Charedi soldier. Who are they to make that decision? Who guides them in making these kinds of protests? It can’t be that their leaders are opposed to it – but they simply can’t control the mob. Or that these are just extremists and are not condoned.

They ARE condoned. If anyone of their rabbinic leaders have spoken up and condemned them  (like any member of the Eida HaCharedis for example) I haven’t heard about it. But even if they did say something, I don’t believe them. This can’t keep happening without at least the tacit approval by their leadership. There are too many people doing it. Too many times.

That other more moderate Charedi leaders have not said or done enough to condemn – or more importantly to prevent any further protests like this is a good question. I think they should. But at the same time I don’t think it will change anything. Nor will it help to put participants in a protests like this in jail. (That is in fact what happened. This was apparently a sting operation according to Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel. But it doesn't matter. The protesters didn’t know that.) Putting the in jail will just make them mad. And generate even more protests perhaps even violent ones with more people attending them. 

The only thing that will help is for  their own leadership to act. They must put the same energy into stopping this kind of thing as they do exhorting their people into leading the kind of religious life they otherwise lead. the They clearly are not doing that. Inaction on their part is at least tacit approval. Even if they might pay lip-service objection to it.

This is why I say these are not my people. They may technically be Jews. They were born of a Jewish mother. But so too was Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter, founder of ‘Murder Incorporated’. Being born a Jew is not enough. One must act like one in order to be considered a part of the Tzibur of Klal Yisroel – the Klal. If one is Poresh from the Tzibur, then he is by definition not a  part of it.

With the kind of constant behavior shown in this video they have removed themselves from the nation.  Even though their Mitzvah observance is exemplary. And their Chesed towards like minded Jews is superlative (which I am told it is). It is not extended to those outside of their general religious worldview. 

They do not behave in the manner of our patriarch Abraham who was renowned and is remembered for his kindness towards his fellow man. Even if they didn’t deserve it - as evidenced by his plea before God to spare the people of Sodom. Which is why I question whether they are actually descended from the seed of Israel.

I don’t think I will ever be able to go into these kinds of neighborhoods again and look at the people there the same way I have in the past: as exemplars of people going the extra mile in service of God. 

I’m sorry but I can’t help the way I feel. I now have a sense of contempt for them as a group until such time things change. And the only chance of that happening, it seems, is never. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning, Money, and Good Looks - the Business of Shidduchim

A young married Charedi couple (Jewniverse)
Jonathan Rosenblum’s article in Mishpacha Magazine last week (available in full here) dealt with the ubiquitous topic of Shiduchim in the Charedi world. Which has come to be known as the ‘Shidduch Crisis’. There are a lot of young women that are being passed over and remain unmarried past their ‘prime’. Which in the Charedi world is about age 25.

(Although there is a similar problem in the modern Orthodox world, the reasons are entirely different for them and therefore so too are the solutions. Chasidim - on the other hand - don’t have this problem in their own system of Shiduchim.  This post is based on Jonathan’s article that deals with the non Chasidic ‘Yeshiva’ world.)

Jonathan has an interesting spin (made subtlety) on the so-called ‘age gap theory’ as the reason for that ‘crisis’.  For those that don’t recall - the theory is as follows. Women are ready for marriage at a much younger age.  At 19 they are all generally dating for purposes of marriage. On the other hand men don’t usually start dating until they are a 22 or 23 years of age. Young men of that age prefer to date the 19 or 20 year olds rather than young women their own age. A three or four year age difference between married couples in this pool is probably the most common occurrence.

Those that have studied this phenomenon say that since the rate of reproduction in the Charedi world has been increasing  substantially every year - that means there is an increase in the number of children each year. The pool of 23 year old men is therefore smaller than the pool of 19 year old women in any given year. And that results in an increasing numbers of  ‘leftover’ single women each year.

One might respond and say that the ratio of boys to girls being born each year is about the same. There should be one boy for every one girl. The problem could be solves if young men could be convinced to date women their own age – or even older women. That is not going to happen as a general policy though. Another solution some rabbis have suggested is that young men should get married at a much younger age. Personally I think that’s a prescription for even bigger problems down the road. I have had my own suggestion about what could be done. But they are beyond the scope of this post. And no one is going to listen to me anyway.

The age gap is not the only thing that causes a Shidduch crisis. Not be a long shot. One of those reasons is one I have mentioned many times before. ‘Good boys’ are a lot harder to find than ‘good girls’. In the Chareddi world – a good boy means a ‘learning boy’ – someone that has a good reputation as serious student of Torah . If a ‘working boy’  – or one that has decided  to attend a college or professional school in preparation for a career – is not considered a ‘good boy’ in the sense that I just described. And not marriage material.

That forces a lot of young Charedi men to stay in Yeshiva well past their actual desires and abilities call for them to do so. Which means that even among the pool of ‘learning boys’, there are few that are considered ‘good boys’.

On the other hand women in the Charedi world are not sought after for their learning abilities. A  ‘good girl’ is considered ‘good’ if she seeks a ‘learning boy’ and is willing to support them. It is therefore a lot easier to become a ‘good girl’ than it is to become a ‘good boy’.

That is a problem I have not seen addressed. If it has – certainly not anywhere near the ‘age gap’ problem.  But it is a fact that is clearly and significantly affecting Shiduchim in a negative way.

Interestingly Jonathan notes that the Charedi world is not alone as a population where ‘good girls’ outnumber ‘good boys’ which contributes to a higher ratio of women to men.  One example he mentions is the Mormons. They have a 15 to 10 ratio. For every 100 available men there are 150 available women who for the most part will marry only a serious Mormon. That has led to some drastic measures among them. From Mishpacha:
(A)s a consequence of their religious idealism they find themselves turned into commodities, forced to compete fiercely for the attention of marriageable males on the basis of their physical appearance. As a consequence, even young Mormon women submit to plastic surgery and various forms of physical augmentation. Salt Lake City has 2.5 times the national average of plastic surgeons, and its residents spend almost 12 times as much on beauty products as those of Oklahoma City, which has a slightly larger population.
One may recall that a Shadchan had written an article a few years ago addressing the lopsided dating ratio of dating women to dating men in the Charedi world. As a realist she said that one has to live in the real world. Charedi men look for attractive women too. She therefore urged them to do whatever they could to look attractive  including plastic surgery if necessary. For this she was severely criticized. 

Although I disagreed with her then - she wasn’t that far off about looking as attractive as possible in a world where men seek beauty first and character second. This is not new. I know (and have known for decades going back to when I was dating) more than a few ‘good’ boys’ that will not date women whose dress size is over a certain very low number.

The fact is that young women instinctively know this. Even the Charedi ones. Which has proven to turn the Shidduch crisis also a health crisis: 
(Y)oung women are driven to compete in physical attractiveness, as with the Mormons. Dr. Ira Sackler, an eating order specialist (noted that) in one Orthodox community that the rate of eating disorders was 50% higher than the national average. 
I have not seen anyone address this problem either till now. 50% is of epidemic magnitude. (Not that I have a solution for it.)

Another problem is that in the Charedi world, Shidduchim have become business transactions. Where (to quote Gordon Gekko) ‘greed - for lack of a better word - is good’. Huge sums of money can be extracted from potential ‘buyers’ (a good girl’s father) by fathers of ‘good boys’ to support their son in a Kollel for extended periods time.  

The better the reputation of the ‘learning boy’, the greater the sum.  In fact many wealthy – and even not so wealthy - fathers of  ‘good girls’ are throwing money at potential Shiddcuhim. If the ‘learning boy’ has a good reputation the sky might just very well be the limit! They know the market. It’s rough out there. 

One father I spoke to in Israel last week put it this way: If there are 2 identical girls and one of them comes with a bigger check (from her father)  It’s a no branier isn’t it? What is lost by taking the bigger check? It’s free enterprise at its  best! The rich get what they want and the poor get the leftovers – if that.

Age gap? OK - that might be one reason for the Shidduch problem. But when a young man becomes a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder…. and where good looks seem to be the number one value sought - right after money, then something has gone is terribly wrong. And yet not only is nothing being done, things  seem to be only getting worse!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Back to Chicago

Ramat Bet Shemesh
Today is another travel day. Just wanted to say what a wonderful trip it was. My grnadosn Mordechai read his Parsha and the Haftora  at a private family Minyan last Shabbos. After which over 30 family members joined in a festive and delicious Shabbos Seudah in the dining hall of the Shul.

Last Monday night was Mordechai's actual Bar Mitzvah - the 'Bo Bayom' and there was a lovely reception where he delivered his Drahsa.

I cannot hold back the pride I feel in my family. I only wish upon all of Klal Yisroel the kind of Nachas my wife and I feel.

One more thing. The people of Ramat Bet Shemesh are some of the nicest people I know. They go out of their way to show hospitality to their out of town guests. My wife and I were made to feel like old time members of the community. Most of the people I meet there are Charedi. But the apartment we leased for the occasion was on a street filled with Dati Leumi families. There were plenty of Israeli flags displayed along the way.

English is as frequently heard there as is Hebrew. Americans would feel very comfortable there.

Everyone seemed to get along just fine too. The so-called fighting between Charedim and Datim was non existent as far as I could see. I even saw some Chiloni children playing with Charedi and Dati children on Shabbos in a small park there. Mothers were standing or sitting around there and seemed quite content with what they saw.

All of which indicates to me that a lot of the internecine strife that is reported about this community is sometimes blown way out of proportion. Not that there aren't problems. Of course there are. Every community has them. But even with these problems life goes on, people are friendly, and everyone seems to get along.

Perhaps that's why there is such an explosion of construction there. I never saw anything like it. The demand must be pretty high. Entire suburbs are being built all around that area. When my son first moved there - there was just one Ramat Bet Shemesh. Now there are several with a lot more new ones on the way. Before it's all over Bet Shemesh and its suburbs will be one of the largest cities in Israel.

It is an amazing sight. Just thought I'd mention it. I will resume posting again from Chicago on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

It Gets No Better than This. But It’s Not So Bad Now!

Picture in an Ad for Pesach in Croatia 2017
I have no real problem with fancy Pesach vacations. They are not for me, however. For me Pesach is a time to spend with family and to have a traditional Seder at home – with my own family. This is what I have done as far back as I can remember.  Last year for the first time in my life, I spent Pesach in Israel. But that too was so that I could be with family. In that case, my son and his family. I had wonderful Seder last year. (The joy of the rest of Yom Tov was however interrupted by  the sudden loss of my brother which I had only heard about on the first night of Chol HaMoed.)

The point I’m trying to make is that I enjoy the traditional Peasch despite the hard work that goes into preparing for it for weeks in advance.

Why bring this up now? I bring it up in light of some Mussar on the subject by Rabbi Aryeh Z.  Ginzberg published in the latest issue of Mishpacha Magazine. I completely understand what he was trying to say. The gist of which is that people seem to have forgotten what we  hope for every Pesach when we say L’Shana HaBah B’yerushalyim – next year in Jerusalem.

These thoughts came upon him in response to a grandchild’s wish for a better version of a water slide he experienced at a resort his cousin had been staying at this Pesach. He believed his Pesach would be vastly improved if only next year he could spend at that resort.

Rabbi Ginsberg's wife  tried to convey the message to her six year old grandson that it was far more important to yearn for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, so that we could experience the joy of sacrificing the Korban Pesach. The child in all his innocence responded that maybe they’ll have a water slide in the Beis Hamikdash.

I’m not sure how wise it is to try and sell the virtues of the Korban Pesach to a six year old. But I do understand trying to convey that message to his adult readers. H e then adds the kicker.  A friend of his who spent Peasch at a luxurious resort responded to a question about whether he enjoyed it with the following: ‘It doesn’t get better than this!”

It doesn’t get better than this?! Rabbi Ginzberg felt that if that is how one feels after spending Peasch at a resort, he questions whether any of us ever wait for final redemption with the arrival of Moshiach. One of the fundamentals of our faith is the following: Ani ma'amin b'emunah sh'leimah b'vias hamashiach, v'af al pi sh'yismameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo b'chol yom sheyavo” I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshaich. And even though he tarries – with all of that, I wait for his coming every day.

That question was dealt with a few years ago by no less a rabbinic authority that Rav Ahron Leib Steinman. His answer was no. None of us do  wait for him anymore. Who today leads their lives in anticipation for the arrival of Moshiach every day?

Maybe the Choftetz Chaim did that. Legend has it that he had a bag packed and ready to go should Moshiach arrive. Is there anyone comparable to that today? Rav Steniman therefore eliminated the ‘waiting’ aspect from the fundamentals. We believe in his eventual coming. But we no longer wait for him every day. Rav Steinman is a realist. He understands human nature. We are busy with our lives. We hope he will come soon but we aren’t waiting for him to come every day.

Rabbi Ginzberg castigates an attitude that extols as the ultimate Pesach experience - attending a luxurious hotel. I agree that that going to a resort is not what Pesach is supposed to be all about. Which is why I tend to focus on family. Not personal pleasure.

But I have to wonder about Rabbi Ginzberg’s own sincerity about this when he begins this very rebuke by telling his readers that he spent Pesach at a house in a resort complex in Orlando. Isn’t he just as guilty as those he is rebuking? Perhaps the water slides at his house weren’t as big as the ones at the ones at his cousin’s house. But going to Florida for Pesach isn’t exactly the way to express ones yearning for Moshiach.

Now as I said at the outset, I have no problem with people doing that. If they enjoy spending Pesach at a resort, God bless them. People are entitled to spend Pesach wherever they choose. But to then castigate others for doing the same thing he does - only at better and more luxurious place seems incongruous if you ask me. Sure. It’s all about attitude. One can be at the most luxurious Pesach hotel in the history of mankind – as long they feel the lack of not having the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt. That is his message. It is the right message. But I do not think he should have been the one to give it from where he sat.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Day of Prayer and 7 Apps

A 2014 prayer rally in Israel called by Charedi leaders to protest the draft (VIN)
You would think that by now, the rabbinic authorities of the Charedi world in Israel would understand that it isn’t the technology that is the problem. It is in how it is used - that is. You would think that. But you would be wrong. From YWN
An effort is underway to persuade all of the Moetzas Gedolei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael to convene and call for a Day of Tefilos to stress the importance of the education of the children and the need to distance from technology. This refers to the Moetzas Gedolei Yisrael of Shas, Yahadut Hatorah and Agudas Yisrael.
The secretaries of the councils are reportedly cooperating towards reaching a nussach that will be accepted by all three councils. Their goal is a kol korei for a day of davening as stated, and highlighting the importance of chinuch of the children. Organizers are hoping to have this done on erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan ahead of Shavuos.
Organizers stress the need to highlight the need to distance from the threats posed by some technology today, as well as the need to highlight the importance of education values, which include distancing one from unwanted technology. 
I am not going to rehash all the arguments in favor of this technology. They are clearly obvious to those who use it… and even to most of those that don’t. Nor will I rehash all the problems associated with it. We all know that too. Much of which is the easy access to porn without being discovered. 

That is but one problem. And in my view, it is a relatively minor problem in terms of the majority of users. While it is a serious problem for those who do access it, I do not believe that most people do.  The bigger problem is more subtle and far more widespread. It is a problem that has been recognized by all manner of society - Jew and gentile alike. Numerous articles have been written to address this subject. Some of which contained expert analyses by mental health professionals. The problem I am referring to is addiction to the technology itself. Not just the porn.

Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness of what’s going on around them as they traverse the pubic square will inevitably see people using their smartphones in one way or another. Most will be texting… or reading texts. They might be sitting at a bus stop, or sitting on a park bench, or sitting at a table with friends at a banquet, or walking down the street, or waiting for a traffic light to change... all glued to their smartphones. This phenomenon has become one of the major causes of traffic accidents. Sometimes even causing fatalities. There are a lot of people that text while driving. 

It doesn’t end there. The time gobbled up by internet at work ends up with tons of unproductive working time. Which employers pay for! And in the home too. People will be eating supper with their smartphones right next to their food – ready to respond to the latest text.  They will sleep near their smartphones and it will be the first thing they look at when they wake up!

For young people – homework doesn’t get done or is shortchanged. It distracts them in school. And then there is the cyber-bullying. Which has become a major problem these days.

I see it in Shuls too. It is almost as if they are holding a siddur in one hand and a smartphone in the other. Noe does it matter what one’s Hashkafa is. I see all types of Orthodox Jews doing it. From Modern Orthodox to Charedi!

In short the number of opportunities for negative consequences seem endless. And the more widespread smartphone usage becomes, the worse it gets.

And yet, to blame technology for this would be like blaming advances in medical technology for deaths that occur during a surgical procedure. While the analogy is not perfect, the argument could be made that had the procedure not been used, the patient would have survived and lived to see another day. What’s ignored is that this procedure has saved or extended many lives that would have seen untimely deaths had they not been performed.

With all of the negative consequences of this new age of internet use and smartphone technology, the benefits still cannot be denied. Some of which can be life saving.

And yet the Charedi leadership in Israel has called for a ‘day of prayer’?!

I’m sorry but I just do not understand the one sided approach to this. It is as if they believe that that technology is so bad – that it must be avoided no matter what benefit there might be. Just avoid it all. This attitude is not new. It has been their approach from day one. I have always disagreed with them. But I thought that by now they would be more realistic in their approach and realize that there are benefits that are very worthwhile – even to the most ardent Charedi Jew. 

Are they so uninformed that they will deny that? ...in the belief that it has no value at all ...that is all evil? I guess so. On the other hand they must be informed about the ban they have placed being honored more in the breach that in observance. By far! This is no doubt why they are calling for a day of prayer – turning to God for help in their goal.

What I thought that by now they would understand the real benefits of this technology the way the American Charedi leadership now does. American leaders have gone from complete rejection to recommending filters. (Which is a good idea for everyone – especially with young children in the house.) This does not solve the overall problems I mentioned above. It does, however, help in curbing access to pornography. Which is severely reduced  by the use of filters.

How do deal with the other problems is a huge topic that is beyond the scope of this post. All I will say is that it involves education, commitment, and discipline.

But what about the ‘coincidence’ of the call for a day of prayer - and an article on Matzav promoting 7 smartphone apps for Orthodox Jews? 

God rules the world. To call anything a mere coincidence –a happenstance of nature that has no Godly input – might be considered blasphemy. It is therefore no small irony that  at the moment  this day of prayer was announced,  Matzav – a Charedi website – featured this article. 

What is God trying to tell us? I do not have the gift of prophesy. No one does in our day. But I do think a lesson can be learned here. Perhaps this is God’s way of answering the prayers these Israeli leaders have called for. Which is that there is good and bad in just about everything. It is our duty as Jews to ferret out the good and reject the bad. And that it is certainly not our duty to reject it all.