Friday, November 21, 2014

The Fall of an Icon

Cosby as Cliff Huxtable with his TV daughter, Keshia Knight Pulliam (Time)
Bill Cosby is about the closest thing we have to being a cultural icon in this country. His contributions to the advancement of interracial relations are exceptional. His hit television series, ‘The Cosby Show’ (1984-92) literally changed the way Americans saw their black neighbors. For the first time blacks were portrayed as people with the same middle class values as their white counterparts. Cosby’s character, Cliff Huxtable was a successful obstetrician and Felicia Rashad who played his wife Clair was a successful attorney. Their children were as normal as any middle class white family’s children would be… having the same lifestyles, goals, and problems any middle class family would have. 

For the first time there was a major TV series that went against the stereotypical portrayal of blacks as an underclass living in slums and leading a life of poverty, violence, and crime with no decent values at all.

The fact that it was such a hit is what made his contribution so significant. I truly believe that this series changed the way most white Americans saw blacks.

Bill Cosby had a wonderful reputation before that. He was a man of honor who kept his word. My children’s elementary day school, Arie Crown, hired him for a concert fundraiser one year – at a very reasonable price. He accepted with a caveat that if a better deal came along - he could break his contract with us. That is exactly what happened.  But being the gentleman he was he promised us that next year he would come perform for us guaranteed for the same price. He kept his word. It was one of the most successful fundraising events we ever had up to that time. What made it special is the type of humor he presented. It was completely clean and it kept us in stitches. Shortly after that he debuted his series.

Bill Cosby did not stop keeping his eye on his community after his series ended. He was a man of conviction and did not let the political correctness of black leaders like Al Sharpton influence his actions. He ‘told it like it was’ despite enormous criticism from black leaders like Sharpton. He believed that the image of ‘Cliff Huxtable’ was obtainable for a lot more blacks than was currently the case. But that the culture of disinterest in education – that is so prevalent in impoverished black neighborhoods prevented it. He urged young black people to ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’ and get out of the cycle of poverty and crime they were in which they were immersed in their own neighborhoods.

All of the made him a hero for me.  But there is a ‘fly in the ointment’.  First there were accusations of an extra-marital affair that produced a child. That proved to be true. He admitted it. And more recently there have been accusations of rape. Multiple accusations by women who described their ordeal in similar ways. Rape that occurred decades ago when Bill Cosby was a young man – albeit already a successful comedian.

Cosby has remained silent about these accusations refusing to admit them to deny them. Of course as is always the case, a man should be given the benefit of the doubt when one is uncertain of the truth. That is what our system of jurisprudence is about. Innocent until proven guilty.

That said, it is highly unlikely that so many different woman have come out recently to describe what happened to them so many years ago. All with a similar modus operandi.  It is doubtful that these women collaborated in some sort of conspiracy to ‘get their stories straight’. I don’t see what they could gain by lying about it. I doubt it is about money. If I understand correctly lawsuits are not available to them because of the statute of limitations. Why did they take so long to come out?  There are many reasons. Perhaps they thought nobody would believe them. Maybe they just wanted to get on with their lives and not spend the time and energy in what they probably thought was a lost cause in making accusations against a popular celebrity. I don’t know. But I believe them. There are too many accusations - similarly described - for them all to be false.

For those of you that felt the way I did about Cosby, perhaps we can see why there is so much disbelief and denial when a local icon is accused of it. It is very understandable there is disbelief when a community hero is accused of such despicable acts. How can a man like’ Bill Cosby’  (fill in your own icon) have done what he is accused of? Everything he stands for - stands against those accusations. They must be lies. And the person making these accusations are the real despicable ones. Who knows why they’re doing it. They are evil people. Or sick people. But liars either way.

I believe that this is what generates protocols  by Agudah like telling rabbis first before reporting it to police… and let them sort it out. Those rabbis know their ‘Bill Cosbys’. And they simply cannot fathom that it could ever be true about a man whose entire life has been dedicated to doing so much good for the world. My guess is that unless there is hard evidence of sexual abuse, accusations about icons are rejected. And then those abusers are free to continue their abuse.

Obviously it is the wrong approach to be biased in favor of an accused sex abuser whose entire life up to this point seemed to be exemplary – albeit a natural one. And that is why rabbis who are not experts - and are Nogieh B’Davar (biased) knowing well the accused and his pristine reputation - are not the ones to determine the veracity of an accusation.

I was therefore very gratified to hear the address given by Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker at the Agudah convention last week who made some of these very points. Perhaps his words and the events with Cosby will turn the tide.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Words I Have Been Waiting For

I am not in the habit of posting videos as a primary post. At most I will post them as an enhancement of what I have written. But I am making an exception in this case.

Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker addressed a workshop at the Agudah Convention last week that should be seen by every religious Jew in the world… especially those in a position of Jewish leadership - lay or rabbinic.

Rabbi Zucker is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Gedola Ohr Yisrael of Marine Park.

His lecture was simply astonishing.  He did not mince words. He was hard hitting about the many Chilul HaShems that have been perpetrated by Orthodox Jews and especially Orthodox Jewish leaders.  I believe he touched all bases. Bases that I touch here all the time. I could swear he reads my blog… although I doubt it. He is my new Charedi hero. It is imperative in my view to watch this video to see what he says. You will not be disappointed.

My only criticism is that it was not given as the keynote address in front of everyone. It should have been. It’s about 20 minutes long and it will be well worth your  time.

Surrounded by Scandal: Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker from Agudath Israel on Vimeo.

The Poor Judgment of Crying ‘Wolf’ Too Often

CBS Morning News Anchor, Norah O'Donnell
I don’t really pay that much attention to Honest Reporting - a website that is supposedly a watchdog for media bias against Israel. There certainly is enough of it out there to require a watchdog and to be grateful to them for their service.  But sometimes they just go too far. I get spammed by them all the time and I generally just click on delete.

But this morning something caught my eye.  They had a clip of what I am certain was an inadvertent error. They played it up as yet another example of media bias against Israel.

In her report on the CBS Morning News about the massacre in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem she said it took place in a contested religious site in Jerusalem. As any religious Jew knows, Har Nof is not a contested religious site.  We know that because it is a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem… and we religious Jews tend to know the names of the religious neighborhoods there. Har Nof is a very familiar name to us. 

But for those who are not religious Jews… or even Jews, the name Har Nof may as well be Skokie. Especially if they don’t live there. The name is meaningless to them. So when something like this happens in Jerusalem where there are contentious neighborhoods – like Har HaBayis, it is an easy mistake to make.

I am absolutely convinced that this is what happened to Norah O’Donnell, one of the CBS Morning News anchors. She read the news copy that was handed to her. There was no bias on her part… and probably not even the news copy writer’s part.

I usually watch the first 20 minutes of the news program everyday while having breakfast. I've seen her report on Israel numerous times. Norah O’Donnell is no more biased against Israel than I am.

Now it’s true that it was a serious error since it places an entirely different light on the motives behind the attack. Not that it justifies it. Nobody says that (…except for the dancing Palestinians in Gaza and their kindred spirits elsewhere). But it does make the incident just a bit less heinous if one sees legitimate grievances behind it. (Not to me or any decent human being. But to some…)

It is dishonest of Honest Reporting to characterize Norah O’Donnell and CBS as purposely misleading the public about the possible motives of the attackers.

They acknowledge that CBS removed the clip from their archives – probably because of the protest it registered. But they Honest Reporting archived it just to make sure people know about it. Which allows them to make their case about media bias. But in this case they are dead wrong, in my view. 

They ought to stop doing things like that. You can’t cry ‘wolf’ if there aren’t  any real wolves around. If they keep making these kinds of accusations and insinuations they will lose any credibility they may have. That would be a shame. We do need watchdogs to expose media bias.

I therefore think they should make an apology. Or at least remove this particular report from their website.

They may counter by saying that CBS should apologize for their error. Maybe so. But that does not free them to heap scorn upon people that haven’t earned it.

Leaving this report up will show media bias. Not Norah O’Donnell’s.  Not CBS’s. But that of Honest Reporting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Hero, an Apologist, and a Truthseeker

Funeral of  Zidan Saif (Photo: Israel police via the Jerusalem Post)
Unlike many religions, Judaism does have a place in Heaven for non Jews.  Judaism does not require conversion as a prerequisite for Heaven.  Ours is a religion of merit. Anyone who merits it in the eyes of God will receive an eternal heavenly reward.  In the case of one particular non Jew, there is not a doubt in my mind that he has earned it, albeit at a very high cost. The cost of his life.

Master Sergeant Zidan Saif, age 30, a Druze from the Galilee area was shot and killed yesterday while trying to save Jewish lives. He was an Israeli cop tasked with traffic duty when unexpected events called him into action. Sergeant Saif was one of the first responders to the massacre in Har Nof. 4 innocent Jews were slaughtered yesterday by Palestinian terrorists. Officer Saif was shot during an exchange of fire with the terrorist savages who committed those atrocities. He died later of those wounds – leaving behind a wife and 4 month old daughter.

He did not see ‘Arab hating Jews’ being attacked. He saw fine human beings - innocent people - in a Shul during prayer being attacked.  And without thinking about his own safety he ran to that Shul to try and prevent any more killings. It cost him his life. May God comfort his family as they grieve over their tragic loss

His sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Israel has honored him with thousands of people attending his funeral. As did Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post Israeli Police Chief Yochanan Danino eulogized Zidan Saif saying that the officer “ran into the heart of the murderous inferno, without fear."
“We are burying a hero of the Israel police, who laid down his own body to protect the worshippers at the synagogue in Har Nof,”
(Public Security Minister Yitzhak) Aharonovitch said in his eulogy. “Zidan was there first and operated with courage. Without hesitation he charged inside, in the face of the horrors there… “(H)is heroism cost him his life, but saved the lives of others. Zidan is a source of pride for his family, for the Druse community and for the police and the people of Israel.”
Druze serve in the Israeli army with pride. So it should not be all that surprising that one of them acted with the courage and heroism he did.

Shibley Telhami
Contrast that with the predictable Arab narrative that accompanies atrocities like this. Even among supposed moderates. Like Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Mayland. He was interviewed along with Dennis Ross yesterday on Public Television’s Newshour.

After Dennis Ross blamed Palestinian leaders like  Mahmud Abbas’s for  inciting violence- along with the general  demonization of Israel in the Arab world, Telhami said that if he were an Arab leader he would condemn it with ‘ no ifs and or buts’. That was followed with (you guessed it) a ‘but’:
Put that aside. But to think that what that leader’s going to say is going to be the reason why people are going to do or not do the thing, when they’re facing settlements in Jerusalem that they think are illegitimate and illegal, in comparison to what Mahmoud Abbas will say or not say, the weight here is — is in the wrong place.
I am reminded of what ABC News anchor Peter Jennings said the day the World Trade Center was attacked: ‘Why do they hate us?’  He went on to talk about America’s foreign policy (read: support of Israel). I was appalled that a respected American TV Journalist would stoop to blaming Israel for 9/11 even in the indirect way he did!

What he did is not that different than what Talhami did. Innocent Israelis get attacked? That’s terrible. But it’s their own fault. There was not a hint of embarrassment or shame on his face. For him it was all about blaming Israel for their own troubles.

This is a typical response by even moderate Arabs. The ‘not so moderates’ were actually dancing in the street and tweeting ‘bravo’ to the terrorist success in killing Jews!

Tarek Fatah
There are however some Muslims that are embarrassed by it.  Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah is one of them. He is not what I would call an ‘Uncle Tom’ who sold out to the ‘dark side’ of the ‘hated Jewish taskmasters’. He is a proud Muslim that supports the Palestinian cause. Here was his reaction to the massacre:
(I)f the savagery of the act was not enough of a shock, one response from a Muslim on Twitter was equally gruesome.
Responding to my tweet about the Jerusalem slaughter, he welcomed the mass murder by writing a single word, “Bravo”.
Elsewhere on social media, Palestinians in Gaza circulated cartoons using the image of the meat cleaver and knife used in the attacks, to mock the Jews.
As a Muslim who has spoken all my life for the rights of the Palestinians to a state of their own, I was left holding my head in despair and shame…
What have we become, I asked myself?
Indeed. It’s nice to see a bit of introspection on the part of an Muslim that actually supports the Palestinian cause. Instead of the ‘but’ that usually follows the pro forma condemnation of atrocities. He held his head in despair. If only there were more like him; heroes like Sergeant Saif;and less apologists likes Shibley Talhami… you never know what impact that might have on world order.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The CBC and the Events in Jerusalem

R' Moshe Twersky - 1 of 5 people killed by terrorists in Jerusalem this morning
Yes… the Israeli police have done it again. This morning they shot and killed some hapless Palestinians. Is this not proof of the Nazi like tactics of the Jews? Oh sure they say that it was precipitated by an attack against some Jews in a synagogue. Don’t you believe it. We don’t know what happened there. The Jews – once persecuted by the Nazis have themselves become Nazis. It is they who are the terrorists.

The above narrative might as well have been written by the anti-Semites at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC).

Here is what they wrote on their Twitter feed: 
Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack 
Oh… they are reporting the story more accurately on TV and on their website.  But it doesn’t matter. Their anti-Semitic bias has been exposed for the entire world to see.

This is no simple error. This is a deliberate attempt to paint Israel in the most negative light. As a brutal occupier that kills innocent Palestinians for practically no reason at all. Just to teach them who’s boss! A tweet like that sends this message exactly. And they know it. It casts the Israeli police as virtual Nazis. Which according to them is what this Jewish nation of occupiers has turned into.

Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas condemned it.  Not to mention Secretary of State John Kerry who called it an act of pure terrorism.  Hamas – as expected – has praised it. I guess the CBC sympathizes more with Hamas than they do with even the PA!

They may eventually apologize for this tweet. Even profusely. But again it doesn’t matter. Their bias has been exposed for the entire world to see. They will never have - nor should they have - any credibility again on any story coming out of Israel.  In fact I wouldn’t give them credibility on any story they report. It is one thing for personal bias to enter ones reportage of a story. That is usually unintentional and can be forgiven. But this was intentional and was done with the agenda of de-legitimizing Israel.

You would think that rational and professional journalists wouldn’t do things like that – despite their bias. There is little doubt in my mind that the CBC didn’t know that a synagogue was attacked and blood was spilled before the police showed up. But – again - it didn’t matter. They had to skew the facts with a deliberate negative twist against the Jewish people on the story.

Furthermore, I do not buy the distinction that is often made between being anti Israel and anti-Semitic. It is true that the 2 can be separated and one can criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite. But I believe in most cases the motivation is anti-Semitic. The burden of proof that someone who made critical comments against Israel is not anti-Semitic rests on the person who made them.

Case in point. The Obama administration has been very critical of Israel’s settlements policy. But they are clearly not anti-Semitic. Their actions speak louder than their critical words. The enormous military and intelligence cooperation between the 2 countries is unprecedented. Not to mention the US funding of Iron Dome.

But when there is statement by a news organization like the CBC made which is negative in its entirety without any reservation… such as their tweet this morning on Twitter, that tells you what they really think.

I am thoroughly disgusted by these people. There is little they could say or do now to dissuade me of the anti-Semitism that permeates their thinking. Even if they got on their hands and knees and said ‘I’m sorry!’

I should add that the CBC is not the only major news organization that expresses this kind of anti Israel bias. They are only the latest!

Now that I got that off my chest… I am still in state of shock over what happened there. This butchery took place in a Shul in Har Nof, an Orthodox section of Jerusalem. 4 religious Jews were attacked by 2 Palestinian terrorists and were killed while they were in the middle of prayer. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has already claimed credit for it.

One of them, Rabbi Moshe Twersky was a Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Moshe Meiselman’s Yeshiva - Toras Moshe. He is a grandson of Rav Soloveitchik!

A fifth victim died as a result of wounds received after arriving at the scene. He was an Israeli police officer who responded to the attack. The 2 terrorists were killed in a shootout. 

I have relatives that live right in that area. Rav Moshe Sternbuch lives there.  It could have been any one of them.

I don’t know how the families of these four Jews can deal with what - so suddenly and so unexpectedly - just happened to them. One moment their son/husband/father/grandfather is alive in Shul where he Davens every day at that time. And the next thing you know he is covered in blood lying dead on the floor.  

I can’t begin to imagine the pain these families must be going through. These people are not the extremist 'price tagger' types that live in remote areas of the West Bank. They are normal everyday people like you and me. Jews going about their daily affairs. The thought of terrorism is the furthest thing from their minds. They rarely if ever think about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For them it is a remote story happening somewhere on the West Bank – a place where they never go. Har Nof is a peaceful place nowhere near the West Bank. It is not the most likely target of a terrorist attack. I don’t think Har Nof has ever experienced anything like this before.

It has been quite awhile since there has been anything like this in Israel. Terrorism has been curbed by the extraordinary measures taken by the Israeli government. Like building a protective wall of separation between the West Bank and Israel proper. But nothing is foolproof. Aas we learned today. The hard way, Rachmana Litzlan – may the Merciful One protect us.

I have no clue how Israel can protect itself from these kinds of terrorists. Perhaps police or security guards should be placed at the entrances of every single Shul in Israel when people are there. I don’t know. What I do know is that there has to be something that can be done to stop it. Because the people of Israel have the same right to live in peace and security as we in America do.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Folly of Taking Chances for Peace

Latest ISIS beheading, Peter Kassig (NY Daily News)
There is one thing all of those calling for Israel to stop building settlements and take chances for peace with the Palestinians are ignoring. That ‘thing’ is ISIS. What is so puzzling is that it is so obvious!  Now more than ever.

As much as I am opposed to settlement building right now, (for reasons I’m not going to get into here) they are not the real impediment to peace. Anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention would see the proverbial ‘Elephant in the Room’. Which is radical Fundamentalist Islam.

As I have said many times, I am in favor of making peace with the Arabs and am willing to pay a price for it. My reasons are simple. I want to see an end to the hostilities. I want to see an end to terrorists blowing themselves up in crowded areas in Israel. I want to see an end to rockets being fired at her. I do not want to see any more Jews being tortured and butchered; kidnapped or maimed. 

I want there to be peace between two peoples so that each can get on with their lives without fear. Without one people subjugating another.  Without one people needing to resort to harsh measures against the other for security reasons. I want that to end and am willing to pay the price of even an Oslo Accord type solution if that would guarantee a peace between 2 peoples sharing a border. A peace similar to what the United  States has with Canada.

But as I have also said, that is currently a pipe dream so remote that it is pure folly to even suggest it.

But the nations of the world – including the United States (under the leadership of the  Obama administration) think that it is still possible even in today’s terrorist climate. If only Israel would stop building settlements and ‘take chances’ for peace - they say.

This ‘song and dance’ may have made sense to the world pre 9/11 (Although not to those of us who knew what radical Islam was long before that – Israel having had its share of suicide attacks.) After 9/11 however, it should have been obvious to everyone what the real impediment to peace is. It is not settlements. It is the mindset of the devout Fundamentalist Muslim in the Arab world. It is from their ranks that the 9/11 terrorists were recruited. One may recall all the rejoicing in the Arab street after 9/11. It was the devout Burka clad Muslim women that were handing out candy to children while the masses were cheering in the street.

It should have been clear then that Israel’s existence was not the real issue. That Islamic fundamentalism was. And for a while I thought the all of the American people would finally get it… and understand what Israel’s needs are all about and why they need to take the security measures that end up being so harsh on the Palestinian people.

Unfortunately not long after 9/11 some started saying that if not for Israel none of this would have happened. The Muslim extremists only attacked the US on 9/11 because of its support for the Jewish State. That it was Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians under its occupation that caused 9/11. While most Americans did understand the truth, there were plenty of  people that somehow ignored it and simply painted Israel as occupying tyrants that were torturing the poor helpless and innocent Palestinian underdog for simply existing.

This is the mindset of some of academia.  Universities are filled with Palestinian academics and their sympathizers who preach hatred of Israel to their students. It is also the mindset of the BDS movement that advocates Boycotting, Divestment from, and Sanctioning the State of Israel because of their treatment of Palestinians.

Thankfully the majority of the American people aren’t buying it. Support for Israel is at nearly an all time high. We can probably in part ‘thank’ ISIS for that. This morning we learned yet again of another ISIS beheading of an American citizen: Peter Kassig. What was his crime? He went to Syria to help feed the refugees of war. He even converted to Islam under captivity. But ISIS didn’t care. They wanted to kill another American to continue to teach the United States a lesson. That was made clear in a video of a man clad in black whose face was completely covered threatening to advance ISIS forces into America and do it here. That was accompanied by another video of mass beheading of Muslim captives.  

It is interesting to note that these videos actually attract fighters to ISIS. One may wonder how a brutal system like this could attract anybody. There are many reason I suppose. Like the romantic image of the underdog fighting for a cause. But one cannot discount the religious motive of some of their recruits. That is the scariest motive of all.

Religious motivation is very powerful. People sacrifice their lives for it. That is how suicide bombers are recruited. They are dying for the sake of sanctifying God in the holy cause of righting the world for God. 

How will the world be ‘righted’? It will be done by establishing a caliphate. A caliph is a successor to Mohamed that will rule - tasked with assuring Sharia (Islamic) law will be implemented and followed to the letter. Laws like cutting off the hands of a thief… or stoning women who cheat on their husbands. And other such niceties.

They view the non Muslim world as degenerate and worthy of destruction unless there are conversions to Islam. This is their ultimate goal. All is fair in pursuit of it. That is what makes them so tough to defeat. They don’t care if they die or how many innocent people they kill along the way.

Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Jihadists are no different. While their tactics have not been quite as brutal as ISIS (yet) that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same goals. (Although the brutality has not quite matched ISIS, it has still been petty brutal.  Ask the families of the 3 kidnapped and slaughtered Israeli teens that eventually precipitated last summer’s Gaza war.) This is why they will never recognize the state of Israel and will continue to fight it until they win back all of ‘Palestine’.

Fundementalist Muslim clerics preach it from their mosques all over the world. Increasingly so. They always have been. Israel must perish. Its existence is a theological impediment to Islam.

Does any sane person think that if Israel stops building settlements that these people will say, ‘OK, let’s make peace now and allow a Jewish state to exist in our midst’?! This does not mean I support new building in the settlements. I don’t. What it means is that the fundamentalist goals of destroying Israel will not change. Clerics will still be preaching it to the ever increasing population of devout Muslims.

And yet these clear facts seems lost on those who say that Israel should take chances for peace. It is one thing for the rabid Palestinian academic and his willing accomplices in the university to preach that to the gullible student that has no understanding of the issues. But for a US government to not realize the folly of pursuing peace under these conditions? That is mind boggling! 

Even more inexplicable is that some of the nations of the world normally friendly to Israel have unilaterally recognized a Palestinian State! By doing this they have given succor to Israel’s enemies and fodder to ISIS. Bashing Israel is right up their alley because a strong Jewish State in their territory (the Middle East) is ultimately the biggest impediment of all to establishing a caliphate there. And then eventually marching on to the rest of the world toward that goal.

ISIS has shown the world what radical Fundamentalist Islam is capable of. It has promised more of the same until their ultimate goal is reached. I can’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t look at what ISIS does and realize what Israel is up against.

And they want Israel to make peace even with a Hamas and a Hezbollah that is right on its borders threatening annihilation?!! That would almost be like telling the United States to make peace with ISIS. And ISIS is nowhere near its borders. Come on world. Wake up!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Actions - Not Platitudes

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel addressing the Agudah Convention last night (VIN)
The hits just keep on coming. I’m not talking about music. I’m talking about the world of Orthodoxy being ‘hit’ yet again with another scandal. This time it is financial. The ‘hits’ seem to alternate between financial scandals and sex scandals.

To say that I am embarrassed by it every single time it happens - would be an understatement.  We are barely past the scandal of a Modern Orthodox rabbi’s voyeurism and we are once again faced with yet another financial scandal.  This time by a group of Chasidim from Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg.

As Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel indicated in his address to the Agudah convention last night, the goodwill we in Orthodoxy have built up by all of our achievements and contributions is countered by one scandal after another. The people who befriend us read the same newspapers we read. They read about people who claim to be among the most moral and ethical Jews; people that go out of their way to look different from a general society they paint as completely immoral - defrauding the government in the millions of dollars.

I have said this before. When a society sees the surrounding culture as completely immoral and believe them all to be anti-Semites, it should not be all that surprising that some people in that society see nothing wrong with ultimately cheating them.  

It starts with gaming the system to get government aid legitimately. That is often accompanied with comments like this: ‘The lowlifes of the inner city get government aid, why shouldn’t we - the people with the lofty ideals of the Torah? It is not too much of leap for some of them to say, ‘It’s OK to scam the system illegally since they Goyim are all evil Jew haters anyway’! ‘’As long as you don’t get caught!’ ‘And since we Jews are so smart we won’t be!’ That is bolstered by religious leaders like the Chasidic Rebbe caught in an elaborate tax frauds and money laundering scheme.  He was caught and convicted. The message received all too often is that if the Rebbe did it, it must be OK. What is not OK is getting caught.

I know it isn’t only Chasidim that defraud. Bernie Madoff proved that. As did a non Chasidic Orthodox Jew that stole money from the charity fund he headed.

But it just seems like a lot more of it comes out of a system that utilizes government welfare to the max. 

Addressing the issues crime committed by Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Zweibel made the following comment with which I agree. From VIN:
(I)t is our adherence to mitzvos that makes Hakadosh Baruch Hu look upon us favorably’.
It is the lack of adherence to them that caused these miscreants to try and cheat the government. In his closing remarks he said the following:
(I)t is incumbent upon each of us to strengthen ourselves in our performance of mitzvos in order to regain the respect of the outside world.
“When the nations of the world see and they look and they see the tefillin and they see the sheitlach and they see the kosher restaurants and they see all of the outer trappings of yiddishkeit, they look at us and they say this person is special.  This person in fact conducts himself in a way which is elevated… that is when we can be 800 pound gorillas.”
He could not be more right about this. Artifacts are not what make us great. It is our conduct that does. But as true as this is, it is not enough. It is in fact yet another platitude coming out of Agudah. Nice words. But he ends without a hint as to why some of our own people do not conduct themselves in ways that are a Kiddush HaShem - and instead act in ways that are a Chilul HaShem.  The blame for this should be placed squarely where it belongs. On the faulty Chinuch that characterizes the outside world as totally immoral and Anti-Semitic. The worst offenders of this approach are the Chasidim of Satmar and other like minded Chasidim.

If you continue to vilify ‘the Goyim’ that way is it really a surprise that even a devoutly religious Jew that prays 3 times a day and is meticulous in ritual observance thinks it’s perfectly fine to cheat ‘the Goyim’? ‘As long as they don’t get caught?’ Is not this view bolstered when a Chasidic Rebbe is found guilty of a an elaborate tax fraud and money laundering scheme?

The message taken is that if a Chasidic Rebbe thinks it’s OK to defraud the government then it’s OK for me to do it. The only thing he did wrong was getting caught! I know he apologized for the Chilul HaShem he made. But he did not say that what he did was wrong. If I recall correctly he basically said that if you want to avoid going to jail, then before attempting anything – get a lawyer so you can stay within the letter of the law.

This was completely ignored by Rabbi Zweibel. So while I agree with his message, I am disappointed at yet another platitude coming out of this august body. We need more than yet another admonition about making a Kiddush HaShem with our behavior instead of making a Chilul HaShem. There needs to be concrete steps taken by rabbinic leadership to change the way some in the Orthodox world think.

You can’t continue to promote statements like ‘Halacha He, Esav Soneh L’Yaakov’.  Because if you keep hammering people over the head with the idea that ‘the Goyim’ hate us, you perpetuate the feeling that it is OK to cheat these people because ‘they hate us anyway’!

This should have been stated clearly from the podium. We have to get serious about changing attitudes. True the idea that ‘the Goyim hate us’ has legitimate roots in the centuries of Jew hatred in Europe that culminated in the Holocaust. You can’t blame people for believing that ‘the Goyim’ hate us after that. 

But America of 2014 is not Europe of 1939. Instead of focusing on past hatred in Europe and erroneously transferring that onto the American people we ought to be focusing on truth. The American people do not hate us. They have only the highest regard for Judaism. Recent polls have shown that Judaism is the most admired religion in America. This in spite of the seemingly endless parade of Orthodox Jews committing crimes and misdemeanors. Sexual or financial.

The American people know that not all Orthodox Jews are crooks. They do not all paint us with a broad brush. Senator John McCain made this very observation when asked about the crimes of another Orthodox Jew, Jack Abramoff. The American people are fair.

If we want to continue to command the respect of our fellow citizens, we need to do whatever it takes to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. That starts with our religious leaders calling a spade a spade and making sure that the classroom is no longer filled with the message that ‘the Goyim’ Hate us. They don’t. But if things like this keep happening, their attitudes may change. And who would blame them?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Can’t Happen Here!

Illustrative photo. credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP via the Jerusalem Post
Barbara Sofer’s opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post  reveals some statistics about sex abuse that raises some questions in my mind.

1. The percentage of sex abusers are between 95% to 97% male.  

It’s not that I am surprised that there are more male sex abusers than there are female sex abusers. Virtually every incident that appears in the media involves a male abuser.  But still that is a startlingly high percentage.

Why is it that only males are driven to act on their illicit lust with innocent victims despite the fact that those victims lives are ruined?  Is lust a greater issue for men? Or is it that men are more inclined to act on it than women?

2. There are more boys molested as a percentage of the whole among Orthodox Jews than there is in the general population. 

That was surprising too, since I had always believed that the percentages to be the same among both. Until I saw the reason for that.  It is because of the increased level of gender separation in Orthodoxy.

That too raises questions. Is there a bigger proportion of gay men in Orthodox Jewry, than in the general population?  If it is lust that motivates them would  a heterosexual predator be interested in abusing a member of the same sex? How can a straight male satisfy his lust with a male victim? Are there more gay men in Orthodoxy? Or does nurture play any significant part in determining sexual orientation?

3. 90% of the complainants know their abusers. These are not strangers lurking outside the corner store; they’re teachers, counselors, even fathers. 

90%! That should be a wakeup call about who is doing the abuse in communities that are populated by Orthodox Jews. If a child in Boro Park is sexually abused, it is probably a religious Jew who did it.

4. Most victims are under 18.

5. There is a new category of abuse now happening in the Frum Community: Spiritual abuse: 
It’s about women whose husbands’ increased religiosity isn’t about getting closer to the Creator, but controlling their wives’ behavior and isolating them. 
6. Studies show that sexual abuse in the Orthodox  world – whether in Charedi, Centrist or Left wing circles -is at the same level as it is in the general population.

This too is not a surprise to me. It is not a new statistic. It has been known for some time now that sex abuse is not a function of religion, Hashkafa or of level of religiosity. It is a criminal act often sourced in mental disorders like pedophilia - irrespective of one’s type or level of observance.  What is somewhat of a surprise is the level of denial that still exists among Orthodox Jews about it. Jerusalem Psychologist Debbie Gross posits that ‘there was that pervasive myth that such perversity didn’t exist in the idealized religious community’. ‘Not in my community.’ ‘Not in my school.’

Dr. Gross  is the founder and director of the Crisis Center for Religious Women. Founded about 20 years ago – it is an organization that ‘raises awareness, suggests means of protection and offers healing help for those who have been sexually abused’.  Why the need for an organization designed specifically for religious women? There were after all many rape crisis centers in Israel. Here is her explanation: 
Jerusalem’s women believed they, their husbands and their children needed guidance that would suit their religious lifestyle. Attitudes towards modesty, relationships with religious authorities and community attitudes were different. Even talking about sex was different. 
If this attitude doesn’t change, the problem will persist… and probably only get worse. Which is why I am happy to see that a conference on these issues will be taking place in Jerusalem in just a couple of weeks. From the Jerusalem Post
From December 1 to 3, the Crisis Center for Religious Women is hosting an international conference called The Jewish Community Confronts Violence and Abuse, to be held at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel. 
Lest anyone think that no one of any significance will be there, please note the following from the Jerusalem Post
Among those who will open the December conference will be Mayor Nir Barkat and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau. Attending will be rabbis Abraham Twerski, David Cohen and Yosef Blau, who have been mavericks in confronting these dark subjects. Dr. James M. Cantor and Linda Graham will bring international expertise from outside the Jewish community, and educators are flying in from everywhere in the Jewish world. 
As Ms. Sofer points out, ‘This is good news’. Indeed it is.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Transparency and the Honor of the Rabbinate

RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky
Most rabbis are either sexual predators or cover-up for those colleagues that are.

That is of course one of the most ridiculous and disgusting statements anyone can make about the lofty profession of being a rabbi. And yet if one would read what is being said by some victim’s advocates and many people who comment on the issue, this would be the conclusion. I’m not saying that anyone actually believes that. But that is the impression one gets. The venom I often see spewed at the rabbinate is so over the top that it is almost comical.

The truth of course is nothing of the sort. The vast majority of rabbis are altruistic dedicated people that strive mightily to serve God and His people. Unfortunately there are always the bad apples that ruin it for everybody. This is what happens when one discovers the Lanners, Kolkos, Webermans, Gordons, Mondrowitzes, and Freundels of the world. They have abused their position to one extent or another in order to satisfy their own lust at the expense of others. Sometimes to the point of permanent psychological damage to their victims that occasionally end in suicide! This is not even arguable.

The public is rightly outraged by these miscreants. And their call for change is justified. There have indeed been far too many cases of cover-up. I believe that this is why the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is reviewing its conversion procedures. I support their doing so, despite the umbrage taken by some of its rabbis.

(Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is one such rabbi. He has resigned as a Dayan (judge)from the conversion court he was involved in because he felt that Halacha as embodied in the RCA’s Gerus Protocol and Standards (GPS) might be tampered with. While I understand his concern, I think he acted too hastily in resigning.  The RCA has clearly stated that their review will be geared only toward additional protection of  the the convert. It will not tamper with Halacha. At the very least rabbi Pruzansky should have waited to see what would happen before he resigned. But that is neither here nor there with respect to this issue.)

The precipitating event that caused the RCA to convene this committee was the Freundel scandal. As most people know by now, in his capacity as the Rabbi and overseer of conversions in his synagogue, he abused his power in many ways, the most egregious of which was installing cameras in the Mikva so that he could watch and record women utilizing the Mikva undress and immerse. 

Converts are required to immerse in a Mikva in order to complete their conversions. They are particularly vulnerable as their conversions are under the complete discretion of the rabbi that brings them to conversion. 

One may recall that a while back such vulnerability had caused a rather famous conversion rabbi to take sexual advantage of one of his female converts.

That said, I think it is completely unfair to paint all rabbis as less than idealistic. It is unfair to say that all of them – or even most of them - would abuse or cover-up abuse of their fellow rabbis. That cover-ups happen is not surprising since it is so hard to believe a long time respected colleague would ever do things he is being accused of. But to assume that all or most rabbis would protect their colleagues at the expense of victims is at best a gross exaggeration.

I have to agree with Rabbi Eliyahu Safran’s defense of the honor of the rabbinate.  He described it as place where idealistic young men have chosen a career to serve God and His people according to the dictates of the Torah. You don’t go into the rabbinate for the money. It is therefore unfair to paint the rabbinate with a broad brush. The care taken by rabbis at conversions he has been involved with should not be overlooked. I think what he described is more the rule than the exception.

Ordinarily I would say that such dedication and devotion to doing the right thing would suffice for them to self regulate. But the fact that there have been so many cases of sexual abuse by rabbis means that the rabbinate needs more transparency. The few have ruined it for the many.

How we go about achieving this is the $64,000 question. This is what the RCA is doing.  Hopefully. At least with respect to Mikva use by the convert - procedures can be developed that will prevent any future attempt at abuse by any rabbi.

It is a shame that the honor of the rabbinate has been tainted this way. There are a lot of good rabbis out there that must be paranoid by now… thinking that everyone thinks they are predators. Or protectors of their cronies who are. I do not believe for a moment that is the norm. But it is a problem that exists. And it needs to be dealt with.

Good rabbis that have deservedly been trusted before might now feel embarrassed and insulted by this turn of events. Which is an unfair and uncomfortable consequence of all this. But the better part of caution should require that rabbinic honor be subordinated to the welfare of the public. Transparency is now - sadly - a necessity.  As long as current conversion standards are not tampered with - I am all for it.

But at the same time, it is wrong to paint the rabbinate with the broadest of negative brushes that is so common these days.  Most rabbis deserve our respect. And we ought to give it to them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Feet of Clay - Who Watches the Watchman?

Guest Post by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
The trespass so clear, so disturbing, so defiling that no caring member of the Jewish community can help but feel a deep sense of humiliation and disgust.  Whether in Los Angeles or Jerusalem, the behavior of the Washington, D.C. rabbi, caused every Jew to feel a physical revulsion, no less than if they had been members of his particular congregation. 

What was his trespass that it brings about such a harsh reaction?  A prominent rabbinic leader and scholar desecrated the trust of young Jews and the holiness of the mikvah by videotaping female congregants and converts as they prepared for and immersed themselves in the mikvah.

A transgression of this nature would be profoundly troubling no matter who was responsible.  But to discover that a rabbi undermined the trust in his office and his person in such a fundamental way is almost beyond belief.  Sadly, as we have come to appreciate only too often when we’ve heard stories of abusive priests and other predatory religious leaders, the damage done to individuals and institutions when religious leaders behave so atrociously is devastating. 

By virtue of their learning and leadership, rabbis hold an incredibly powerful position in shuls and Jewish communities.  This rabbi acknowledged as much when he stated arrogantly to one of his congregants in the context of a conversation about establishing a mikvah, “I’m the rabbi!  You’re just a layman.” (As reported by a Washington Post column written by Michelle Boorstein on November 8th). 

Arrogant, yes.  But also true.  A rabbi commands great authority.  He is the one who makes determinations about religious behavior, answers questions about kashrut, and helps congregants negotiate Jewish experience in a difficult, complex modern world.  His learning and, hopefully, his modesty and caring, place him in a unique position in the Jewish community.  He is, indeed, the “watchman”.

In almost every Jewish congregation and in almost every instance rabbis have proven themselves exemplary stewards of Jewish life and the personal needs of their congregation and community.  It is because the earned trust is so deep that a betrayal such as the one alleged in Washington D.C. sets of a seismic shudder through the entire Jewish world.  For some, his behavior raises the question, When the watchman does err, who watches the watchman?

Our discomfort with the unwanted media attention this story has brought to the Jewish community is natural.  No one likes such a bright, unrelenting light shone on such an ugly event.  In the media’s sensationalizing, it is hard to remember that the thing that makes it so “sensational” is that it is such an ugly aberration.  It is, in fact, the story of one man’s behavior.  Yet there are those who would try to generalize from this man’s behavior to broad brush the entire rabbinate!  One recent opinion piece even went so far as to say, “Mikvah Scandal Underscores Need to Regulate Rabbinate.” 

Need to regulate the rabbinate? While I feel the pain of this man’s behavior as deeply as any, I do not understand why one would generalize from one man’s disgusting behavior to sully an entire group of people?  In particular, rabbis.  The perversion this man demonstrated is not part of a rabbinic mindset or protocol.  No psychology or practice would encourage such behavior (as might be suggested when celibate religious figures engage in sexual perversions).  Such behavior is so far yotze min ha’klal – outside community norms – that the community itself will quickly regulate and enforce standards.

More particularly, the sanctity of the mikvah is held in such regard that to defile any aspect of its practice or ritual is even more anathema to rabbis.  A headline like the one that appeared in last week’s media:  “Local Rabbis Sweep the Mikvah for Bugs” is astonishing.  To suggest that this man’s disgusting trespass could possibly cast doubt on generations of administering mikvaot with non-negotiable protocols of  reverence, discretion, modesty and decency is as great a transgression as that committed by the accused. 

I think of the all rabbis who spent sleepless nights in pursuit of perfecting mikvaot physically, esthetically and spiritually.  Are their genuine and sacred acts simply erased by the shameful act of one man?

I know of young rabbis who have assumed positions in new communities who, before they even settle into their own homes, ascertain that the mikvah in their synagogue or town is properly administered with every last detail and nuance of modesty adhered to from the minute the front door’s handle is turned until the woman is well on her way home!  Is that simply ignored by this man’s behavior?

I recall contemporaries calling the most respected Poskim in the middle of the night to review their mikvah’s protocols, particularly as relating to issues of discretion and modesty.  Are these spiritual priorities, so determinedly adhered to, blithely overlooked because of one man?

And if there is an aberration?  If a rabbi is so arrogant as to overstep, to transgress, to defile?
It is true that synagogue boards and councils often defer to rabbinic authority, but no rabbi is a priest or a pope; no rabbi commands authority except by virtue of his teaching and adherence to Torah and Jewish law.  The authority in the Jewish community is clear.  The buck does not stop with the rabbi, but with Torah.

And in this regard, rabbis are regulated far more thoroughly than any civil board could ever dream to regulate.  Every Jew with knowledge of Torah (which is, hopefully, every Jew) constantly evaluates rabbis.  King David did not need a “board of regulators” to condemn his sinful behavior.  He needed only one man, Nathan, with knowledge of the Word of God.

* * *

When I served as a congregational rabbi in Pittsburgh, every discussion and deliberation concerning any aspect relating to a prospective convert was handled by a group of at least 3-4 rabbis, with genuine fear and trembling, with the knowledge that we, the rabbis, bore the burden of representing K’lal Yisrael.  And when the day finally arrived at the mikvah?  My God!   The discretion, sensitivity, modesty and respect displayed by all… recalled the experience at Har Sinai!

Each and every step of the way was handled with discretion and respect, mentoring, motivating and serving.  Not just halacha but mentschlichkeit mapped our way forward!  As it was then, so it is now.
When in Pittsburgh, I frequently called upon the sage, sensitive, and loving advice of that humane Gadol, Moreinu Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt’l, and mentor and rosh yeshiva at RIETS for close to 50 years. 

Whenever I spoke with him, I jotted notes to refer to. When consulting with him about issues relating to a pending conversion, he responded in great detail, and with his inimitable patience and love. After ascertaining that I was absolutely certain that this woman was indeed worthy of becoming a Giyoret, he added the following words, (we always conversed in Hebrew): rak tizkor ledaber b’nachas u’bekavod; remember to speak calmly and respectfully; tamid tareh lah b’chol diburecha u’maaseicha ad kama gedola v’kedosha Torateinu. Always demonstrate with all you say and do how great and sacred our Torah is.  Al tishkach sh’im tatzliach az tuchal l’kayem mitzvat ahavat ha’ger b’chol prateia v’dikdukeia. Ata meivin Reb Eliyahu – scharecha harbeh me’od.   Don’t forget that if you succeed you will then be able to observe the mitzvah of Loving the Ger with all its ramifications. Do you understand Reb Eliyahu; your reward will be great.  And then he reiterated, tomar es zeh gam l’chaveireich ha’rabanim ba’ir, share this with your rabbinic colleagues in the city, as well. 

We rabbis regulate ourselves, guided by our rebbeim and mentors. And, when a rabbi acts as a rogue, any Jew can prove to be his undoing.  As the Post article makes clear, the Washington D.C. rabbi’s undoing was the result of an observant mikvah attendant (not a scholar, not a rabbi, not a macher in the community – an attendant!) who took her concerns to the leaders of the mikvah and the synagogue.  And then, as the Post reports, “A lawyer was called.”

 As long as there is Torah and Jews knowledgeable in Torah, no more regulation is needed.