Friday, February 24, 2017

How And When Should Judaism Change?

Guest Contribution by Elliot Resnick

Who would sit on today's Sanhedrin? (Algemeiner)
Elliot Resnick is a writer and editor for The Jewish Press, as well as the author of Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape (...in which I was honored to be included) and the editor of “Perfection: The Torah Ideal.”  As always the views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my own. His words follow. 

Was halacha more flexible in ancient times?  Some Jewish intellectuals – even those who identify as Orthodox – claim it was.  They argue that our ancient chachamim made bold reforms to Judaism in response to changing times, and we should as well.  

I disagree.  Even if these thinkers are right that halacha was less rigid in ancient times, radically amending halacha in the 21st century would be a disaster in my opinion.  Here’s why:

To make major sweeping changes to Judaism without fracturing the Orthodox Jewish community, we would need a central rabbinic body – something akin to the ancient Sanhedrin.  Unfortunately, though, a contemporary rabbinic body of this nature would almost assuredly be politicized.  It would be widely suspected of deciding controversial issues – not based on halacha – but on the extent to which it accepts or rejects the modern liberal agenda.  It would resemble America’s Supreme Court, which half the country routinely accuses either of obscurantism or dishonestly interpreting the 

Constitution in an effort to be politically correct.  Do we really wish to introduce this state of affairs into our community?

Some would argue that cynicism towards, and disrespect of, poskim already plague Orthodox society. To some extent, that’s true.  But when Rabbi X gives a liberal psak, or Rabbi Y gives a conservative psak, he can be ignored – even dismissed – by those who dislike his worldview without harm to the reputation of halacha.  Not so a modern-day Sanhedrin.  

A Sanhedrin cannot be ignored any more than America’s Supreme Court can be ignored.  Orthodox Jews would be forced to follow its verdicts no matter how politically-driven they suspected them to be.  As a result, bitter resentment towards this rabbinic body would quickly develop and respect for halacha as G-d’s divine will would decline. 

Amending halacha nowadays, though, is problematic for another more basic reason.  Even if one assumes that Chazal routinely reformed halacha, their changes arguably flowed organically from the Torah itself; they weren’t enacted in response to values external and alien to the Torah.  In other words, the changes generally came from within, not from without.  And when they did indeed come from without, the external ideas to which our ancient chachamim responded were ideologically parve in nature.  

The same cannot be said of the ideas influencing those who wish to change halacha today.  These ideas are rooted in the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which consciously cast off the “shackles” of G-d and religion. The sad fact is that modern-day liberalism is not yesteryear’s liberalism.  Movements like abolitionism and the fight for women’s suffrage never attacked religion as “the enemy.”  

If anything, the opposite is true.  Modern-day liberalism, however, routinely does, evincing an almost instinctive disgust of religious tradition.  It believes G-d a pernicious delusion, traditional marriage homophobic, Judeo-Christian sexual morality repressive, and the belief that men and women should play different roles in society nothing less than bigotry and oppression of the highest order. 

That is why winning hearts and minds is not enough for liberals.  They are determined to crush the opposition.  People who disagree with them are not merely wrong.  They are racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, and homophobic.  Thus, a private Christian baker, for example, must be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding.  Mordechai must publicly bow before Haman.  Anything less is unacceptable.

Liberal Orthodox Jews are fond of quoting Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s comment that yirat shamayim should elevate, not supplant, natural human morality.  That might be true, but I doubt Rav Kook had in mind the “natural” morality of activists who consciously aim to expunge G-d and tradition as standards of behavior in society.  

To this “natural morality,” Judaism must take a firm stand.  Even if halacha may evolve at times, it can never do so to accommodate ideas and worldviews conceived in rebellion to divine values.  In the face of such ideas, we shouldn’t feel defensive or apologetic.  We should rather walk in the footsteps of the ancient Chashmonaim, proclaim, “Mi laShem eilai,” and not cede an inch.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Recognition Yes. Authority No.

'Rabbi' Nechama Leibowitz?
Perhaps the biggest challenge to Orthodoxy today is the glass ceiling. This is a concept I never heard of until relatively recently a few years ago. It came into vogue at the time feminism began pushing the envelope of egalitarianism more successfully. The idea behind this metaphor is that women have a ‘ceiling’ which they can see through but have been societally prevented from breaking through. Thus women are being unfairly denied opportunities automatically given to men. 

I actually support breaking those glass ceilings. No one should ever be denied achieving any goal they seek. Gender should never be an issue. The only thing that should count is merit. If one is the best qualified for a given job, they should get it - no matter whether they are a man or a woman.

But as I have said so many times, in Judaism egalitarianism is not a value. Judaism sees men and women each in their own roles. And although there is much overlap, there are some areas that don’t. The one glass ceiling which cannot be broken is that of the rabbinate. It is no secret that I oppose the ordination of women (for a variety of reasons that I will not rehash here). I in fact strongly support the recent OU statement that made it clear that this innovation is not acceptable. Thus adding yet another Orthodox institutional voice in opposition to it.

This is old news. But I don’t think it has been emphasized enough that there are roles for women in much of what is done in the rabbinate by men. Roles that have been increasingly accepted even by the right wing.  The OU statement made specific reference to that in their statement. 

There are highly educated and knowledgeable women that teach Torah in girls schools all over the world. Some of them are principals. And they do so with the full support of Orthodox establishment rabbis.

There are women that do pastoral counseling. 

There are women that will answer questions about Taharas HaMishpacha (Niddah issues). Even among the right wing. They are rebbetzins – married to rabbis that are Poskim in these matters. They have been around their husbands so long and have heard these Shailos asked to and answered by their husbands hundreds of times. They know exactly what he would say. To the best of my knowledge no one on the right discourages this practice.  Should they not be given a title recognizing their achievement and status?

The Centrist community has actually done this in at least one case. We now have women that actually study those laws and can answer most of the common questions via what they have studied instead of through osmosis from their husbands. They are called Yoatzot – Halachic advisers. The right has rejected that as too much of a leadership role. While not universally accepted by all Centrist Poskim, there are those that do.

Laura Shaw Frank has addressed this issue in a recent article on Lehrhaus. She asks readers to consider recognizing these accomplishments. And points to the fact that such recognition does actually exist in right wing circles. Most notably in Jewish outreach. Especially in  Chabad. It is pretty clear that rebbetzins – the wives of Chabad Shiluchim who have had excellent Jewish educations play an essential leadership role – equal to that of their husbands in reaching out to fellow Jews. This is how they are seen by the Jews they reach out to. This is how they see themselves. This is how their husbands see them… and this is how Chabad itself sees them.

Even the Agudah approves of women taking upon themselves certain aspects the rabbinate. And they have no problem referring to them as clergy when seeking parsonage – a tax benefit given only to members of the clergy. Which the courts have granted to them.

Is this not a contradiction to the utter rejection of women as rabbis by Chabad, the Agudah, the RCA and the OU? On the surface it may seem so.

I think it is something else. If one examines the positions of all three of these (Chabad the Agudah and the RCA/OU) all are on board with women that have assumed some of responsibilities normally associated with rabbis. There have been female teachers formally teaching women since at least the advent of the Beis Yaakov system. There have been Rebbetzins giving Taharas HaMishpacha advice longer than that. And when it comes to outreach clearly both men and women have equal roles to play.

What about titles? Should there not be some sort of recognition of those leadership roles that is more than honorary – which is the way the word rebbetzin is used? What about calling them rabbis? …breaking the ultimate Orthodox glass ceiling? That would seem logical. And yet not a single Orthodox faction agrees to that. Why not?

It isn’t that I am opposed to giving women authority over men in Judaism. It is Halacha that is opposed. The title ‘rabbi’ grants more than recognition. It grants authority. And places women into a new category of leadership that according to virtually all Poskim contradicts the issue of Serrara – authority over men. The prophetess Devorah often cited as proof that a woman may indeed have authority over men was an exception by virtue of the fact that she was given the gift of prophesy by God.

Recognizing achievement does not grant authority. Conferring the title ‘rabbi’ (or any substitute title for rabbi) does. And that is the crux of the issue. No matter how much Torah knowledge a woman might have she may not - according to Halacha be given Serrara; the ability to rule as an authority over men. It may not be fair. But it is Halacha. In almost all of the examples above, it is women dealing with women. And in those cases where women deal with men, it is not in an authoritative way. By definition, a rabbi is an authority in Halacha.

Truly great women do not need titles in any case. Nechama Leibowitz, was perhaps the greatest living expert on Tanach in her day bar none – including male rabbis. If any woman deserved the title rabbi - she did. But she did not seek the title, rabbi. She did however, deserve the recognition. In spades! Which she got! 

I realize that this will not satisfy Orthodox feminists who see breaking this particular glass ceiling as a goal – and reject the idea that Serrara applies to a rabbi.  And they have increasingly begun to do so by ordaining women both here and in Israel. But their view has been completely rejected by both the right and the center. Which is increasingly causing a rift between us that may soon be unbridgeable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

OTD on the Down Low

Typical looking observant Jews. Are they all as they appear to be?
Observant Judaism is hard. There is no question about it. It is not easy to ‘follow all the rules’. Especially those rules that are rabbinic. I have more than once thought about one Halacha or another and wondered, ‘What is the point?’ Why did Chazal make life so difficult for us?

Just to cite one example (and there are many): I often tell my wife and daughters that if I had it in my power, the one thing I would abolish is the requirement of married women to cover their hair. But the sages interpreted a Pasuk (verse) in the Torah indicating that a married woman must cover her hair - calling the uncovered hair of only a married woman, Erva (nakedness). 

The logic of that escapes me. But despite my inability to understand it, I am not free to ignore it, much as I would love to do that for my wife and daughters. (Please understand that this is my own view and has nothing to do with the way my wife and daughters see things. They are all perfectly happy to cover their hair. It’s me. I am the one with the problem.)

While I understood the reasons given for some of these difficult Halachos, I often feel that those reasons no longer apply. And yet I follow them. But I have to be honest, I follow them with a great deal of difficulty. I follow them because I am a believer in the Torah and the sages interpretation of it.

I understand their interpretations of biblical law and why additional rabbinic enactments were made even if those reasons no longer apply. I also understand the way the generational hierarchy in Judaism works. We cannot retract the laws issued by the sages. Their rules are the final word on all matters. Later generations are left with Poskim applying those rules to their own time and circumstances. But understanding that does not make it any less mentally difficult to observe them. Which is why I am such a big fan of Kulos. I believe that there are more than a few people that find observant Judaism difficult to observe and we ought to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Why make Judaism more difficult than necessary?

I mention all of this to sympathize with a young married woman with similar thoughts on a variety of Halachos and just like me - maintains her religious observances. But unlike me she secretly does not believe in much of it anymore. (Although she does still believe in God.) She has written a revealing essay about her current state of mind on these issues.

Because of her upbringing, love of family, friends and community, she remains completely observant. But she doesn’t really believe in what she’s doing.

I wasn’t surprised by the comments to that essay. They were all sympathetic to her. Most saying that they feel the same way she does. They are still observant without believing in what they do. No one would ever suspect what is going on in their minds.

This is not the first time I’ve read about Orthodox Jews being OTD on the down low (to use her phrase). There were 2 individuals in particular that I recall. One was a modern Orthodox rabbi of a Shul who loved his job and wanted to keep it despite his becoming a skeptic (or downright atheist - I don’t recall which). His congregants had no clue. He was outwardly observant and performed his rabbinic duties meticulously. His congregants loved him and did not suspect a thing. (Obviously he never revealed his true identity.)

The other individual was a Charedi Posek (in Bnei Brak if I remember correctly). He too stopped believing. But he kept on Paskening Shailos for his community for quite a while and was highly respected. He eventually went public and was removed as a Posek by his peers. Asked how he could dare Paskin while being a non believer, he answered that he had been trained in Psak and knew how to Paskin. He paskined the same way he would have had he been a believer.

I wonder how many people there are like this. How many Jews remain observant while secretly not believing at all in what they do... doing so only to retain the status quo with family and community?How many of them that were raised completely observant in functional loving families have become disillusioned to the point where they no longer believe? And yet maintain the facade by continuing their meticulous observance as before? Is this woman the tip of the iceberg? Is she a symptom of a far greater problem than anyone is aware of?

I suppose that people who are honest with themselves might have some of the same issues this woman did. Or the issues I have. How many have taken the same route I have? And how many took the route this woman did? And why was one path chosen over the other in each case?

I realize that there are a lot of devout Jews that do not think about these kinds of issues at all. They do not question. They just do. And believe and observe with a full heart without a second thought. Often seeking the highest level of Mitzvah observance well beyond the minimum. They are Chareid L’Dvar HaShem, having great trepidation about following the word of God. They never question anything and serve God with complete devotion and joy.

But at the same time I have to believe that there are a lot of people that do question… and many of them do not take the path I took. They take the path of this writer and stop believing while remaining observant. I don’t think we will ever really know how many observant Jews there are like this. No one who stops believing and yet wants to maintain their lifestyles will want reveal their lack of belief to anyone.

That probably translates to a lot more people like that than anyone might suspect. People that might be very close to you. To put it the way this writer did:
I’m your neighbor, your friend’s sister, your daughter-in-law, your daughter, your mother, your wife. Maybe I’m you. I’m willing to bet there’s a lot of us out there. 
On the other hand, if one has really stopped believing, I don’t see how it is possible to hide that forever. Children will pick it up. If not sooner, then later. Won’t they? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The First Thirty Days

US Representative to the UN, Nikky Haley
Chaos! That is probably the best way to describe how the Trump Presidency is going so far. But there are exceptions. One of which is his choice of who will represent the US at the UN. 

What a breath of fresh air. Our new UN representative is one of the great pluses of the Trump administration. Whatever one may feel about the President himself, no one can deny that Nikky Haley is one of the most clear headed and ethical people to ever hold that job. There is no more excusing the conduct of a world body that is overtly anti Israel. There is no more passivity about resolutions that are one sided against the Jewish state. No more.

Mrs. Haley spelled it out in great detail in the video below. It is almost like listening to the Prime Minister of Israel. He has said virtually the same things. Only this time it is America saying them.

It took courage to stand up to this world body and tell it like it really is in the face of what must have surely been a hostile audience. I’m sure that Mrs. Haley did not think she did anything special. She probably feels that any normal and ethical individual in her shoes would say what she did. But the fact is that as recently as 2 months ago, our last UN representative, Samantha Power did not do so. Instead at the behest of our then President and her boss, the Secretary of State, she allowed the UN to pass resolution 2334 condemning Israel for its settlement policies. A move that was roundly condemned by all those that seek truth and justice. Including a bipartisan vote (342 members of the House of Representatives) condemning that UN resolution.  

Mrs. Haley made it clear that the Trump administration would not stand by and let something like this ever happen again. Those that believe Mrs. Power was on the right track and supported the agenda of the previous administration with respect to Israel… all I can say is that the last 8 years of that agenda produced nothing positive for either the Palestinians or Israel.

This praise for the Trump administration’s new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be misconstrued as a change of heart on my part about the disastrous results of the last election. Trump has not changed into a diplomat that knows how to behave as the leader of the free world. He is still the narcissistic personality he was before. And he is still an embarrassment to the United States practically every time he opens his mouth and spews the garbage coming out of it. Garbage filled with distortions, falsehood, and ignorance. Some of it bordering on abrogating the first amendment guarantee of a free press.

But at the same it is a tribute to a man who seems to be doing what he had promised to do (or at least trying to do) during the campaign as quickly as possible. During the campaign he said that he will be the most pro Israel President in history (or words to that effect). If Nikky Haley is any indication of that, Trump is off to a good start. At least as far as dealing with UN bias against Israel is concerned.

That Trump is ignorant about his job is not news. Trump is clearly a man out of his depth in virtually all areas of government, especially when it comes to issues of national security and foreign policy. Nor is it news that he is such an embarrassment on the world stage.  And yet he was elected. And his core constituency still supports him. We must remember that his core constituency is not a bunch of minority fringe groups. They are nearly half of America that voted in the least election. They are mainstream Americans. And they still cheer him at rallies as they just did last weekend, despite his despicable behavior.

In one of my early posts on Trump during the campaign, I speculated about what may happen on the ‘outside’ chance that this manic personality might become the President. I felt that his ignorance may in fact be an asset. Deep down, he knows that he’s ignorant, despite his babbling about how much he says he knows. Strange as that may sound, if one thinks about it, the fact that Trump is so ignorant and knows it means that on matters of national security he will have no choice but to listen to his advisors.

National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster,
Although he has made some mistakes on who he has chosen to serve him, one of the more important ones has been corrected. In the case of National Security Adviser, the enigmatic and somewhat paranoid General Michael Flynn has been replaced by Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster. He is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker. And he has a PhD in American history from the University of North Carolina.  He is a combat veteran who is not afraid to speak his mind, most famously having written ‘Dereliction of Duty’ a book criticizing President Lyndon Johnson’s prosecution of the Viet Nam War.

The left will continue to criticize the President about his choice of advisers… using his behavior to bolster their argument about how bad those choices are for our American values. The thing is that the left’s values are not America’s exclusive values. The right has values too. And their values are just as American as the left’s. Some of those values conflict. Whereas the left has a more humanist centered approach, the right has a more God centered approach. Each side believes its values are superior to the other’s. And in some cases - one side sees the other’s values as anti American!

So of course the left doesn’t like the mostly conservative choices Trump has made... characterizing them as un-American... and getting away with that because of Trump’s behavior.

It seems obvious that Trump will continue to embarrass himself and this country by his rhetoric and behavior. I was hoping that would end and that he would become more Presidential. That’s not happening. But since we’re going to have at least 4 years of Trump, we will just have to hold our collective noses and tolerate it. At he same time, I believe he will listen to the advice of the experts he has chosen and base policy on them.

Trump’s more or less conservative philosophy may not sit well with the left. They will hate him as much for ideological reasons as they do for the way he embarrasses this country. But in that respect he will be no different than past conservative Presidents. For example. Although Ronald Reagan was very Presidential and had none of Trumps personal flaws, the left hated him. However, despite protestations by the left, Reagan will probably go down as one of the most effective and popular Presidents of the 20th century.

   

Monday, February 20, 2017

When Legitimate Moral Values Conflict

Rabbi Rafi Eis (Herzl Institute)
Rabbi Rafi Eis has written a insightful essay on Torah Musings about the current controversy surrounding women as rabbis. The controversy has recently been increased by an OU document signed by rabbinic authorities associated with modern Orthodoxy. It stated that after due deliberation of all the relevant factors that go into Halachic Psak - women may not become rabbis. Although they did expand the role women may play in our society today.

Rabbi Eis is surely not some right wing fanatic. He was ordained by Yeshiva University, heads educational programs at the Herzl Institute and teaches at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a decidedly left wing women’s seminary in Israel. It is important, I think to consider these factors as I believe that they impact Rabbi Eis’s view on this subject. A view that I find hard to disagree with.

First he lauds the OU for issuing their statement seeing it as unifying rather than dividing. He then goes on to explain that autonomy in Judaism has its limits. And connects that to the 6 axes of morality explored by Dr. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and how the various expressions of Orthodoxy (left to right) weight them:

1. care/harm
2. liberty/oppression
3. fairness/cheating
4. loyalty/betrayal
5. authority/subversion
6. sanctity/degradation

Rabbi Eis then makes the following observations: 
These values come into conflict. Haidt posits that political liberals emphasize the first two moral axes over the other three, even ignoring axes 4, 5, and 6, while various groups of social conservatives find some balance with all six. Extreme conservatives slightly elevate sanctity above the others.
Modern Orthodox Judaism balances the six moral axes. We do not believe that sanctity, authority, and loyalty are just to promote better fairness, liberty, and care. Sanctity, authority, and loyalty are inherent values. 
I believe this is key to understanding how to view controversial issues that have conflicting moral values. As it applies to the issue female rabbis I believe the left does in fact favor some of these values over others. They see the values of  liberty and fairness superseding those of authority and sanctity. This has been the crux of the division between those that support women in the rabbinate and those that are opposed. When one places more value on fairness over authority and the other places more value on authority over fairness, it leads to an impasse where each side sees the other as betraying the value they feel is greater. 

From his modern Orthodox perspective, Rabbi Eis sees Haidt’s values as equal and therefore not to be overridden by one value over the other. Authority and loyalty must always be taken into consideration when considering fairness. If it is ignored or minimized then you are down a path of division that cannot be bridged. As it pertains to Orthodoxy, a community can lose cohesiveness when that happens. Here is how he puts it: 
Shared loyalty, authority, and sanctity generate social trust and a unique communal identity. They are strengthening motifs. Communities have particular heritages, listen to their authorities, and hold certain things sacred. By definition, these communities include some and exclude others… 
Individuals that reject the community’s history and authorities, even in the name of liberty, create distance between themselves and their community. Just as the community cannot force its beliefs on an un-wanting individual, the individual cannot impose his beliefs on the community. The individual does not dictate the terms of his community membership.  
He asks whether we are at an impasse here… wondering if this issue will serve to divide us yet again as did movements of the past. He hopes we are not. He hopes that the Open Orthodoxy stays in the ‘tent’ as they fervently wish too. I share that hope. But if they continue to place higher value on personal liberty than they do on authority, I don’t see that happening.

I am happy to see that there are still Orthodox rabbis on the left that are clearly within the tent of Orthodoxy. We need their voices. I only hope that his colleagues and constituents pay attention to him.  Unfortunately, as Rabbi Eis notes, the response by many of those colleagues to the OU rabbis that issued that statement has been less than respectful. In some cases it was witvenom and disdain for the OU rabbinic panel – as Rabbi Eis notes. That ought to stop. Because the first step towards unity is not disparaging the view of great rabbis no matter how much we disagree with them.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Real World Education of a Liberal Reporter

Freelance reporter, Hunter Stuart (VIN)
It’s no secret that I lean conservative on most issues.  However, I am not a card carrying conservative. I do have some views that are usually considered liberal.  I just want to be clear about my perspective before I go on.

I have been saying for some time now, the hard core liberal perspective usually begets a sympathetic approach to the underdog. Which in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often generates a lot more sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians than it does for Israelis. It doesn’t seem to matter much whether a liberal is Jewish or not. The primary motive for a liberal is sympathy for those the oppressed masses. In Israel, the oppressed masses are the Palestinians.

I have conceded that Palestinians experience hardships. I don’t think that can be disputed by anyone with even the slightest bit of objectivity. But as I also constantly say, Israel is forced to scrutinize them more carefully for security reasons which is the cause of those hardships. That too should not be disputed by people with the slightest bit of objectivity.  It’s not that Israel is prejudiced against Arabs or Muslims. It’s that Israel has been terrorized by people from their midst! 

To the liberal, that doesn’t matter. When the mainstream media (which is exceedingly liberal) reports about the treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis they rarely talk about the context of their treatment. They only focus on how difficult it is for Palestinians living under occupation. And without context - that makes Israel look like pre Mandela South Africa.

This view was recently corroborated by Hunter Stuart, an American reporter.  From a Jerusalem Post article (republished at VIN): 
Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.
The belief that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians is an inextricable part of this pantheon. Most progressives in the US view Israel as an aggressor, oppressing the poor noble Arabs who are being so brutally denied their freedom.
This was his attitude and at first he would make his case in discussions and debate with his Israeli friends. But he slowly came to realize what those of us who support Israel and its actions realize.  That It isn’t about Israel ‘oppressing the poor noble Arabs who are being so brutally denied their freedom’. In facing the realities of  living in Israel he gradually began to change his mind. Its started with a Pew Research Report he was shown: 
I saw that Pew’s researchers had done a survey of thousands of people across the Muslim world, asking them if they supported suicide bombings against civilians in order to “defend Islam from its enemies.” The survey found that 62 percent of Palestinians believed such terrorist acts against civilians were justified in these circumstances. And not only that, the Palestinian territories were the only place in the Muslim world where a majority of citizens supported terrorism; everywhere else it was a minority ‒ from Lebanon and Egypt to Pakistan and Malaysia. 
Shortly after being shown this report, he saw a new wave of terrorist attacks by individual Muslim Palestinians who on an almost daily basis were popping up out of the woodwork and stabbing Jews. (Later to become known as the ‘Stabbing Intifada”.) Nevertheless, his bias got the better of him at first. He blamed ‘the occupation’. If only Israel would cease the occupation, Palestinians wouldn’t be attacking them.

He soon found out that the ‘occupation’ wasn’t why Jews were being attacked. It was while he was doing a story in the Arab part of East Jerusalem called Silwan.  He was mistaken for a Jew by a 13 year old Palestinian who started shouting, ‘Yehud’ (Jew - in Arabic). That generated a group of that boy’s Palestinian friends to race toward him with what he calls ‘a terrifying sparkle in their eyes’. He calmed them down after exclaiming that he wasn’t Jewish and that he loved Palestine.

That look, he said was something he would never forget. That incident was followed by the following: 
Later, at a house party in Amman, I met a Palestinian guy who’d grown up in Silwan. “If you were Jewish, they probably would have killed you,” he said. I made it back from Silwan that day in one piece; others weren’t so lucky. In Jerusalem, and across Israel, the attacks against Jewish Israelis continued. My attitude began to shift, probably because the violence was, for the first time, affecting me directly.
I found myself worrying that my wife might be stabbed while she was on her way home from work. Every time my phone lit up with news of another attack, if I wasn’t in the same room with her, I immediately sent her a text to see if she was OK. 
Later he spoke to an Israeli friend who told him about the murder of his friend on an Israeli bus that was stormed by 2 Palestinians. Ironically this was a story he had reported on. And just as other reporters had done at the time - he blamed Israel for it and glorified the attackers.

The victim in that incident was a liberal, too. He was heavily involved in the peace movement, never missing a rally. He believed that by teaching English to both Palestinains and Israelis he would be able to bridge the gap and show that peace is possible if more people did the kind of things he did. But his killers could not care less. They were well-off Palestinains who were paid 20,000 shekels to storm the bus with guns and kill some Jews.

What was the Palestinian reaction to this murder? 
More than a year later, you can still see their faces plastered around East Jerusalem on posters hailing them as martyrs.  
And yet, most of the mainstream media and foreign governments still blame Israel for these attacks. If only Israel weren’t occupying Palestinians land…

Why is this the case? This brings me back to my theory about the myopic view of the liberal. I will end with an excerpt that sounds almost as though I had written it:   
I’ve come to believe it’s because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appeals to the appetites of progressive people in Europe, the US and elsewhere. They see it as a white, first world people beating on a poor, third world one…

Unfortunately for Israel, videos on social media that show US-funded Jewish soldiers shooting tear gas at rioting Arab Muslims is Hollywood-level entertainment and fits perfectly with the liberal narrative that Muslims are oppressed and Jewish Israel is a bully.
I admire the liberal desire to support the underdog. They want to be on the right side of history, and their intentions are good. The problem is that their beliefs often don’t square with reality.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Turx, Trump, the Media, and Policy

Chasidic reporter, Jake Turx (TOI)
Turx is how this Chasidic reporter identifies. No first name. Just his last. Reminds me of the fictional gunslinger Paladin in the 50s TV series ‘Have Gun. Will Travel’.  This Chasidic reporter works for one of the Charedi magazines and is perhaps one of its finest and most entertaining reporters.  He recently received the high honor of being granted White House press credentials. That gives him a seat at Presidential press conferences. Which he attended yesterday.

In what has to be one of the most surreal Presidential press conferences I have ever seen, Turx had his head handed to him by the President. It is no secret that the ultra Orthodox community voted overwhelmingly for Trump.  And the Charedi magazines are clearly ultra Orthodox. While I have no clue how Turx voted in the last election – it is not unreasonable to assume he voted for Trump. (Although... who knows.) At the very least, the vast majority of those who read Charedi magazines are unabashedly pro Trump and probably voted for him.

When Turx was called upon by the President, he prefaced his question by telling him that no one in his community thinks that he is an antisemite. He added that he realizes that Trump’s daughter is Jewish as are his grandchildren - using the Yiddish word Zaidie in describing Trump’s relationship with them. I guess Turx thought that this preface would clearly indicate that he was not attacking the President in any way – by even hinting that Trump was responsible for what he was about to ask. So he asked if the White House was going to address the increased phenomenon of antisemitism in this country which was manifested recently by over 40 bombing threats made against Jewish Centers.

Trump totally ignored the content or the intent of the question as well as the elaborate preface. Not to mention ignoring the overwhelming support he must know was given to him by the Charedi world from which Turx obviously comes. Trump only heard one thing. Antisemtism. Once that word came up, he stopped listening. From that point forward he saw Turx as yet another lying reporter attacking him with false accusations of antisemitism.

To be fair, I can understand why someone who is constantly accused of antisemitism; or accused of tolerating (or even fomenting) it might be overly sensitive to being accused of being something he is clearly not. But that is no excuse for not listening to a serious question from a reporter he should have known would be friendly toward him.

Trump cut Turx off in the middle of his question. And then went into a tirade against him - accusing him of being just another member of the ‘fake news’ media out to get him. His ‘answer’ had nothing to do with the question. It was all about how false Turx’s ‘accusation of antisemitism’ was.

Poor Turx. What a way to start off his job as a White House reporter. (On the other hand this is generating unprecedented publicity for both him and the magazine he works for. There is a silver lining I everything, I guess)

To their credit, the mainstream media has been defending Turx – realizing how unfairly he had been treated. But to them this is nothing new. President Trump is paranoid... seeing an enemy behind every rock. (Kind of the way Nixon did.)

Of course that was not the only surreal thing coming out of the press conference yesterday. Which was yet another example how embarrassing this President is. The conference was filled with lies and false accusations; peppered heavily with self congratulations. Again, to be fair, the media has been relentless in focusing on how terrible he is. I can’t really blame him for feeling so paranoid. What he absolute fails to understand is that he gives them plenty to work with.  When Trump plays fast and looses with the facts, does he expect them to ignore it? When his Presidency has so quickly gone into disarray, does he expect no one to notice? Of course he is so full of himself that he thinks his Presidency is working  ‘like a fine tuned machine’ (his words). Not only is he paranoid, he seems downright schizophrenic and not at in touch with reality.

Which is all such a shame. Because if one ignores his stupid rhetoric and focuses on his policies, he is not really that far off from mainstream America. Or at least half of it. Trump is right about media criticism of that. All he is trying to do is turn the promises he made as candidate into policy. The problem is that when a President’s comments are so terrible and so constant, when his errors are so frequent and public, when is demeanor is so embarrassing to this country, when his implementation of the policy is so ineffectual... what gets lost is the actual policy he is trying to implement. It all gets rolled into one big negative. Which is (wait for it…) HUGE! And all the inflammatory rhetoric candidate Trump made about those policies does not help him either. It does the opposite and is constantly used against him by a liberal media that is clearly biased against him and - more importantly - against his polices. A bias he fuels with his constant  attacks against them.

Just to cite one example. His promise to deport illegal aliens is merely a decision to enforce the law. The key word there is ‘illegal. And he doesn’t even want to deport them all. All he wants to do is deport those illegal aliens that broke the law. But if you look at the reaction to that by the liberal media and liberal special interest groups, you would think he wants to execute every single human being living in America whose ancestors did not arrive on the Mayflower.

This is an unfair attack against him. You can’t really blame Trump for the biased way this is being covered by the mainstream media. Reporting that is dripping with bias. I have seen precious little perspective on this that was not heavily biased.  Of course I can’t blame the media for being biased either because of Trump’s attacks against them. 

I feel sorry for Trumps children. They must realize all of the dynamics here. They must know that their father is at least partly responsible for it. But they still can’t be happy that their father is being treated so viciously by the media.

I actually think that Trump is a nice guy. Before he became political, that is how he seemed. That is how people that know him talked about him. He had been known for many kindnesses he did for people in need without any fanfare. But once he became political, the media judged him only on his terrible political rhetoric ignoring him as a human being. And that changed how he viewed them.

I believe that even though he is somewhat of a narcissist, that his intent is what he says it is, to make America great again. He actually does want to help the American worker that has been stiffed by the effects of modern technology and increasingly tough government regulations. I think he really wants to destroy Islamic terrorism. I believe he does want to strengthen our military. I believe he does want to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis. I believe he does want to see an alliance between Israel and her Arab neighbors. 

I believe he does want to reduce the tax burden on the middle class. I believe he does want to improve the infrastructure in this country. I believe he does want replace the Affordable Healthcare Act with a better one. I believe he does want to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran. I believe he does want to replace bad foreign trade policies with better ones. It is all of those promises – and more that got him elected. And the people that voted for him still support him despite how ugly his Presidency looks.

I just wish the President would shut up; stop tweeting; and stop reacting to media coverage of his Presidency. Let others do the talking for him. (Not too thrilled with his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer either. I’d rather see someone like Vice President Pence be the public face of the Trump administration). The media will then by default have to focus on his polices. Which can legitimately be debated by good people on both sides of the political aisle.

But alas, this is just a dream. Trump doesn’t have it in him to be quiet when criticized. He lashes out fiercely! And the media will continue covering it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Uncivilized Behavior

There is only one word that can capture the behavior of certain religious looking Jews: Uncivilized. These are Jews that are raised in a bubble. A bubble that sees everything outside of it as either evil or beneath them. And therefore have no clue how to interact with fellow human beings that are not like them.

Those who are a bit wiser among them tend to hide this attitude when in public. Sometimes they succeed. But often they do not.  By the way they lead their lives they believe themselves to be the most devout of Jews. Sacrificing the world of materialism for a life of spirituality. Their Jewish education is limited to what their leaders deem worthy of teaching them in terms of their relationship with God and their relationship with man. What they learn about the latter does not extend to non Jews. Who are treated accordingly.

I cannot begin to describe how embarrassed I am by the behavior this attitude generates. That they end up making a Chilul HaShem does not occur to them. If confronted they will deny it. They actually believe their behavior towards non Jews is normal, reasonable, and appropriate. In that sense their leaders that have failed them miserably!

This is not the first time I have discussed this. And unfortuntely it probably won’t be the last. There seems to be precious little anyone can do to change things. But I want to make clear my disgust with an attitude that produces the kind of Chilul HaShem that was described in the Jewish News:  
Desperate easyJet staff called police from 30,000ft during a “nightmare” flight from Tel Aviv to Luton, after a group of strictly-Orthodox Jewish men refused to take their seats for religious reasons.
During the incident on Monday afternoon, which one air steward described as “the worst flight in 11 years”, one passenger also plugged a mobile phone into the plane’s control panel in a “foolish attempt to charge it”, causing the exit light to switch on.
According to one witness, the chaos began at boarding in Tel Aviv, when a group of male passengers refused to take seats next to women.
Eventually a “bemused” female passenger offered to swap her seat.
“I chatted to her later on. She just couldn’t believe the whole thing and they didn’t even say thank you. That was something the staff mentioned as well, that they did not say please or thank you.”
The perplexed passenger also noted the group – a wedding party, which made up more than 50 percent of the flight – kept using the call button, causing disruption to the other passengers.
 They were constantly ringing the bell for the steward. I’ve never heard it go off so many times. It was dinging constantly and to the point it was really intrusive if you are trying to read or something. 
I wish I could say that this is an anomaly. Although not quite as egregious, I have personally witnessed similar behavior by a group of passengers like this on a fight I was on. From the moment they boarded the plane they treated the flight attendants like personal servants. As Kipa wearing Jew, I was embarrassed by it. I tried to apologize  to one flight attendant - saying that I hope she didn’t think all religious Jews behave this way. She was very gracious and said no, she knows we don’t adding that she was used to this kind of treatment by these people. She added that in her experience, most Orthodox Jewish passengers were very respectful of others and were among the best behaved. 

That people raised this way don’t even realize how bad their behavior is - is what makes this so upsetting. It’s true that every group has people that misbehave making innocent fellow members of that group look bad. But in those cases, those who act badly know it. They are just sociopaths who care about no one but themselves. 

But these people are not sociopaths. They think they are acting normal. That can only happen if you live in a bubble and never learn how to interact in civilized ways with people outside of your group. 

I understand that their religious ideals see the mingling of the sexes as a violation of their modesty standards. Although I don’t agree with the their extreme interpretations, I respect their right to view it as they understand it. Which requires them to avoid contact between the sexes as much as humanly possible. 

This is what generates the desire for their men to avoid sitting next to a woman on an airplane. I have no issue with their motives. My issue is only in how they try and honor that standard by imposing on others. And if they can’t get what they want one way, they will do it another - no matter who or how many it inconveniences or disturbs. They believe they are being true to their ideals. Are they all like this? I don’t know. But there have been too many instances of it for it not to be the norm at some level.

What generates this behavior is the severity of sexual sins. They therefore believe one must go to the greatest lengths to avoid male female interaction – let alone contact. Sitting next to a woman on a long flight in the sardine can situations of economy class may very well result in some inadvertent physical contact. This, they see as so unacceptable that they will use any and all means necessary to avoid it. It does not matter that the rest of the Orthodox world doesn’t see it that way. They believe their superior level of sensitivity to sexual sins requires them to inconvenience other passengers if necessary.

What they don’t realize is that whatever heavenly reward they think they will reap by going to such lengths will be more than nullified by the Chilul HaShem it creates. 

There are those among mainstream Orthodoxy that will go to their own great lengths to defend them as a group - even if they reject the kind of behavior that took place on this flight.

In my view that just adds to the Chilul HaShem. We – the rest of Orthodox Jewry - ought to all stand up together in unity and reject not only this behavior but what generates it. We should recognize that no matter how religious someone appears to be - behavior like that is not Jewish behavior. Orthodox condemnation of this behavior and it what causes it ought to be complete, universal, and without the slightest hint of apologetics. Not that it will change anything. But at least we can let the world will know that what passes for Judaism on their part is the furthest thing from it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Throw Them in Jail!

Deputy Defense Minister, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan
I get it. I really do. These students are protesting the draft. Much the same way American students did during the 70s. In both cases the students protesting do not want to be drafted into the army. But their reasons are different. And although the right to protest the government in a free and democratic society is one of its hallmarks, I can’t really place the same value on them. In the 70s young people were protesting an immoral war. This is the way, Rav Ahron Soloveichik characterized the Viet Nam War to the entire student body of HTC from a lectern in the Beis HaMedrash - long before it became popular for the Jewish establishment to do so. 

In the case of the Charedi students they are protesting against the very people that protect – not only their right to protest in a democracy - but protect their very lives. And that just does not sit well with me.

It would be one thing to have peaceful protests. But what happened recently was anything but peaceful.

This is not a new phenomenon. There are 2 factions led by 2 Charedi leaders. They both oppose drafting Charedim into the army. But their approach to that opposition is radically different. This has deteriorated into one of the most divisive disputes between Charedi factions in my memory. Some of which has resulted in violence between the factions themselves! (There are some Charedim that refuse to send their children to Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak which is a hotbed of contention between the 2 factions.)

R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak has agreed to comply with the law which requires students to register for the draft. They then remain exempt until such time they decide to leave the hallowed halls of the Beis HaMedrash. At which time they will have to do some form of national service to fulfill their obligations. Charedim that do not spend their time studying Torah will be subject to service right away. The Israeli  government has created special units for Charedim that will honor their religious sensitivities.

R’ Shmuel Auerbach (the Yerushalmi Faction) has taken a more militant approach and exhorted his followers to not register for the the draft at all – resisting it by all means necessary. This has resulted in protests some of which have turned violent. From Arutz Sheva
Rabbi (B)en-Dahan criticized the ‘Yerushalmi Faction’, a Litvish movement led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach that is staunchly opposed to haredi enlistment in the IDF, for instigating the protests and riots, which have blocked roads, led to the injuries of several police officers, and led to dozens of arrests of rioters.
"There is no decree of recruitment," Rabbi Ben-Dahan told Army Radio. "Everyone who wants to study Torah can study Torah. We are talking about those who walk around the streets and do not study Torah."
Rabbi Ben-Dahan expressed his disgust with the violence at several of the demonstrations, including an incident in which a haredi soldier was attacked. "It's an attitude that shows real ingratitude. There are people who do not sleep day and night to protect you. And this is you're attitude towards them]? This is the thanks?"
"They are using the Torah to act [in a way which is] contrary to it. They are trying to sanctify God's name, but they are really desecrating God's name. [They are turning] the Torah into a tool for hurting others," Rabbi Ben-Dahan continued. 
I could not agree more with Rabbi Ben-Dahan. It is one thing to protest against the government when you disagree with one of their polices. But it is another to do it the way it happened here. It is especially outrageous to me when a Charedi soldier is attacked.They must see him as a traitor to their cause. That he retains his religious standards in the army due to government sensitivity to it - is of no consequence to them. 

And yet that is one of the chief reasons Charedi leaders reject the army. They believe its purpose is to turn Charedim away from Judaism by assimilating them into becoming an Israeli prototype soldier. Whose goal they believe is to make observance of Halacha at best secondary and often non existent. 

Clearly this is not the case for Charedi recruits anymore. But the resistance to the draft remains the same as though it were. That R’ Shteinman still opposes it is his right even if I don’t agree with him. He has the right to speak out against it - even as he exhorts young Charedim to comply with the law. It is even the right of R’ Auerbach to protest it. It is just not his right to allow his followers to do it the way they are.

The one thing I can’t understand is why these leaders do not see the army for what it really is? The army’s primary reason for existence is to protect the Jewish people in a Jewish country. Even if what they believe be true about a purpose to  assimilate Charedim out of observance, that is clearly secondary to the real task. Which is to protect and defend the Jewish people. They know the risk to life and limb that these soldiers go through every day while in uniform. And yet despite what is the obvious primary purpose of the Israeli army - it does not seem to rate even a mention!

Where is the Hakoras HaTov? Where is the kind of gratitude given to the army that was expressed in public so eloquently by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz after his Yeshiva was nearly destroyed in a near miss of a rocket attack in one of Israel’s wars?  We have gone from that to Charedi violence in the streets against that same army – seeing increased opposition even as new accommodations for Charedim have been established.

There are some people that want to separate themselves from these Charedi gangs by saying that every group has its extremists. This may be true. But these extremists have a respected Charedi leader in R’ Shmuel Auerbach. He is the one generating this behavior by his rhetoric! They are inspired by his words and believe that they are simply acting on them.

I am not qualified to judge R’ Auerbach’s authority as a religious leader. But I am qualified to judge evil when I see it no matter what the evil doer looks like. I therefore have absolutely no mercy on these violent protesters. They belong in jail. If that happens I shudder to think of the protest that will follow. It will massive and make the current ones look like child’s play.

But it is the right thing to do. There has to be a price paid for such behavior.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is the Future of Modern Orthodoxy Doomed?

Bais Yisroel - typical Yeshiva where students come in MO and leave Charedi 
In yet another thoughtful essay, Ezra Epstein provides some insight into the phenomenon of the ‘gap year’. This is the year between Yeshiva high school and college that many modern Orthodox students spend in a Yeshiva in Israel. Ezra is one of those students. And as young as he is, he has the wisdom of someone much older. Which perhaps one reason why Rabbi Yosef Bechhofer is very proud of him.(Rabbi Bechhofer is one of Ezra’s most influential teachers. He was referenced in his essay). 

(Charedi high school students do not share in this phenomenon. There is no ‘gap year’ since there is no college post high school for them. Instead they generally continue in American Yeshivas by learning full time. If and when they do eventually go to Israel, it is much later and to a Yeshiva unlike those attended by modern Orthodox high school students during their gap year.)

There are, Ezra says, 2 virtually opposite reasons that a student will want to study in Israel for their gap year: 
One reason is that they are happy with their upbringing, which comprises their home, school and community, and would love to take a break from their current environment to join their brothers and sisters in the Jewish homeland to continue their education, learn more Torah and begin to build an independent, adult life. 
The second reason, which I described in my last article, is that they are not satisfied with their upbringing, which has left them with a bad taste in their mouths, so they turn to the Jewish gap year to satisfy their desperate need for a totally new and fresh perspective on Judaism or, as my friends and I call it, “religious rehab.” 
These differences cannot be overlooked. I have to wonder what the percentage of modern Orthodox students fall into each category. And what the impact is on each type. Can an eventual outcome be predicted based on these differences? Although there is no guarantee, I have to believe that if one belongs to the latter group, there is a far greater danger of eventually becoming a skeptic and totally non observant.

The question is whether the ‘bad taste’ about Judaism they bought with them can be overcome  by a ‘religious rehab’.  My guess is that some minds can be changed. But I believe that in some cases (how many – I don’t know) these students are just playing along until they get back and continue their adult lives in a university campus setting that will be more appealing to them. And perhaps be lost to observance forever.

There is another aspect of this phenomenon that should not be overlooked. The extent to which Mechanchim (religious educators) push students to go to Israel for the gap year and which Yeshivas they direct them to. And push they do. Very hard!

As one might expect, Mechanchim in many modern Orhtodox Yeshivas are Charedi. That’s either because Chinuch is where many of them want to be. Or because their career choices are more limited since many (perhaps even most) never attend college themselves. The Modern Orthodox world tends towards the more financially lucrative careers outside of Chinuch which is what a college education gives them a better chance at.  

There are of course modern Orthodox Mechanchim. But I think it is safe to say that you will find that many modern Orthodox schools have teachers that are personally Charedi even as they are required to teach the Hashkafa of the school. Or at least not disparage it. But it is almost impossible to hide where you are coming from to your students. And when it comes to the gap year, they influence their students which Yeshiva in Israel to attend.

There are plenty of Yeshivos in Israel that recruit modern Orthodox students. But they are far from modern Orthodox themselves. Once there the modern Orthodox student begins an indoctrination that in many if not most cases turns them into Charedim.  They do it subtly but over time, a student from a modern Orhtodox background will come to reject the Hashkafos of his home. Especially if he comes from that first group Ezra described.

The high school Mechanchim consider this ‘conversion’ to be a success. These young people whose minds were filled with the mush of modern Orthodoxy are now Bnei Torah. Which only someone with Charedi Hashshkafos can aspire to be.

But for sincere Modern Orthodox parents who wanted their children to grow in their Judaism, by sending them to Israel, it is often a shock. They wanted the growth. But they did not want it to grow into are rejection of the values with which they had raised their child.

Why do these young people buy into the Charedi version of Judaism during their gap year? I believe it is because they have been influenced by a charismatic Rebbi in Israel in the Yeshiva they attend.  Buying into the arguments against modern Orthodoxy those Rebbeim have been making all year. Arguments that capitalize on the feeling a certain type of student brings with him. In describing the motivation of one students like this, Ezra put it this way: 
(H)is biggest fear (was) believing… that it would force him to “drop everything and become Charedi.” He feels that the environment he was raised in at home is not genuine, so much so that it only leaves him with one option. 
I am not saying this happens in every case. Perhaps not even in most cases. But it happens a lot. I see it all the time.

What about Yeshivas in Israel that have a Modern Orthodox perspective? From what I know of them (and I could be wrong) they tend towards the left wing fringe of modern Orthodoxy. That is not the answer for Centrists like me.  And as most people know by now, I believe it is Centrism – and not the far left - that will be the future of a viable modern Orthodoxy - if it will continue to exist at all! If it does - it will coexist with the moderate Charedi world.

I’m not sure where this will all lead. But one thing seems certain. The Charedi influence is pervasive. Which in my view means that modern Orthodox schools need to do a better job teaching their students (and perhaps even the parent body of those schools) what the Modern Orthodoxy Hashkafa is all about; that it is as valid as the Charedi Hashkafa; and explain why that is true. If we can’t do that, modern Orthodoxy is doomed.