Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Racist Comment!

Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef (Times of Israel)
I hesitate to call Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef racist. But I am afraid that the shoe might fit. It is shocking to hear an otherwise respected religious leader refer to black men as a monkeys. And during a religious sermon, no less!

This is a leader whose own people are discriminated against by many Asheknazi Jews. Even Orthodox ones. An injustice Rabbi Yosef has courageously fought against all of his life . An injustice that is ironically based in part on the fact that many Sephardi Jews are darker skinned than Ashkenazi Jews.

That said, I don’t think Rabbi Yosef wants to persecute black people. He is not that kind of racist. But he does apparently consider them an inferior race. In my book, that is racism. Not much different than referring to Jews as an inferior race by neo Nazis.

To say the least, I am disgusted by it.

It is bad enough when any human being refers to a member of a particular race as a monkey. But when a Chief Rabbi does it, it increases the pain because he speaks as a religious authority.  His so-called explanation does not in any way soothe the hurt he must have caused black people that have heard about this. It actually makes what he said even worse.

And then there is the setback he has caused to relations between the black and the Jewish community with a comment like that.  If I were a black person, I would want to have nothing to do with a people whose religion considers me a monkey. I would be much more inclined to turn to people like Louis Farrakhan; believe his lies about Jews; and cheer the venom he spews at us.

Which makes Rabbi Yosef’s comment rise to the level of a Chilul HaShem. I reject and condemn it as un-Jewish and untrue. No human being is a monkey. Human beings are created in the image of God. Calling someone a monkey because of his skin color is counter to that biblical concept.

And now this Chilul HaShem has spread far beyond Jewish circles and has made it into widely read secular media like Newsweek.  I cannot imagine the level of damage he has as a rabbinic leader done to the image of Jewish people. I’m not even sure an apology would work anymore. If I were Rabbi Yosef and wanted to make amends to both black people and his own Jewish people, the best way to do that would be to resign as Chief Rabbi.

The Senator Loses - Big Time!

Senator Silverstein voted at his polling place: Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois (Trib)
Illinois State Senator Ira Silverstein lost the primary election last night. He was trounced in a four way race by the politically liberal former union lobbyist, Ram Villivalam with 52% of the vote. Silverstein came in a distant 2nd with 29%.

At this point I want to thank the senator for 20 years of devoted and effective service to - not only his fellow Orthodox Jewish constituents but to all of his constituents which included one of the most diverse population centers in Chicago.

As the senator said to his supporters last night, it wasn't in the cards. It was God's plan. Not his.

The reasons for his loss can be blamed on only one person: the senator himself. He embarrassed himself and his religious community by doing something that is counter to the values of the Torah. While it did not rise to the level of sexual harassment, it was still unbecoming - not only to his office, but to his standing as an Orthodox Jew. I am sure that he very much regrets his actions, not only because his behavior was exposed and lost his Illinois state senate seat, but because I believe he realizes how wrong he was in what he did.

Ram Villivalam (Twitter)
I believe in Teshuva. He has apologized to the woman he badgered and has sought counseling. He is essentially a good man that made a big mistake. One that I am convinced he will never repeat. I'm sure he has learned a great deal from that experience and was humbled by it. I wish him well in all his future endeavors.

Although I doubt he will see this, I want to extend my congratulations to Ram Villivalam. He will surely win the general election come November in this highly liberal democratic district. I’m not even sure the Republicans will run a candidate. I don’t really know anything about this Asian American of Indian descent. But I have not heard anything negative about him. From what I have read - he seems like a good man. I believe he will work with the Orthodox Jewish community - one of his major constituencies - as have other elected officials. It is with that in mind that I wish him great success in office.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Noble Goal but a Waste of Time

Raed Saleh, left, and Gideon Joffe (VIN)
I wish there were a lot more Palestinians like Raed Saleh. If there were, we probably could have had peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians a long time ago. And a warm relationship between the two peoples. One that would be mutually beneficial to both.

Unfortunately Palestinians have a history of being indoctrinated to hate Jews as a people that stole their sacred land. A hatred constantly reinforced and exacerbated by Muslim Clerics in their mosques, by ‘educators’ in their schools,  and in the media, and entertainment industry that portrays us all in the antisemitic tradition of Henry Ford’s ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ or Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ – 2 best sellers in the Arab world.

40 year old Raed escaped all that. His family immigrated to German when he was 5. Perhaps that is why they moved to Germany.  Perhaps they saw the hypocrisy of Palestinian leaders and had enough!  Raed is now a German senator and leader of the Social Democratic Party.

VIN reports of his attempt to rebuild a Shul that in 1938 that was destroyed in a pogrom that has become known as ‘the night of broken glass’ or ‘Kristallnacht’. A mob of loyal German citizens came into the Jewish neighborhood in Berlin and viciously destroyed all the shops and stores (all of which had glass windows). It is widely believed that was this was instigated by the government then ruled by the Nazi Party.

Imagine that! A German of Palestinian descent wanting to rebuild a Shul in Germany. From VIN:
It’s an idea that would have stunned (Gideon)Joffe 12 years ago, when he was first elected president of the Jewish community.
“I would never have thought that a Berliner of Palestinian background would help the Jewish community,” Joffe said, standing beside Saleh, who was born in a village near Nablus. 
Joffe hopes that this will auger a brighter future for Jews in Gemany. I wish I could agree with him. But as I’ve said numerous times, Rashi’s admonition of  Halacha He – Esav Sonei L’Yaakov is alive  and well in Europe – as it has been for centuries.

Even during those times Europeans were good to us it was never because they loved us. They tolerated us because of what we could do for them. History tells us that wherever Jews went, economies flourished. We would be invited into their countries in the hope that our expertise in financial matters would improve their economies. An expertise gained via an antisemitism that had always barred Jews from entering the professions and trades. That forced us to make a living in businesses like banking. Our so called financial expertise was basically forced upon as a matter of survival.

Once the economies of those countries were built up, their people and leaders turned on us, blaming every ill in the world on us. Latent  antisemitism became overt. We ended up being persecuted. Pogroms and massacres have a long tradition in Jewish history. All perpetrated by a populaace where latent antisemitism became unleashed. Culminating in the biggest massacre in human history. The Holocaust.

Germany was perhaps the most enlightened of European nations. Jews were treated as equals. Frankfurt was once called the New Jerusalem. Jews were so accepted that many of them became totally assimilated and no longer observant. They were proud Germans first, and Jews a distant second. During that golden period for the Jews of Germany, no one could have predicted or even imagined what eventually happened. But it did. All that tolerance and love was only on the surface. The antisemitism of Germany was all there in all of its ancient glory laying dormant until Hitler brought it out of them.

Post Holocaust Germany has expressed real remorse for what their government did then. And they have put their money where their mouth is. They are one of Israel’s biggest supporters. And they immediately began paying reparations to survivors – which continues to this day over 70 years later. It is true that the leaders of today are not the leaders of the Germany. I don’t necessarily believe they are antisemites. But the same is not true of the German people.

I firmly that vast numbers of them still hate the Jewish people. They may not have expressed it during the last 70 years. Which is understandable since they desperately needed to restore their reputation. But it was – and is there. I believe the video below (in German) is typical of how a lot of Germans still feel about us - deep down. The hatred of Esav is rearing its ugly head again. Despite the German government’s relationship with Israel and all the money they’ve paid survivors.

That’s the reason a good man like Raed Salah wants to rebuild that Shul:
Saleh’s goal, endorsed by Berlin Jewish Community President Gideon Joffe, is to make a statement against growing anti-Semitism in the capital city — and against discrimination targeting Muslims, too.
“If you say you want to support Jewish life in Germany and Berlin and Europe, and you don’t just want to pay lip service, then you have to carry it out concretely,”
I admire his determination. But I personally believe this project is a waste of time and money. Jews should not be living in Germany at all. I say this despite the fact that a lot of Jews do. Today there are well over 300,000 Jews living there. Besides the United States, Canada and Autsralia only Germany has had a positive recent Jewish migration balance outside of Israel.  What has that gotten us? The release once again if their latent antisemitism. Will we never learn?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ira Silverstein, Democrat for the Senate

Illinois State Senator, Ira Silverstein (Crain's)Updtaed
Senator Silverstein lost the primary election - coming in second at 29% to Ram Villivalam at 52%

The negative consequences of a false accusation of sexual harassment can be found today right here in Chicago.

I don’t usually comment on local elections. But in the upcoming Illinois primary – which will take place tomorrow - the welfare of Orthodox Jewry in Chicago is at stake. Which is why I am endorsing Ira Silverstein for re-election to the Illinois Senate. That would not have been necessary had he not been falsely accused of sexual harassment. The 20 year veteran of the Senate had easily been re-elected every time he ran. But this time, his election is far from assured. He is fighting for his job.

Late last October, he was accused of sexual harassment by victims’ rights advocate, Denise Rotheimer. As one might expect in the current ‘#MeToo’ climate, the repercussions were immediate. He was forced to resign as Chairman of the Illinois Senate Executive Committee. And obviously his reputation has suffered.  

What has happened since then is that a special committee set up to examine allegations of sexual misconduct cleared him. What they also found is that the Illinois legislature behaves like a ‘good old boys club’ where that kind of behavior is common. Which makes unsurprising the revelation that long time Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has over the years tolerated a culture of sexual harassment in his office. 19 complaints have been filed so far.

Senator Silverstein apologized to Ms. Rotheimer for his unprofessional behavior and thereby making her feel uncomfortable. And he has since sought counseling. He has never been accused of any other wrongdoing before or since. I doubt that he ever will be again.

But the damage was done. Some of his past supporters have abandoned him. Like my own ultra-liberal Democratic congresswomen Jan Schakowsky who left him like a rat deserting a sinking ship. She is now supporting his progressive opponent. 

There was even an attempt to invalidate some of the signatures of voters on the petition required to be placed on the ballot. Thankfully that was unsuccessful. Fortunately not everyone has turned on him. 

Ira has, however, retained some support. Including mine. 

Senator Silverstein made a mistake. One for which he has paid dearly. And is still paying for. It can’t be easy to have been accused of sexual harassment - even after being exonerated. Which is why I have spoken up about the injustice and harm to victims of false accusations.  Although relatively rare, it does happen - as it did here. Those accusations can follow you for the rest of your life.  

Why do I support him?  Ira has been an effective legislator on issues that affect the Orthodox Jewish community – which is a major part of his senate district. Unlike his chief rival in the primary who is an avowed progressive with an agenda that does not serve us, Ira, an observant Jew, is a moderate Democrat whose values reflect those of our community.  

One recent example of legislation that benefited us is the bill passed by the Illinois legislature and signed by our Governor, Republican Bruce Rauner. One that supports school choice. The $100 million ‘Invest in Kids Act’  will give up $13,000 in tuition for each child wishing to attend private school. It is available to low and middle income parents through online application form. From YWN, here is how it works: 
The program allows donors to receive a 75% state tax credit for contributions to a scholarship organization, which then uses those funds to award tuition grants to low- and middle-income families on a first-come first-served basis. 
Silverstein’s opponent would very likely not have supported it had he been in his place. Any similar bill that in the future might come up in that vein will surely be opposed by a progressive who will always put welfare of teachers ahead of the welfare of parents and students. Which is probably why the teachers union is supporting him.

If there was ever a time to counter the effects of a false accusation it is now.  Anyone that supports victims’ rights ought to support a victim of a false accusation. They are victims too. It will not only help him; it will not only help Orthodox Jewry; but unlike the agenda of a progressive who values only the underdog, it will help all of us.

That is for example what school choice is all about. The underdog too will benefit if low income parents are given a choice to send their children to a better school than the one their children are forced to attend in their own neighborhood. Spending tax money on those schools only helps the people that teach there. (Although what they do in those schools stretches the definition of the word ‘teaching’.) 

Let our voices be heard tomorrow.

Anyone that knows anything about Chicago politics, knows that Republicans hardly exist. Especially in a district like ours that is overwhelmingly liberal. Voters are not called ‘Lakefront Liberals’ for nothing. This means that the real election takes place in the primary.  

Every vote counts. As large as the Orthodox community in Chicago is, we are by far outnumbered. It therefore behooves all of us who care about the values of Orthodox Judaism  - whether Republican or Democrat, to choose the Democratic ballot and make sure that Ira becomes the Democratic nominee for the senate. That will all but assure his victory in November. If that happens it will be a win for justice; a win for us; and even a win for our liberal neighbors. Whether they realize it or not.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Broadening the Observance of Family Purity Laws

Women denied! (JBN)
There is yet another issue plaguing the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (hereafter referred to as the Rabbanut). They are refusing to allow women to take an exam on Hilchos Niddah (commonly referred to as Family Purity Laws). This would certify them as experts on those laws. Laws which they have studied meticulously. If this exam exists and is anything like the one they give for Semicha (rabbinic ordination)  -  it would be a rigorous one and  not easily passed.  At present  I do not know if they even have such a test. I would imagine that these laws are covered by the test given to those seeking Semicha.

Ynet reports that the women who have been denied that option are threatening to go the Israel's High Court. I hope it doesn't come to that. I hate to see the secular courts ruling on religious matters. That should be the sole province of the rabbis. That said - in this case, I side with these women.

I understand the fear the Rabbanut might have in allowing women to take these exams. They may see it as a slippery slope – a gateway to eventual demands for Semicha (rabbinic ordination). Something that virtually all  Orthodox Poskim from across the spectrum of mainstream Orthodoxy forbid. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this post. The point here is that whether one agrees with them or not, women will never be accepted as rabbis by mainstream Orthodox institutions. No matter whether they identify as Charedi (e.g. the Agudah) or Modern Orthodox (e.g. the OU and the RCA).

If they are seeking what I think they are, then they are only seeking to broaden the recognition of Yoatzot. Yoatzot are women that have studied Hilchos Niddah at Nishmat under the guidance of Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin. He has certified them to advise women who have Shailos (questions) about Hilchos Niddah.(Family Purity Laws).  They function strictly in an advisory capacity and not as Poskim. Difficult Shailos are forwarded to Poskim that are experts on these matters.

Women advising women on matters of intimacy in Halacha is not unprecedented. Historically it was not uncommon for the wives of Poskim to know many of the rulings of their husbands and were the advisers of first resort. They often answered with complete confidence in the surety of their response. Yoatzot Halacha do the same thing. Only with one big advantage. They have spent time studying Hilchos Niddah and have been thoroughly tested. They are certified to give expert advice but not to Paskin difficult Shailos – which are handed off to Poskim.

I see only pluses here. I realize that the advent of this phenomenon is a result of feminism. But I am not an opponent of feminism per se. I am only opposed to it when it contradicts Judaism. In this case it compliments it. Feminism has fostered a climate in Orthodoxy where women can study Torah to their hearts content. That can be put to good use. The doors have been opened for more people than ever adhering to Hilchos Niddah.

Let’s face it. The idea of women asking men – even rabbis (perhaps especially rabbis) - questions dealing with their menstrual cycles, is at best an uncomfortable proposition. It is much easier for a woman to ask another woman. I don’t see how anyone can dispute that. It is natural to be embarrassed to approach a man with Shaila about such an intimate part of her life.

That is why the wives of these rabbis were often contacted first. Sometimes a husband would end up asking the Shaila. Sometimes a couple would decide be strict rather than ask an embarrassing Shaila Which may not be the best approach because of fertility issues. Any way you look at it, there is downside to not having Halachicly educated women available to deal with these questions. 

There is no question in my mind that with respect to Orthodoxy, the advent of Yoatzot is one of the best things to come out of feminism. It has advanced the cause of Halachic observance tremendously.

Which brings me back to the Rabbanut. I understand their reservations. They are the same reservations many Charedi Poskim have - who have not recognized Yoatzot. Whether they reject it because it is sourced in feminism or because they see it as a gateway to becoming rabbis their opposition is misplaced. The good far and away outweighs the bad. That in my view, cannot be said about women becoming rabbis 

Orthodoxy is about knowing where to draw lines. And sticking to those lines. The Rabbanut should not oppose women from becoming certified to advise women on Hilchos Niddah. The collateral damage of not allowing them to do that is that there will be more violations of it without them. Is their refusal to certify women in Hilchos Niddah  worth that price? Which they will no doubt surely pay? I don’t think so.

Friday, March 16, 2018

American Support for Israel - Never Stronger

Image for illustration purposes only (Jerusalem Post)
There seems to be a lot of hand-wringing about the President’s effect on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Listening to mainstream media pundits you would conclude that it has all been negative. And be quite worried about public support for Israel.

Well, I am here to tell you not to be worried. At least as far as the American people are concerned. A new Gallop poll has determined that support for Israel by the American people has never been stronger. (Which closely resembles the results of a recent Pew poll.)

Considering all the negative commentary by mainstream media pundits about virtually all of President Trump’s policies, both foreign and domestic - one would think his very pro-Israel posture would create a negative backlash about Israel. Media pundits rarely put anything but a negative spin on everything he does. The impact on public opinion by a daily dose of Trump bashing might claim Israel as a victim in the public eye. If Trump is pro Israel, it must be a bad thing. 

But the opposite seems to have happened.

I have always tried to be objective about any President. Whether it was Obama or Trump. Although I had problems with Obama on some of his issues and continue to have problems with Trump on some of his, neither of them are all bad or all good. One must look at each thing separately and then decide. Unlike the media which tends to almost always spin things one way.

Just to cite an example of each, I believe that Obama did a lot for Israel while he was President. The cooperation between the two countries in both matters of intelligence sharing and military cooperation had never been stronger. Foreign aid to Israel increased under his watch.  He sold the most advanced US fighter jets (F 35s) to only one country: Israel. He also agreed to fund Israel's Iron Dome defense system. 

But I also thought the last thing he did was terrible. He allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning by  uncharacteristically abstaining from a vote instead of voting against it. That was disgusting. Although I believe he meant well.

As for Trump, I had reservations about the wisdom of his declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. As I was about his announcement to move the US embassy there by Israel’s Independence Day. As much as I thought it was the right thing to do, I was worried about the consequences. I thought that it might lead to bloodshed and therefore may not be worth it. 

I was wrong. Nothing of any substance has resulted from that. True, the Palestinian Authority has broken off peace negotiations with Israel and rejected the US as an honest broker. But that means absolutely nothing. Both Israel and the Palestinians are not any worse off now than before Trump made those announcements.

What has happened instead is that Israel now has better relations with Arab nations than at any time in its history. This is also a function of a common enemy, Iran. I cannot ever recall a time where the royal leader of Saudia Arabia referred to a Muslim cleric as a modern day Hitler. But that is exactly what he said about Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameni. 

I know that Sunni and Shia Muslims are bitter enemies. But that has never resulted in the kind of name calling before. Hitler?! Wow. In the past references like that were reserved for Israeli leaders.

He’s right. This is also Israel’s view. Iran is now Israel’s biggest threat. As it is for Saudi Arabia. Iran is now in Syria and supplies it and Lebanon’s Hezbollah with missiles and other sophisticated weaponry. They both have the means to cause serious harm to the Jewish people. Israel is therefore in a state of existential threat by an enemy sworn to wipe them off the map.  

A war under these conditions would be very costly in both blood and treasure. But Israel cannot afford to tolerate this situation. 

This is one reason the nuclear deal with Iran was so bad. It did nothing to prevent Iran from pursuing those goals. They are in 'full steam ahead' mode!

Which brings me to the political divide. Both surveys made it clear that Republicans are far more supportive of Israel than are Democrats. And the margin of support is huge. From the Jerusalem Post
Gallup, like Pew, found a significant partisan gap, but far less pronounced than the Pew findings. According to the Gallup poll, 87% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, though that number among Democrats is only 49%, representing a 38 point difference. In the Pew poll, there was a huge 52 point difference between Republicans and Democrats (79% vs. 27%) 
The lack of support by the majority of Democrats is disappointing, to say the least. I am therefore quite happy that Republicans are in control of both houses of congress. They are the ones that fully supported Netanyahu when he addressed congress in opposition to Iran’s nuclear deal. As is the current President. Their support of Israel reflects that of the majority of the American people.

Most Democrats on the other hand thought it was a good idea to remove all sanctions for a promise not to build nuclear weapons for a period of 10 years. (As noted about 8 years left on that deal). They remained free to keep  sponsoring terror all over the globe terror. And to go ahead full steam with the above-mentioned agenda.

I don’t know what the upcoming congressional elections will produce. A lot of media pundits think that Democrats have a good chance of taking over at least one house of Congress – if not both. However, their predictions are surely influenced by their bias – in a kind of wishful thinking way. But I hope they are wrong. And they easily could be. Just the way they were wrong about the Presidential election. We shall see.

The American people are a smart people. Most of them realize Israels concern’s are just despite all the hand-wringing by the mainstream media. And thank God for that.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Achdus – More Elusive Than Ever

Jewish unity: Reality? Pipe dream? Fake news? (Easton)
Sometimes I wonder if unity is possible at any level. As a seeker of Achdus, this depresses me. And yet I cannot deny the facts staring me right in the face.

You would think the Charedi world is united. You would also think that the Modern Orthodox world is united.  Each having its own specific set of values and Hashkafos. Even taking those differences into consideration you would think that both communities would be united by the common denominator of being observant. But nothing could be further from the truth. The divisions between us are major. They are so strong that unity seems impossible.

As far back as I can remember I realized that there were certain divisions among Orthodox Jews. There was the Yeshiva world, the Chasidic world, and the Modern Orthodox world. Even though the differences were obvious, I thought there was unspoken consensus that we were all observant and part of the same community. That is because we had a lot more in common by being observant than any of the differences that separated us. 

That is not however the case. Not only are those three major categories strongly divided, there are divisions within those categories that divide us even more. The enmity expressed even within one camp has generated some of the most vile name calling I have ever heard.

My first realization of how divided Orthodox Jews even within the same faction can be, happened during one of the most troubling periods in Chicago’s Jewish history. I was a Semicha student at HTC. Which was a Modern Orthodox Religious Zionist Yeshiva that had on its Hebrew faculty the very controversial Dr. Eliezer Berkovits. He taught Jewish Philosophy. 

Rav Ahron Soloveichik was the Rosh HaYeshiva at the time. His mission to eradicate the Traditional Movement caused Dr. Berkovtis and many Traditional rabbis -  some of whom were on the board of directors at the time - to turn on him. A war between Rav Ahron and his board ensued.That wasn’t surprising. 

What was surprising to me was that some of Rav Ahron’s own Roshei Yeshiva turned on him. Some of course took his side but others bitterly opposed him. I recall the shock at being told by a Rosh Yeshiva who backed Rav Ahron that another Rosh Yeshiva who opposed him called him a dog! Although I supported Rav Ahron, I respected the other Rosh Yeshiva and couldn’t believe what he had said. Especially since they both had similar Hashkafos.

One would think that the Chasidic world was united by the Hashkafa of Chasidus. But one would be wrong. It is no secret for example that for may years Chabad and Satmar couldn’t stand each other and wouldn’t even intermarry. Although that has changed somewhat, the fact that kind of divisiveness existed at all between factions that both believed in the same thing was surprising.  

Then there is the fight within Stamar itself. Two brothers are still fighting over which one is the heir to the Satmar throne. They have identical Hashkafos.  And Chabad has its own internal problems between their mainstream and their overt Meshichsists.

Modern Orthodoxy (defined for purposes of this post as having a positive attitude toward  secular studies and secular culture) has never been more divided. There are those that follow Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) who vehemently reject those that follow Torah U’Mada (TUM). You have a Centrist Right that rejects an extremist Left.

Things are no better in Israel. There is clearly no love lost between the Chasidic religious factions and the Litvishe (Yeshiva world) factions. So different are they that they each have their own political parties –combining only when it serves their combined interests. Often blaming each other when things goes wrong. Case in point: The Yeshiva world blamed Ger Chasidim for Charedim losing the mayoralty of Jerusalem to the secular candidate. 

And within the Lithuanian Yeshiva world there is the ‘war’ between the mainstream Yeshiva world centered in Bnei Brak and the Peleg faction centered in Jerusalem. Despite their virtually identical Hashkafos. And let’s not forget about the internal war in Poenvezh  Yeshiva where after many years - it is still undecided who is the heir to Rav Shach as its Rosh HaYeshvia.

The one place I thought that there might be some unity is in the Dati Leumi-Religious Zionist (DL/RZ) camp. Although I know they too have a right and left, I thought that they were more cohesive and united by their religious Zionist worldview despite some differences of interpretation about it. I thought they had a common attitude about their own religious institutions. Like the Chief Rabbinate, Hesder Yeshivos, Merkaz Harav, Bnei Akiva, and army service. What better to unite them that a shared worldview about observance, Torah study, and Zionism. I could not have been more wrong, as pointed out to me by a DL/RZ reader by the name of Nachum who comments here frequently. Here is what he said: 
Do you really not know, for example, about the deep divisions within the Dati Leumi world? Do you know what the word "Chardali" means? Do you know what the "Kav" is? Do you know that the leader of the Kav- do you know who he is, by the way?- has a deep personal animus against R' Stav? Do you know why? (They are a fringe numerically as well, but an influential one.) Do you not know how much these people wish, literally, that they were Charedim?
R' Aviner has written bizarre stuff about how Charedim are the only authentic Jews. He recently "paskened" that it's literally assur to learn with someone who goes to the Har HaBayit… 
All of the above is but a small sampling of the kind of divisions that exist in Orthodoxy.  It is off the top of my head. I don’t, however, think I even scratched the surface of the amount of vehement divisions that exist in Orthodoxy today. And it will no doubt increase. 

There is no such thing as Elu V’Elu  anymore. There is no such thing as respecting the other side even when there is disagreement. Everyone hates everyone else. Observance? A common denominator? Ridiculous! 

The more we go forward in time, the more backward we go.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When Your Own Peers Reject You...

Tzohar founder and leader, Rabbi David Stav
Sometimes I wonder about the real motivations of prominent people that do good things. I have always thought Rabbi David Stav had shaken up the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for entirely unselfish altruistic reasons. Not that I have necessarily changed my mind about him. But at this point, I am just not sure. There are some rabbis that have raised questions about his motivation.

I am not talking about Charedi rabbis. I am talking about Religious Zionist rabbis. The issue at hand is Tzohar, a rabbinic organization founded and led by Rabbi Stav for what he says are idealistic reasons. Reasons I agree with. Such as making Jewish life easier for secular Israelis that have had bad experiences with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. (Hereafter referred to as the Rabbanut.) 

Tzohar has taken a much more sympathetic albeit still Halachic approach to secular Jews and has tried to better and more quickly accommodate their needs. A noble goal. But there are other considerations that might undermine those good intentions - making things much worse than they are now.

Which brings up Tzohar. Rabbi Stav has tackled a situation badly in need of repair: The state of Rabbanut Kashrus supervision. Stories of corrupt Mashgichim (Kashrus supervisors) abound. With the claim of enhanced supervision, ethics, and standards, Tzohar has responded by creating its own Kashrus agency. Which certifies eating establishments without Rabbanut approval or participation.

This has understandably angered the Rabbanut. Which has been granted (by the government - since the very beginning of the State) exclusive control over all things religious. Not the least of which is Kashrus supervision. That means that any organization that wants to offer Kashrus supervision services - must do so under the authority of the Rabbanut. The creation of Tzohar undermines that mandate using loopholes to skirt Israeli law.

I saw this as an improvement in Kashrus supervision so desperately needed in the holy land. But I also understood that it undermines the Rabbanut as the sole governing agency of things religious. Which is why I argued that ultimately they should work together to upgrade Kashrus standards under one banner. The one that is duly authorized by the State: The Rabbanut.

As noted here many times, I am not one of those who wants to see the Rabbanut destroyed. If Israel is going to be a Jewish State it is the Rabbanut that should be defining what that means and setting the standards. There cannot be competing forces, no matter how sincere and ethical they may be. That would undermine the entire process and lead to chaos. Judaism must be defined by Halacha first and practicality second. 

In a State where the majority are not fully observant, that requires the wisdom to navigate the path of compromise without undermining Halacha. Israel’s founding fathers recognized that and wisely created one governing body for that purpose: The Rabbanut.

But as also noted, the Rabbanut has a history of corruption.  A Tzohar created in order to force corruption out of the Rabbanut  would have been the right move. Becoming an independent entity that competes with the Rabbanut and whose goal might actually be to replace it - is not. When I spoke with officials of Tzohar last fall, my impression was that they actually work with the Rabbanut on many issues and do not wish to replace them.

Where does the truth lie?

It appears it might just be the latter. From ArutzSheva
Senior religious Zionist rabbis met with Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau on Sunday to discuss their concern about an alternative Kashrut certification authority initiated by the Tzohar Zionist rabbinical organization, a move seen as undermining the Chief Rabbinate's authority in Israel.
The four venerable leading rabbis are the Dean of Yeshivat Or Etzion and head of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva high school network, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Dean of the Beit El Yeshiva Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi of Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Tzfania Drori, and retired Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel…
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel argued it would be forbidden to eat in a place supervised by Tzohar's kashrut project. 
What about Rabbi Stav's motives? Here is what Shas MK Michale Malchieli said: 
"Today it was again proven that at the head of the Tzohar organization are people who have not yet succeeded in accepting the fact that they lost the elections for Chief Rabbi of Israel. Instead of accepting the electorate's opinion, they oppose the Rabbinate through all kinds of odd and delusional ventures. 
That could easily be attributed to partisan politics. Charedi leaders want more control over religious matters and have in recent years gained much greater influence in Rabbanut decisions. (All while  rejecting its authority over anything Charedi). But when your own peers start questioning you and rejecting what you’ve done, I start wondering about the entire enterprise. And wondering what its real motives are. 

I have not seen any reaction from Rabbi Stav or Tzohar. It will be interesting to see how they will respond. Until then, I would not rely on their Hashgacha. Not with that kind of opposition - no matter how meticulous they may be.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

An Adversary and Enemy

Seated in center - the Satmar Rebbe, Aharon Teitelbaum (Behadrey)
I can only think of one appellation that applies to the Admor (Chasidic Rebbe) of Satmar, Aharon Teitelbaum. He is an Ish Tzar V’Oyev - a man that is an adversary and an enemy of the Jewish people.

How dare I say that about a rabbinic leader of such high stature? How can I describe him in terms used for the Hitler of ancient Persian history - the wicked Haman? I have a precedent. Rabbi Teitelbaum’s great uncle and founder of Satmar, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum used that same appellation about Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, ZTL. A Gadol much older and greater than he was in my view. 

How apt it is to turn that phrase around right back at R’ Yoel’s great nephew and a current leader of Satmar. (Actually he is one of two current leaders. There is some controversy about who was the real heir to the Satmar throne: R’ Aharon or his brother R’ Zalman. But it doesn’t really matter. They are both rabidly anti Israel.)

I bring this up now in light of a story in Behadrey Haredim (Hebrew). Mostly in reaction to the US declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Rabbi Teitelbaum has called for a massive anti Israel protest right after Pesach. Which is shortly before Israel celebrates Yom Ha'atzmaut - its independence day. He wants to make sure the world knows that the State of Israel is an evil entity that does not deserve to exist. Much the same view as the Supreme Leader of Iran (the current Persia): Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei!

That there is any credibility given to Statmar by any faction in Orthodoxy is disgusting. Opposition to Satmar because of this ought to be universal - just as it is toward the extreme Left. There may be different reasons for that opposition. But that does not make Satmar any less deserving. The resultant Chilul HaShem of a massive anti Israel demonstration by the most religious looking Jews among us - will be immediate and devastating. They will no doubt proclaim (as they always do) that being anti Israel is the authentic Torah view. 

I can just see all the rabid anti Israel Mullahs in the Muslim world salivating at this. I wouldn’t be surprised if that demonstration were attended by official representation from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Satmar would no doubt welcome it! 

There ought to be a huge outcry by all of mainstream Orthodoxy condemning this as a distorted view of the Torah and Jewish values. The problem is that this will never happen. What may instead happen is that some mainstream Charedi leaders might actually attend this demonstration and sit conspicuously on a stage together with the Satmar. Just as they have done on other occasions. There is no way that any mainstream organization would condemn a demonstration attended by members of their own group. Which is why Satmar will get away with it with hardly a word of protest. And that legitimizes them.

As I have said many many times. This isn't about Satmar’s anti Israel views. They have every right to believe as they wish. They may even have some solid sources for those beliefs as interpreted by their founder. I have no issue with that even though my own views are diametrically opposite theirs. What they do not have a right to do is cause a major Chilul HaShem using those views as an excuse.

If this demonstration takes place and is as large as they hope it will be… and is attended by any mainstream Charedi leader, they will have succeeded in not only making a Chilul HaSehm, but in possibly causing great harm to our people. If the nations of the world see a mass of religious looking Jews opposing the State of Israel, why shouldn’t they? Why should they favor tiny Israel over the multitude of Muslim countries that want to see Israel dismantled -  just like Satmar does?

If this does not rate Rabbi Teitelbaum the appellation Ish Tzar V’Oyev, I don’t know what does.

If this event is not going to be condemned by the rest of the mainstream Orthodox leadership, it ought to be done at a grass roots level. There ought to be a counter rally of support for Israel in close proximity that is even bigger than the one Satmar hopes for. Orthodox Jews from all streams of Orthodoxy ought to show up and shout out loudly and proudly a message of love and support for the Jewish State. Speaker after speaker should talk about all Israel has achieved in its short 70 year history. Both in Torah  and in Mada. And addressed by as many rabbinic leaders from as many factions of Orthodoxy that can be convinced to attend.

That, in my view, will overturn the damage of a Satmar anti Israel demonstration that would surely result if they are allowed to proceed unchallenged.

Monday, March 12, 2018

On Being Asked to Change Your Seat on an Airplane

Image for illustration purposes only (Huffington Post)
I have to admit that I had mixed feelings when I read this story. Perhaps it is a flaw in me.

Laura Ben-David tells us of her recent experience aboard an El-Al flight. Her story is not unfamiliar to anyone paying attention to interactions between the sexes as it applies to Orthodox Jews.  Here is what she says: 
On a full El Al plane to New York, I had just gotten settled in my hard-won aisle seat when two Hasidic men, one visually impaired, approached my row. The other, who was clearly looking out for both of them, glanced toward the two empty seats next to me with apparent dismay. 
He double-checked that those were indeed their seats, and right away asked a man in a nearby aisle of the middle section if he would switch with me, which he consented to do. I felt bad, but I really prefer the window section, even if I’m in an aisle seat so I declined to move. 
What happened next however actually remedied the situation for all concerned: 
He accepted my response politely and went and found a gentleman a few rows back in an equivalent seat to my own, who was also willing to move. He then asked me again. I agreed immediately and moved. 
The moral of the story is that when everyone can be accommodated, why not accommodate everyone? The Gemarah calls this ‘Zeh Nehena - V’ Zeh Lo Chaser’. Everybody wins. That is precisely what happened here.

But despite this happy ending (...and I applaud the way it was ultimately handled by all concerned) I still have mixed feelings about it. What is it exactly that bothered me? I think it is because I believe it is unfair when people whose religious standards I consider extreme ask for special favors at the expense of others.

In this case it worked out well even though the initial request did not consider that Laura would be inconvenienced. But that is not always the case. In just about every other instance of this kind I have read about - those asking for special favors seem to care little about the inconvenience they are asking others to put up with. Either that or they are so self absorbed that they don’t even realize they are inconveniencing anyone. And in some cases it is an actual Chilul HaShem as was the case last December (as reported in the Huffington Post).

Most people of good will agree will agree to change their seats in order to accommodate another passenger’s requests.  Sometimes even if it inconveniences them. But I wonder how many privately resent the intrusion by the person asking for it. To the person asking  – it might seem like a reasonable request. For them it is the normal observance of the rules by which they live their daily lives. But to the vast majority of the civilized world (including most Orthodox Jews), those rules are extreme.

True, it is nobody’s business how extreme anyone else’s religious beliefs or observances are. Everyone has the right to their own standards. But that only works when it doesn’t inconvenience anyone else. Asking someone to switch seats does exactly that. It inconveniences people.

That is why I am uncomfortable with this whole story, despite the happy ending. There are a lot of very nice people that are willing and even happy to accommodate the religious beliefs of others. Especially when it doesn't really inconvenience them. Laura is one of those people. 

I think I would do the exactly same thing Laura did under similar circumstances. Although I might feel guilty about it, I would not move to an inferior seat. On the other hand I would move to an equivalent seat if asked. But I would not feel happy about it. 

Deep down I think it would bother me to be even asked to do something to accommodate what I consider an extremist version of Jewish law. And then there is the ‘little matter’ of the potential for a Chilul HaShem in cases where the individual requesting it cannot take no for an answer.

Is that a flaw in my character? Am I just an intolerant individual? Perhaps both of those things are true. But I can’t help the way feel.

Just being honest. A little introspection never hurts. Even if it means baring my soul in public.