Friday, December 15, 2017

A Pleasant Memory and a Confrontation

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach
My recollections of  Zevhil are quite pleasant. Warm feelings envelop me as I recall my oldest grandson’s Bris there. 

Zevhil is the name of a Chasidic group that about 20  years ago built a building with a dining hall on Shmuel HaNavi street near Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. My son rented the facility for his son’s Bris. One of the first events held there if I recall correctly. 

I was honored with being the Sandek even though my son’s Rosh HaYeshiva at the time, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel was offered it first at my insistence. Rav Nosson Tzvi did not usually attend a Bris of his Yeshiva’s students because of his frailty due to Parkinson’s disease and the sheer number of them that occurred so frequently. Unless he was asked to be a Sandek. Then he felt obligated. 

When my son asked Rav Nosson Tzvi - he responded be asking my son why I (his father) wasn’t asked. My son said because he wanted to have the honor of having the Rosh HaYeshiva. Rav Nosson Tzvi told him to ask me and that he would attend anyway. I was extremely honored by Both Rav Nosson’s Tzvi’s thoughtfulness and the fact that he felt my son worthy of attending the Bris without being the Sandek.

These memories were sparked by the mention of Zevhil in Arutz Sheva. They have absolutely nothing to do with the article. I just wanted to share a pleasant memory. Which is in stark contrast to what happened there a few days ago.

I can’t imagine the anger – even rage!  …it took to stand up to a an octogenarian Charedi leader whose last name has been  synonymous with greatness. But a Charedi man did just that. From Arutz Sheva
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the controversial Yerushalmi Faction (Hapeleg Hayerushalmi), was confronted by a haredi man who had previously served in the army Thursday night at a wedding hall in Jerusalem…
Under Rabbi Auerbach’s guidance, the Yerushalmi Faction has launched a series of road-blocking protests in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Shilat Junction near the haredi population center of Modiin Illit, and other locations across the country.
The faction’s hardline has drawn criticism from much of the haredi community, with leading rabbinic figures describing the group as ‘disgusting’“reckless fools”, and even inhuman.
On Thursday, Rabbi Auerbach was confronted by a haredi man as Rabbi Auerbach was leaving the Zevhil event hall in the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood in Jerusalem.
According to Behadrei Haredi, the man who confronted Rabbi Auerbach had previously served in the IDF.
As Rabbi Auerbach left the event hall, the man shouted at him, calling him, among other things “a murderer”, and an “evil-doer”.
Students of the 86-year-old rabbi who were present at the scene claim that the man had tried to force his way past the rabbi’s followers to physically assault him.
“This enraged young man wanted to attack the dean of the [Maalot Hatorah Yeshiva] and beat him,” a witness told Behadrei Haredim. “We were able to stop him just before [he was able to do so].” 
I don’t know if Rabbi Auerbach’s followers were embellishing the story or not. I am certainly not in favor of physically attacking 86 year old rabbis. No matter how much I disagree with them. And no matter how much I believe they ought to suffer the consequences of their actions. Especially when their actions result in one Chilul HaShem after another. But physical violence is uncalled for and wrong if indeed that was the attacker’s intent. 

Unfortunately the reverse is not true. Rabbi Aeurbach is not beneath overlooking his Jerusalem faction (Peleg) followers use of physical violence to achieve his ends.

I  completely understand this man’s frustration and the anger he must have felt that pushed him to confront Rabbi Auerbach that way. Assuming their was no violent intent, I don't blame him one bit. The only question is what kind of impact if any will this have on Rabbi Auerbach. My guess is that instead of rethinking his tactics – he will just double down on them.

If I am right about how he will react, Rabbi Auerbach’s intransigence make him a very dangerous man – one that needs to be constantly put in his place as not a great man, but a ‘little man’ with a lot of Torah knowledge but no common sense. Which is why I am glad to see various Charedi leaders calling his followers ‘‘disgusting’“reckless fools”, and even inhuman.’ While they may not have said this directly about Rabbi Auerbach. If you are the leader of this group and – not only condone but - encourage this behavior, then he is ultimate the one most resposible for it and deserves the same condemnation.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

#MeToo? Really?

Rabba Sara Hurwitz
There is truth in much of Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s article in the New York Daily News. I have actually discussed these issues myself in sympathy with her feelings. 

As she notes, we are indeed living through an important moment in the history of confronting gender inequality. One of the results of which is the current spate of men in positions of power that have been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. 

I agree that men are far more likely to exploit an unequal power relationship and take advantage of it sexually. My only quibble is that as a feminist myself (Stop laughing! – I can hear you.) I wouldn’t limit it to men. I instead rely on the old adage: ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ 

I also fully agree with her valid observation that women are often made to be invisible. At least in some of the more extreme segments of Orthodoxy.

However when Rabba Hurwitz begins using language  of 21st century feminism and applies it to Orthodoxy, I have to part company with her. Not only that but I reject completely her characterization that mainstream Orthodoxy is an extension of the #MeToo phenomenon about sexual harassment. 

It takes quite of bit of imagination and hubris to make that kinds of comparison. It refuses to take into account mainstream Orthodoxy’s understanding of how Jewish law operates. The claim that women are being held back from leadership positions because of a system that is patriarchal has nothing at all to do with reality.

First, I doubt that there is one mainstream Orthodox rabbi who would ever deny a woman the right to pursue leadership positions in any field imaginable.  Any individual that meets the criteria for a leadership position should have an equal opportunity at the job regardless of gender. That this is not universally the case in society, is something I would fight for. As I do for equal pay for equal work.

Clearly the motives for seeing Judaisms differently have zero to do with any kind of nefarious motive. And yet she blames that for her own negative experiences: 
When I began working at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale as a congregational intern in 2003, some people were more concerned with the way I dressed than with the way I spoke or taught.
My male colleagues had to adjust to sharing a pulpit with a woman. Some congregants even left the synagogue when I was ordained, despite there being no Jewish law that prohibits women from assuming clergy roles.
My experiences are shared by other ordained Orthodox women in leadership positions, who have told me stories of being marginalized or having crude and insensitive comments directed at them. 
I unequivocally condemn any crude or insensitive remarks made by anyone. No one deserves to be berated for their beliefs. Even someone who may be wrong in their ideas about the role of women in the Rabbinate  – as I believe she is.

Rabba Hurwtiz is also probably right that: 
(T)he more men are atop organizational pyramids, surrounded by women vulnerable to their decisions and their whims, the more likely that those men will take liberties with social mores and rules.
But she is wrong in blaming opposition to women being in the Rabbinate on a pre-existing male power structure. She should understand that even though the way she was reacted to is terrible – it still does not justify the role she chose as her calling. 

It has been made clear by Poskim of virtually every single mainstream Orthodox organization – including the Agudah, the RCA, the OU, Young Israel, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and the European Orthodox Rabbinate - that women cannot be rabbis and serve in that capacity regardless of what title they choose for themselves. That she has backing from a few left wing rabbis does not make it any more permissible. Those rabbis hardly have the stature of any of the entire wide array of mainstream Poskim that forbid it.

Which is why the OU for example has made it clear that their member shuls may not hire a woman as a rabbi and still remain a member in good standing. The member shuls that have defied this rule and continue to do so may very soon be expelled from membership. Not because the OU consists of men in power in a patriarchal system. But because the OU is guided by the Poskim of our time. Which has been the case thought Jewish history. Those rabbis that have historically found their own paths in defiance of the mainstream have all ended up in the ash-bin of history.

What about Rabba Hurwitz’s charge that a woman’s voice is needed and has been shown to be quite valuable when utilized: 
(O)ver the years, there have been countless times when a woman — or man — has thanked me profusely for being present for them, whether it was to discuss intimate topics of sexuality and mikvah use or more mundane topics of Jewish law and mourning and shabbat.
I actually agree with her. And so too does the OU. They have spelled out several areas where women can -  and even should contribute in ways they have been barred from doing in the past.

The laws of sexuality and Mikva that she uses as an example is a case in point. That’s why I am a huge supporter of Yoatzot – Orthodox women that have been trained to deal with exactly those issues. Even  though there is controversy and dissent by some Poskim about the propriety of Yoatzot, to the best of my knowledge none of them have forbidden it on pain of expulsion from Orthodoxy.

Finally Rabba Hurwitz suggests that Orthodox women that have been denied positions of leadership in Orthodoxy should be seen as part of the #MeToo movement because: 
(T)hough it hasn’t yet been subjected to the same white-hot spotlight, at least not yet, the Orthodox Jewish community is also a male-dominated “locker-room” where women are harassed, demeaned and marginalized.
When women are shut out of leadership positions, silenced — and, worse, made invisible — it is easy to objectify us. 
I agree that women are often objectified - and have discussed the subject myself. But that is the case in society in general and not specific only to Orthodoxy. 

Rabba Hurwitz is either being disingenuous - or is choosing to be willfully blind in attributing nefarious ‘male chauvinist’ motives to people who have never tried to hinder the progress women. And in many cases have encouraged and helped them to achieve it.  Her accusations are right out of the 21st century feminist playbook. They are untrue, hurtful, and wrong.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It’s Really All About Politics

Alabama's new Senator Doug Jones celebrating his victory last night
I often say that my political views lean conservative both socially and fiscally. I should add the word ‘mostly’ to that. I lean mostly conservative politically. The reason for my leaning socially conservative was dealt with a few days ago. To summarize, the values of social conservatism are based on biblical values - many of which are shared by Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians. Which is why for example both communities oppose government sanction of gay marriage .  

It is with this in mind that I view the victory of Doug Jones yesterday as a bittersweet one. Obviously, I am gratified that Roy Moore lost the election. If anyone epitomized the opposite of biblical values, it is a man about whom  Ivanka Trump said, ‘There is a special place in Hell for people who prey on children!’

I therefore congratulate Alabama’s Senator Elect, Doug Jones - and the people in Alabama who voted for him. It was the right decision.  A man of honor will now serve Alabama and the nation instead of a man of dishonor that defied the very values he preached.

But as noted, it was a bittersweet victory for those of us who value conservative social principles. Because in point of fact what Roy Moore preached was more in line with our views than what Doug Jones preaches. And as the President noted, his election will make passing conservative legislation all the more difficult. Republicans will now have one less vote to count on. Jones will surely vote in lockstep with Democrats on every issue as does the rest of his party in congress.

Although Moore lost for the right reasons, there is little doubt in my mind that Democrats exploited it more for their own liberal political purposes than they did for issues of morality that we constantly heard during the campaign.  I really believe that deep down, they are far happier about this win for political reasons than they are for moral ones.

And now – to further that political agenda a number of senators - all Democrats - are asking for an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct by the President. It is informative that not a single Republican or even all Democrats have jumped on board with this. I see this in exactly the same light as the opposition to Roy Moore. It is political but uses Trump's sexual misconduct as their stated motive. They are taking advantage of the moment to try and upend the results of the last election whose electorate knew about all those accusations and voted for him anyway.

Not that I blame them. But I just think it ought to be clear what their real agenda is. I am reminded of a previous President who not only had credible accusations of sexual misconduct made against him, but had proof of it with an intern while in office... and lied about it until evidence proving it came forward.

Yes, he was impeached. But not because of what he did with that intern. He was impeached because he lied about it under oath during a deposition. Clinton was as hated by Republicans then as Trump is hated by Democrats now. Clinton stayed in office and is now one of the most honored ex-Presidents alive today. He asks and receives an over half million dollar fee for every speaking engagement.  

Where is the outrage from fellow Democrats? Both Clinton and Trump are immoral reprobates that are guilty of sexual misconduct who will lie about it and deny it until proven otherwise. But they are treated differently.

One might retort - What about Democrats Franken and Conyers? True - fellow Democrats asked for and got resignations form both. Now they can wrap themselves in righteousness by demanding from conservatives what they demanded from their own. 

But a senator and a congressman are minor players compared to a President. Besides Franken and Conyers were elected to office before any accusations were made. Had those accusations been known, they may never have gotten elected. In the case of Clinton and Trump - accusations were well known before the election. And they were both elected anyway.

It is obvious to me that this entire episode is political - using their righteous indignation (legitimate though it may be) as the engine by which to move their political agenda forward.

Which brings me to the Mueller investigation of whether Trump and company colluded with Russia to fix the election. It is also becoming more obvious that this too is political. At least 2 of Mueller’s investigators were Trump haters. That became clear from multiple e-mails bashing Trump discovered by a Justice Department investigation of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. 

So far the Mueller investigation has produced little of substance against Trump despite the clear anti Trump prejudice by some of their investigators. True they no longer work for the committee. But it surely casts suspicions on any conclusion they might reach about Trump that is based on investigations tainted with anti Trump bias. 

For purposes of my conservative leaning approach, it won’t matter much if Trump leaves office. I don’t think he will. Either voluntarily or forcibly. I continue to believe that Mueller will not find anything damaging enough to the President to get him impeached and removed from office. But if it does happen, his replacement, Mike Pence, will  be even better because he is real conservative. One that will not have any of the baggage that Trump has.  So for conservatives it is win/win either way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Death of a Giant

Scene in Bnei Brak today - hundreds of thousands attended his funeral 
I am saddened beyond words to report the passing of a gentle giant, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. He died earlier today at age 104.

R’ Shteinman was a Gadol. A true role model for all Gedolim. I never met him. But I wish I had. Even though I did not always agree with his Charedi Hashkafos, I could not but admire his purity of heart, his humility, his compassion for the downtrodden and his full commitment to the ideals of the Torah.

His humility was obvious to anyone paying attention. He had no use for material things. He lived in a small modest apartment in Bnei Brak; furnished sparsely with the bare minimum needed to live. Which meant basically a bed, a table and a few chairs that looked every bit as used as their age must have caused them to be. That was about it. There are people living in poverty that probably have more than he did.

I recall an incident when a secular Jew was invited to meet with him. When he saw how this great rabbi lived, he offered to pay for refurnishing his apartment with newer furniture.  R’ Shteinman adamantly refused. He considered it wasteful and did not need or want to have any material improvements in his life.  He considered it wasteful since he was doing just find with what he had. He was upset  at even the suggestion. That secular Jew walked away amazed - thinking that this kind of humility was the mark of a true leader.

I have to admit that I never heard of Rav Shtenman unitl he was well into his eighties or perhaps even his nineties.  All of a sudden people started referring to him as the Gadol HaDor. I remember thinking, ‘Really?!’ Who made him the Gadol HaDor? Where was he til now? Why hadn’t I heard of him?

I soon came to realize that this was part of his great humilty. He never thought of himself as anything but a teacher of Torah. He shunned the limelight. He ran away from Kavod. But Kavod chased him.

Charedi leaders like Rav Cham Kanievsky knew about him. They realized who this great man was. And as other Charedi leaders started aging Rav Shteinman was urged to become more public. He did so reluctantly and only for the most altruistic of reasons. He never sought it for himself. Never started a party. Never sought adherents. All he wanted to ever do was teach Torah. After the passing of Rav Elyashiv, many Charedi leaders started referring to him as the Gadol HaDor.

Rav Shteinman was a gentle soul that saw all Jews as equal - to be treated the same regardless of background. It was this sense of justice and compassion where another incident comes to mind. R’ Shteinman was constantly approached for advice by a variety of Charedi communal leaders. One of those time involved a Charedi principal looking for justification to keep Sephardi girls out of his Ashkenazi School.

Rav Shteinman reacted immediately - almost in anger!  He shouted ‘Gavah’ (arrogance and conceit). He repeated that word several times and refused to listen to another word insisting that the girls must be allowed into his school.  Rav Shteinman could not abide injustice. It insulted his sense of the ethics that the Torah is all about. (See the video below)

What will be missed most about him now was his sensible approach to dealing with laws that he believed contradicted his Torah Hashkafa. Indeed when he believed that Yeshiva students were threatened, he had some pretty harsh words for those in government he believed were responsible for it.

But instead of confrontation he chose compromise and cooperation when that opportunity presented itself. Although the Israeli law requiring Yeshiva students to register for the draft was counter to his worldview, he nevertheless urged Yeshiva students to follow the law since by doing so they would be able to continue their uninterrupted Torah study by requesting and automatically receiving an exemption for as long as they remained in full time Torah study.

There are forces in the Charedi world that do not think much of compromise. They apparently saw Rav Shteinman as weak – and not capable of proper leadership. These extremists formed a political party called Peleg (The Jerusalem faction) and chose, Rav Shmuel Auerbach - a zealot like themselves to lead it.

Peleg has a mission to confront the government with violent protests and has no interest in the kind of compromise Rav Shteinman pursued.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, there was some actual violence directed at Rav Shtenman himself by some of the more deranged followers of Peleg.

The leadership backing Rav Shteinman has condemned Peleg and its leadership. But the fight goes on. Much of it involving violent confrontation. Confrontation between Charedi and Charedi. Great Charedi Yeshivos like Ponevezhin Bnei Brak  are now being shunned by many mainstream Charedi parents because of the physical and sometimes violeng confrontations taking place there - where students have actually been injured.

That I am not Charedi does not mean that I wish Charedim any ill, God forbid. Charedim are my brothers. My disagreements and criticism have always been in pursuit of what I believed to be in their own best interests. Never to in any way hurt them. Only to enable Charedim to thrive within their own Hashkafa. And to be viewed with honor and awe instead of dishonor and disdain by other Jews.

Which is why I fear the consequences of Rav Shteinman’s  Petirah (death). There is a very good chance that all hell will break loose. Rav Auerbach will now have little standing in his way of his supporters claiming for him the mantle of leadership in the Charedi world. From which to promote his confrontational ways. What the future holds now without Rav Shteinman’s calm guidance is anybody’s guess. I pray for calm and peace. But I fear the worst. God help us all.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Sexual Misconduct and Biblical Ethics

Time Magazine 'Person of the Year' - The Silence Breakers (MeToo)
A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting - and apparently not so well known story about Shlomo Carlebach. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It is one of those ‘message’ stories that leave you with a doubt about whether it really happened.  

Briefly, it involves an impromptu visit by Carlebach to a Kosher restaurant. After entering and being recognized, he started enthusiastically shaking everyone’s hand.  One religious looking fellow refused to do it. After repeatedly insisting on it, he finally asked what the problem was. The fellow responded that a man that was guilty of the kind of awful conduct he had with women, he could not in good conscience shake his hand. 

Carlebach seemed to acknowledge his guilt and asked how he could make things right with this fellow. Teshuva was his answer. Carlebach agreed. He sat down and said  Vidui (a formal religious prayer of confession) and asked God for forgiveness.  After that, the fellow shook his hand and Carlebach left to catch a flight to a concert he was going to give. Later on that flight, he had a heart attack and passed away. I suppose the moral of the story is that Carlebach did Teshuva, and died soon after free of sin and that is how we should all look at our time on earth

While this sounds very spiritual, I tend to doubt this actually happened. Because forgiveness for a sin between a man and his fellow man must first be asked of the person to whom that sin was committed. It has been pretty well established that Carlebach had improper sexual contact with many women. To the best of my knowledge he never asked them for forgiveness. His ‘Teshuva’ was therefore insufficient. And so too the moral point that story tried to make.

Does that discredit his legacy? …a legacy of musical composition whose body of work is so huge that it is sung far and wide by Jews all denominations all over the world? …in many cases without realization of who the composer was - or what he did even if they do?

I don’t think there is a simple answer to that question – which was tackled by Laura Adkins in the Forward.

We are now in the midst of a national catharsis about sexual misconduct. A lot of people guilty of that are being expunged from any legacy they might otherwise have had.Will that prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future?

There are many pundits claiming that this is a pivotal moment in our country. Where women are finally able to speak up. And that this will end the harassment of women in our society. That so many prominent people have fallen should make people think twice before engaging in any improper sexual conduct. Women will no longer be quiet  - as they have in the past fearing the consequences of exposing it when it happens to them.

In the current climate of ‘MeToo’ - where women that have been sexually harassed, molested, or abused are finally telling their stories… stories that have destroyed the legacies of some very powerful men …men who have gotten away with it for decades while retaining their highly regarded reputations and the respect of their colleagues - I have to wonder though, if this is enough to change the way our culture treats interaction between the sexes. 

Frankly I’m not sure it will. I believe we need to examine why people – especially those with power take these liberties with women in the first place. I don’t think the answers are too far away. 

Last night I watched a drama on TV that had the following scene. An attractive couple were working together and suddenly the man grabbed his female partner and gave her a passionate kiss. It was clearly unsolicited. There was no warning. He just seized the moment and gave in to his passion. Fortunately for him, his female partner responded favorably to it. The scene ended there. Sounds pretty romantic, doesn’t it?

And yet if someone were to do that in the real world, it would most likely be seen as sexual harassment. Especially if the woman would not respond favorably to it.  And yet this kind of scene is a common occurrence in Hollywood films. It promotes a culture that glorifies scenes like that. Society learns how to behave from that. Life imitates art. Especially when it is by powerful people that in the past knew that nothing would happen to them if they were rebuffed.

It is true that sexual harassment, molestation, and abuse have been going on since the beginning of time. But is more than obvious to me that the culture in which we live exacerbates it. Especially one where designers of women’s clothing keep exposing more female flesh with every knew design. And the biggest names in Hollywood wear those clothes when the entire world is watching them on Oscar night.

So what can we do about it? How do we change the paradigm? I hope that powerful women in Hollywood start saying no to these designers and start covering up more. But leaving morality to the whims of show business (…think about what the term ‘show business’ means!) is probably not the best route to take. 

Does being a Frum (observant) Jew help? Shlomo Carlebach was Frum. So too were all the ‘Frum’ sexual harassers, molesters, and abusers that we constantly read about in the media. And yet, I believe that the Torah gives us good advice that if followed would prevent – or at least seriously reduce this kind of thing. These ‘Frum’ people did not follow it.

Daniel Ross Goodman makes this point quite well in the Weekly Standard. It is the fear of God.  As Daniel notes, the early chapters in the Torah have numerous sexual stories in them. All of them with a moral teaching attached. To put it the way Daniel does: 
The message of these stories is clear: Where there is no fear of God—when a society forgets that “God sees,” as the protagonist of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story “Alone” puts it—primal instincts go unchecked and powerless people are at risk of having sexual violence perpetrated upon them by powerful, unrestrained potentates…
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, an influential nineteenth century Lithuanian scholar, explains that the purpose of the Book of Genesis is to teach us uprightness [“yashrut”]—ethics, morality, proper values; in short, basic decency. In fact, in rabbinic literature, Genesis is often referred to as “Sefer ha-Yashar,” which translates to “The Book of the Upright.” 
There is not much Halacha in Bereishis (Genesis).  Which is one fifth of our Torah. Being observant means not only following Halacha. It means learning how to behave ethically and morally.

That said, in our day when there are conflicting messages about how the sexes should interact we need to be more proactive in living those ethics. Which brings me to something I've discussed before and worth repeating. The laws enacted by rabbis that minimize social contact between the sexes. Chief among them the laws of Yichud (seclusion). 

As this would apply to the secular world - there is not a doubt in my mind that a man and woman that do not have an existing consensual sexual relationship with each other - should never be secluded in a locked room alone together. Any meeting between a man and woman ought never take place in an area that is not accessible to others at any given moment. 

There are feminists that would protest this as giving an unfair advantage to men in business situations. Women could then not meet with a man privately to discuss sensitive business issues.  Perhaps. Although I doubt that this would be the case in any but the rarest of circumstances. But even if in theory it cold happen, is it worth the risk of being sexually harassed (or worse)  by a powerful man without witnesses? Is relying on a man’s ethical responsibility to restrain his impulses enough?

I was never a fan of Evangelist preacher Reverend Dr. Billy Graham. But there is one thing about him I admired. He refused to ever be secluded in a room with another woman without his wife being present. Vice President Mike Pence has a similar approach. Billy Graham never was... and Mike Pence probably never will be accused of any sexual misconduct. These 2 men had (have) religious values that led them to these kinds of preventive measures. It would be a far better world if the rest of us did too. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Liberal versus Conservative

I know many of my Orthodox friends who identify as liberal may not like what I am about to say. But I am all about Emes – the truth as I see it. For the record I do not identify as either liberal or conservative. (In the context of this post I mean socially conservative - not fiscally conservative.) I have taken positions on some issues that can be seen as liberal and on others that can be seen as conservative. I base my views on my religious perspective on some issues and on simple common sense on others. I do however admit to leaning conservative most of the time. It therefore is hard to pin a political label on me.

This does not mean that I promote an Orthodox Jewish agenda for the United States. (Although I do promote a little more of a common sense agenda). I am more than grateful to this country for living up to its credo of religious tolerance. And do not wish to force my beliefs on anyone else. But when it comes to expressing my views on what I think is right or wrong, I am going to tell it like it is from my perspective as an Orthodox Jew and my common sense. That is what is behind every post I do.

As a rule, I believe that on social issues the views expressed by the political right and left are generally determined be how much value one places on biblical teachings. Using gay sex as an example - social conservatives who see the bible as their guide will oppose gay marriage. Gay sex (male to male anal sexual intercourse) is forbidden by the bible. Liberals tend to not look at the bible at all. They instead look at humanistic values and devalue the biblical prohibition against gay sex. They therefore see nothing inherently wrong with gay sex and equate it morally and ethically to heterosexual sex.

How can an Orthodox Jew be liberal, as some define themselves? I think they have to put an asterisk next to the world liberal when describing themselves. Using the above example - they will make arguments like the following: What we believe should not influence what a secular government does in service to an citizen’s civil rights. But even they must admit that as a religious matter gay sex is an act forbidden by the Torah. They are liberal up to a point. 

There may be some on the extreme left of Orthodoxy that are so ‘compassionate’  that they will twist the Torah admonition against gay sex as not applying to gay people. They will say that Oness Rahcmana Patrei – God absolves individuals that sin because they are forced to. The ‘force’ in this case being a sexual orientation and natural sex drive that ‘force’ the individual do engage in gay sex. Thus overturning the actual sin in the vast majority of cases where it is practiced leaving only to the rare instances where gay sex is done by heterosexuals. (Kind of ridiculous if you think about it - but I digress.)

Liberals believe they are more compassionate than conservatives because of such ‘reasoning’. I don’t think that’s accurate. I believe that conservatives are just as compassionate, but understand that their religious beliefs override any compassion they might feel.

The same kind of thinking divides how they look at Israel and Jerusalem. Conservatives understand that the bible cedes title of Israel to the Jewish people. It was a promise made by God to each of our three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Bible believing Christians and Jews know this and believe it. 

They also believe the biblical narrative that Jerusalem was conquered by King David. And his son King Solomon built the Holy Temple there. And that Jerusalem is the place where God chose for that. 

Fir Orthodox Jews Jerusalem is constantly in our thoughts. Throughout our 2000 year exile we have  prayed for its return into our hands. Social conservatives (which is comprised mostly of bible believing Evangelicals) read the same passages in the bible and realize that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people. That’s why they were the ones that actually urged the President to declare it Israel’s capital. And they have been cheering his decision ever since.

Liberals ignore what the bible says. They take the humanistic approach and see 2 peoples, Jews and Palestinian Muslims claiming the same city as their own holy capital. That makes any declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital unfair. Making matters worse is the fact that Israel is seen as an occupying force that has taken land away from the indigenous Arabs that have been living there for centuries. Humanists (liberals) who do not take their values from the bible see Israel bullying those Palestinians – always painting Israel in the most negative light regardless of the facts. 

The mainstream media is humanistic and therefore liberal. They do not value the bible as a guide to modern day ethics or morality. They see a suffering underdog being subjugated by a powerful oppressor that uses its power in unethical ways in order to maintain their oppression of the downtrodden. They are sympathetic only to the underdog which they see suffering unjustly.

That is why the mainstream media reporting on the President's decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been mostly negative. All you hear is how the US overturned decades of US policy; destroyed the ‘peace process’; and has thrown the Mideast into turmoil. Hardly a word about the the 70 year reality of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. Or that the President was only implementing a law passed by the vast majority of congress decades ago. And reaffirmed it 6 months ago. And that nothing on the ground has changed because of that declaration. The media reportage has only played into the hands of the protesting Arabs. All because they believe they are far more ethical and moral than the bible.  

It is one thing to be worried about the reaction (that is actually happening) because of the President’s declaration.  I expressed that same concern. But to paint it as entirely bad without one positive word is biased and irresponsible. But unsurprising because of their liberal humanistic bias that dismisses the the bible completely .

I realize there might be exceptions to my assessment of liberal versus conservative. I also realize that my liberal friends will disagree. Furthermore (as I’ve said more than once) I have taken liberal positions on some issues myself. Not because I have had a sudden surge of humanistic compassion. But because my religious beliefs have guided me and is some cases simple common sense has guided me.  Which is for example why I support keeping abortion legal for religious reasons and why I support gun control for common sense reasons.

That is the long and short of it. I maybe wrong, but don’t see a better way of understanding liberal versus conservative values.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Birthright - Why Reform Judaism is Failing

Reform leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs
I hate to keep criticizing the Reform Movement. But if the shoe fits…

It seems that a program called Birthright Israel has dropped the Reform movement from participation in its program. For those that don’t know what Birthright is, it is a nonprofit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults aged 18–32. 

It was created so that Jews with limited Jewish backgrounds can find out about their Jewish heritage and connect to their Jewish identity. 

Birthright  was founded by Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, 2 decidedly non Orthodox Jews. They are a breed of non-religious Jew that seems to be becoming increasingly rare in America.  The kind of Jew that cares about their Jewishness and future of their people.

Any Jew that fits the above description can apply for this trip. But all is not well in ‘Birthright-land’ According to an excerpt from Ha’aretz in the Forward Orthodox operators are taking over Birthright at the expense of Reform participants: 
“(Because of) aggressive” and often misleading “marketing” of Orthodox trip providers and the popularity of low-cost or free Orthodox extension programs after the ten days. These “growing trends,” Ha’aretz explains, have been boosted by the well-funded Orthodox outreach initiative on campuses of “the Diaspora Affairs Ministry – run by the Orthodox, settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi party.” 
But I agree with Gil Troy the lay-chair of Birthright and author of the Forward article,. The reason young Reform Jews aren’t taking advantage of Birthright is because Reform leaders are unsuccessful in selling it to their young members. Blaming charismatic Orthodox leaders is a cop-out.  As Troy notes: 
(T)he Reform Movement’s trip provider, URJ Kesher, again failed to meet its recruiting quota and lost its status as a Birthright Trip Organizer.   
This has nothing to do with some sort of nefarious plan by the Orthodox Jews to take over Birthright. They are merely taking part in that enterprise in their own legitimate way. Orthodox young people should not be denied the chance to find out more about their heritage just because they are Orthodox.

True they have a head start as Orthodox Jews. But there is still plenty to learn about their heritage via this organization. The fact that Orthodox providers offer extension programs after the ten day trip is over – is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with Birthright.  Not a penny of Birthright money is used for it.Those extensions are offered entirely by Orthodox community as their own independent add-on. Which is their right and can be done by any other trip provider. Whether Conservative or Reform.  

That Orthodox providers are infinitely more successful at this is because young Orthodox Jews have been more Jewishly inspired from the very beginning. They should not be faulted for that. They should be praised.

But Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs apparently does not have the ability to look in the mirror. Instead he blames those ‘crafty Orthodox Jews’ for abusing the program.

Why is Reform not successful? I think the answer is obvious. It can be found in the very philosophy that Reform Judaism was founded upon. A philosophy that glorified complete assimilation. A goal facilitated by a rejection of any behavior that is identifiably Jewish. Which mostly meant abandoning all Mitzvah observance.

Sure – they are back-pedaling now and even encourage Mitzvah observance on a voluntary basis. They realize their mistake They didn’t think Mitzvah observance was important from a religious perspective. They believed that one could be a Jew in good standing without observing a single Mitzvah. That was their creed at first and actively discouraged Mitzvah observance. But they now embrace it (on a voluntary basis) realizing that it was a big mistake from a sociological perspective, too.

And all their efforts to instill a little Judaism in their flock is too little too late. While there is a bit of culture re-instilled in some Reform Jews that care about it, I believe that most Reform Jews prefer complete assimilation. Those among them that that want to practice Judaism and want to perpetuate it in their children - look elsewhere.  Many of them find it in Orthodoxy. But they are a tiny minority of the Reform community. 

The vast majority of Reform Jews are not interested in changing their lives from the freedom they have as a Reform Jew to the burden of Mitzvah observance that would drastically change their lives. That makes them pretty much secular - being Jewish in name only. Which is why so many Jews today become unaffiliated and so many intermarry.

This description of reality may be a bit harsh. It may very well be hard for Reform leaders and Jews to hear. But it is the truth. And if their leaders were honest they would see just how true this is.

This is the reality of a  movement doomed, despite their current status as the largest segment of American Jewry. Sure – they might be growing. But that is because they keep moving the goal posts. Every time they see Jews moving further away from even their form of Judaism, they simply redefine the concept. Intermarriage is now fully accepted. And conversions do not require anything more that living a ‘Jewish lifestyle’. As if eating Gefilte Fish and putting Matzah balls in their soup makes them a Jew.

Yes, Reform Judaism is doomed. If you are a Refrom Jew reading this and care about a Jewish future for yourself and your children, I invite you to study what Orthodoxy is all about and then judge for yourself if that is the right path to take towards that goal. For the rest of Reform Jewry, if you continue as you are but still want your children and grandchildren to be Jewish - good luck. You’ll need it.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

What Now?

Harry Truman with Israel’'s first President, Chaim Weizmann
I am still reveling in yesterday’s announcement by President Trump – recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is one of those times where – at least among Orthodox Jewry, there is Achdus – unity. It is a rare occasion when Achdus occurs when there is good news. Unfortunately Achdus is more likely to happen when there is tragedy.

First there is the reaction of Israel. Just about every politician there left to right (with the possible exception of Arab Kneset members) have expressed Hakaras HaTov to the President for his courageous decision. Courageous because it went against the conventional wisdom of a State Department which has guided Presidents about ‘the Jews’ all the way back to the Truman Era.  Advice to not rock the boat of the Middle East status quo – unless it was to pressure Israel to make ‘concessions for peace’. 

Conventional wisdom that his top 2 cabinet members, Tillerson of State and Mattis of Defense urged him to follow. President Trump decided instead to do what he believed was right and recognize the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, against that conventional wisdom. 

Much the same way Harry Truman did when he was urged by his then Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall not to recognize Israel. It took a lot of courage for Truman to reject Marshall’s vehement opposition. And it took a lot of courage for Trump to recognize the obvious in the face of all the advice he received against it.

One can say whatever they wish about the President or his ulterior motives. But one cannot deny the significance of what he has done for the Jewish people. To just cite one reaction, here in part is what Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: 
I welcome today’s decision by the United States to recognise as the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, whose name means “city of peace.” This recognition is an essential element in any lasting peace in the region. 
This sentiment has been echoed by virtually all of the Orthodox Jewish establishment. From Lakewood... to the OU... to Religious Zionist rabbinic leaders like Rav Shlomo Aviner.

Not surprisingly the reaction of the rest of the world has not exactly been favorable. European leaders have either condemned the President or in other ways panned his decision. They feel the ‘peace process’ has been exploded. 

One might agree with that  assessment if one listens to comments from much of the Arab world. Or even some of the more liberal Jewish groups like Reform whose leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said it  undermined the peace process. Or the  radical Jewish Voice for Peace whose Deputy Director, Rabbi Alissa Wise said ‘(T)his is a reckless, deeply irresponsible decision: for Palestinians, Israelis, and all of us.’

The reaction on the Arab street is just as predictable. There are protests going on right now although they are not as intense as I expected them to be. But it’s early. Palestinians are being asked to react violently by their leadership again - declaring 3 days of rage beginning tomorrow, their ‘sabbath’. By their reaction - you would think US just approved Israel rounding up all Palestinians and marching them into gas chambers instead of simply recognizing a reality of the last 70 years. One that does not change the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel.

What about the claim that this killed the peace process? I have to ask, What peace process?  There has been talk of a peace process for decades with no results.  Peace process? Really?

The policies of the past have gained nothing towards a Palestinians State. Just more bloodshed.  It’s time to think ‘out of the box’. It’s time to try something different. The peace process needed a jump start. The conventional wisdom being bandied about right now is based on the failed policies of the past.

I think Chicago’s Ray Haninia said it best. Ray is a Palestinian American journalist and sometime comedian who was asked to respond to this event by the mainstream media. He said it will either explode the Middle East or create a jump-start to the peace process with a realization that game is now changed. 

What the President did yesterday might actually clear some heads once the smoke clears.

Yes, the immediate response by Palestinians is to be violent. I expected that. Which was why I had some misgiving about this. But maybe this will indeed spur some clear thinking by Palestinian leaders. Maybe they will see the wisdom of the changed conditions and proceed from there instead of relying on the thinking of the past. 

It’s either that or maintain the status quo. The US will no longer back their every complaint about Israel. Maybe they will realize that with compromise - peaceful relations between a new Palestinian State and Israel will have a chance of happening with an American President determined to make the ‘ultimate deal’.

That might eventually some day bring an era of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. One that would be friendly rather than antagonistic. Contrary to popular belief Israel has no interest whatsoever in making life miserable for Palestinians. I am 100% certain that – would it not be for their security needs - they would prefer to treat them with the dignity that every human being deserves. 

If Palestinian leaders are wise and take advantage of the President’s desire to make peace and actually come up with peace agreement with Israel -  it might result in Israel actually helping Palestinians build their new country – instead of seeing them all as security risks. Maybe someday we can even see the same relationship between Palestinians and Israelis that we see between Canada and the US.

That day isn’t here, yet.  It might be a long way off… or never happen. The world might see what happened yesterday as a setback for peace. But this new reality should force them to rethink their current approach.

That said, it doesn’t help that the world sides with the failed policies of the past. That just fuels Palestinian animosity towards Israel. It also doesn’t help that Arab children all across the Middle East are taught to think of all Jews as blood thirsty Nazis – to be despised with all their might. That has to change before anything else does.

Where all this leads is anybody’s guess. One thing is certain, though. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time. That insane policy is what the I would call the conventional wisdom upon which the State Department and the rest of the world has relied. Which is why they are all so upset by what the President has done.

I think that instead of expressing all this angst and condemnation they ought to instead listen to the end of the President’s speech yesterday and take note of the fact that he did not change US policy with respect to the Israel and Palestinians one iota. America is as committed as ever to making peace between them. With the improved relations between Israel and countries like Saudia Arabia, there is no better time than now. Once we get past the initial reactions – this may be the jump start the world has been waiting for.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Recognizing Reality

No Jewish connection to the Temple Mount? Really?
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. That is about the most natural statement one could ever make about a country and its capital. It rolls off the tongue. Kind of like love and marriage; horse and carriage. I can’t think of anything more natural than considering Jerusalem the capital of Israel. 

Anyone - Christian or Jew - that has ever studied the bible should feel the same way. Even if they are not religious. Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital ever since King David conquered it in ancient times. It is also the case that ever since we - the Jewish people - have been in exile, we have been yearning for a return to Jerusalem at least 3 times daily. 

And yet in just about every media report on what President Trump is about to do, you would think he was declaring Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State.

I understand what all the concern is about. I have expressed that concern myself. I too have wondered whether this gesture by the United Sates will cause bloodshed… and whether at the end of the day, will what is gained be worth the spillage of blood. 

That said, it is one thing to worry about it. It is another to taint every report about this as though it were pure evil to  declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital. As though Palestinians had some sort of legitimate exclusive religious claim to the city – just because they have lived there for so long. 

To the best of my knowledge Muslims consider Jerusalem of value only because they believe Mohammed ascended to heaven from there - right on the Temple Mount. There is no mention of Jerusalem at all in the Quran – their bible. 

Let us be honest.  Palestinians are upset by this – not because they think Jerusalem should not be the capital of Israel. They are upset that Israel exists at all. And that any step recognizing that is a step in the wrong direction.

What about the rest of the nations of the world that are all screaming bloody murder about this? For me it just reaffirms what I have always believed about Europe. Antisemitism is in their mother’s milk. (Yes, I know there are many exceptions. But they are exceptions.)

Oh… they talk a good show. And most of them at least pay lip-service to our right to a Jewish State. Many of them even have economic ties with Israel. But deep down they simply don’t like us. Just like their parents didn’t like us. The difference is the Holocaust. At the end of the day, they do have a bit of a conscience about it. But deep down…  

Let us just use Turkey as an example of this. They have already said that if the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they will sever ties with Israel. Not the United States. But Israel! Even though Israel did not initiate this - nor has it been a priority for them except in ideological terms.

Let us also see how the United Nations sees Israel and the Jewish people. Half the time they treat Israel as though it were Nazi Germany in the 30s. Then there is the recent declaration by UNESCO that Judaism has no connection to the Temple Mount. Does that not say it all about Israel’s international ‘friends’?

I used to give the media the benefit of the doubt whenever they were accused of bias against Israel. But  the bias on this issue is so blatant, I can’t give them a pass here. Even though they are probably not even aware of it as bias. They probably think they are just reporting facts when they tell us how bad this decision is.

They all seem to believe that Jerusalem should not be in Jewish hands. That each side has the same legitimate claim to it. How sad that - unlike Evangelical Christians - the majority of people that make up the mainstream media (who are nominally Christian) have abandoned as archaic and irrelevant -many of their biblical teachings.

It would have been nice to hear at least one reporter say something more positive than Trump is only doing this to appease his base and right wing supporters of Israel (read: Orthodox Jews). It would have been nice to hear them say something other than this is the biggest mistake America has made since Israel declared itself a State. 

It would have been nice if they didn’t say that this is a reversal of 70 years of US foreign policy towards Israel. It would have been nice if they would have mentioned that the ‘darlings’ of the mainstream media – Israel’s left wing - are in favor of it too.  It would be nice if they said that Jerusalem has been the defacto capital if Israel and the seat of power since its inception. And that recognizing it is merely recognizing a realty they are all aware of. A realty that would be the case even in a 2 state solution.  

But No. The mainstream media insists on painting this in the worst possible light. So much for their supposed objectivity!

Please do not misunderstand where I am coming from. I supported Oslo. Which divided Jerusalem – giving Palestinians the ‘Old City’ (East Jerusalem) with a proviso they agreed to at the time that would have given Jews the right to freely access all Jewish holy sites whenever they chose. 

For me an environment of peaceful co-existence that would have ended the bloodshed and saved Jewish lives was worth the cost of the bricks and mortar of the old city. I still feel that way. I just don’t believe it is possible anymore. Doing that would do the opposite and probably turn the West Bank into another Gaza - as things stand now.

Despite my personal misgivings about this move because of this exact problem (the spilling of Jewish blood) I can honestly say that I have a tremendous sense of pride in America for what is about to happen. And if done the right way we may be spared any long term violence.

What is the ‘right way’?  I believe that the President should make this announcement in a way that will mollify Arab fears about abandoning the peace process or the possibility of a 2 state solution. He should  make it clear that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is merely the recognition of the status quo and does not reflect the future status of East Jerusalem – one way or the other. A status that should be negotiated by the two parties – Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps that will prevent the much anticipated bloodshed this move might entail.

But I am not going to hold my breath. It doesn’t take that much to incite Palestinian violence against Jews. Nor does it help that Palestinian President, Mahmood Abbas has called for 3 days of rage if this happens! (Something the mainstream media has failed to criticize the way they are Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.) Instead I will pray that God will protect His people from any harm via Israel’s prudent use of its police and military power. God bless Israel, the Jewish people, and the United States of America.

Update
Shortly after noon today (Central Standard Time) President Trump pretty much followed the above script and announced US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital - while emphasizing that the US has not taken a position on Jerusalem's final status; nor abandoned the peace process or the ‘2 state solution’.

Thank you Mr. President for being the first to keep your campaign promise on this issue - unlike all previous Presidents that made a similar campaign promise but never kept it. It appears that at least on this issue, you are more honorable than them all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Are Orthodox Jews Assimilating to the Christian Right?

Colorado baker Jack Phillips who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple
The answer is no. The question in the title was raised by Batya Ungar-Sargon in a Forward opinion piece about whether Orthodox Jews are abandoning the separation of Church and state. That bedrock principle embedded in the constitution’s first amendment is very important to us. Here it is in full: 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
No one appreciates this more than religious people do. Including most Orthodox Jews. There was a time not that long ago where despite this lofty principle, Jews experienced serious discrimination in this country. Among other things, Jews were subject to unfair quotas in top universities; barred from top executive positions in major industries; some hotels had signs saying Jews not allowed; country clubs had covenants preventing Jews from joining; and Jews were systematically fired from their jobs if they refused to work on Shabbos.

These and many similar restrictions aimed at our people are all now considered violations of our religious rights and are hardly an issue anymore.

This constitutional right has benefited us and we are very fortunate to be living in a country where religious tolerance is its credo.

In recent years, religious tolerance has taken a back seat to civil rights. Not that civil rights aren’t important. Of course they are. There should never be any discrimination against any particular group. That too is part of the American credo. But recently these two values have come into conflict.

One such case happened a few years ago in Colorado when a Christian baker refused to bake a wedding cake with words congratulating a homosexual couple upon their marraige. He said it violated his faith and therefore his first amendment rights to facilitate a gay marriage in any way.  He was taken to court by that homosexual couple and the court ruled that his refusal to accommodate them was an unlawful violation of their civil rights. The Supreme Court now has the case before it this very day. We shall see what they say.

How do Orthodox Jews see it? Is a Jewish baker allowed to bake a wedding cake like that for a homosexual couple? Does our view that a gay union is against Halacha mean that we can’t even bake them a wedding cake for them? I’m not sure it does violate Halacha – for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. But either way I would be willing to fight for this Christian man’s constitutional religious rights.

For me, this is about more than a cake or whether it affects me as an Orthodox Jew personally. It is about protecting the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. This is the opposite of what Ms. Ungar-Sargon suggests – that Orthodox Jews are abandoning the first amendment and siding with the Evangelical desire to make this country more Christian. It supports the first amendment. There are 2 parts to it and they are equally important.

Ms. Ungar-Sargon bases her perception of us on the fact that we seem to have more in common with Evangelical Christians than we do with mainstream liberal Jews that make up 90%of the Jewish population. She is right. This is an unfortunate fact. It is also a fact (sad though it is) that this very same 90% is in the process of self destructing as Jews via intermarriage and assimilation. To the extent that they have any religious values at all, they are hardly based on any real understanding of the Bible. These are cultural Jews whose grandchildren may very well not even be Jewish.

Why do we have more in common with Evangelical Christians? It is because they have more knowledge about what the bible says than the vast majority of non Orthodox liberal Jews do. Why that is the case is also beyond the scope of this post. But it is really hard to dispute that fact.

And yes, it’s true. I hate to admit it but most Orthodox Jews (54%) voted for the President, despite his very irreligious behavior – as evidenced in his recorded conversation with Billy Bush, former host of the syndicated TV show ‘Access Hollywood’.  Most Orthodox Jews as well as Evangelical Christians knew about this and voted for Trump anyway. 

How could religious people vote for such a reprobate? It was a protest vote against an establishment which they saw abandoning the moral principles and values upon which this country was founded. They saw for example a Supreme Court validating gay marriage and wanted to change that tide. They would have voted for the devil had he been the one running against the establishment!

One might ask, isn’t the very idea of a country founded on religious principles anathema to the religious tolerance embedded in the constitution? No. Values can be attained through many sources including religious ones. As long as there is no religion established; and long as people are free to practice their religion faith as they wish there is nothing wrong with looking to a book whose values haves guided the civilizations of 2 major faiths for thousands of years. That does not infringe on anyone’s rights.

I therefore suggest that Ms. Sargon-Ungar stop her hand-wringing and not worry so much. There is not a single intelligent Orthodox Jew that is in any way abandoning the first amendment. Nor are we all about to convert and become Evangelical Christians. There are clearly some very serious religious differences which we are not about to give up. All we are trying to do is change the tide of moral disintegration that has been gripping the American psyche of our time.