Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Not a Tzadik

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, (Arutz Sheva)
Once again I am thoroughly disgusted by the way a man that was clearly a Gadol in Torah by any standard has been treated in a right wing newspaper. That Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL was a Gadol in Torah can easily be gleaned in the obituary written in Hamodia.* It was in fact a fairly nice obituary as these things go.

Far better than the one written by another right wing publication, the now defunct Jewish Observer (JO),who wrote about his father in law and mentor, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, ZTL when he died. An obituary that has never been retracted by the JO’s publishers, Agudath Israel of America. But as nice as Hamodia’s obituary was, they did do one thing that the JO did. They left out the letter T from the honorific, ZTL usually given to great rabbinic figures posthumously. (ZTL is the acronym for the Hebrew ‘Zecher Tzadik L’Vracha – loosely translated to mean ‘may the memory of this righteous man be blessed’)

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (YU Torah)
It might not seem like much of a slight considering the actual words they published. But as was the case with Rav Soloveitchik, there is a very strong message of disapproval in leaving out the letter T in ZTL. This was no accidental slight. This was deliberate. They knew what they were doing.  It implies that Rav Lichtenstein did not rise to the level of greatness that people with far less accomplishment in Torah get.

Right wing publications grant this honorific to every rabbinic figure on the face of the earth when they pass. No matter how great or how small. Whether prominent or obscure. They were Tzadikim when they died.

But not Rav Soloveitchik. And not Rav Lichtenstein. They were not Tzadikim at all. Not righteous enough to be granted that appellation. No letter T for you guys. You may have known a lot of Torah. You may have inspired tens of thousands of Jews with your, brilliance, your Torah knowledge; your secular knowledge; your ability to seamlessly integrate them both – each shedding light on the other; your erudition; your kindness and humility… Yes, you may have had all those qualities, but a Tzadik you are not!

Why did Hamodia treat these two giants of Torah this way? Because they did not follow the party line. If one does not follow the ‘Torah Only’ approach, one cannot possibly be a Tzadik.  After all God doesn’t like people who are not Charedi. He doesn’t like people who support religious Zionism. Or people that believe that serving in the IDF is a Mitzvah. Or people that advocate praying for the safety of the soldier protecting his people.  God’s people.

God does not view with favor anyone that studies or advocates studying secular subjects either. At best God tolerates them as Jews that are Krum… Jews that veered off the Charedi path having known better.  There is no way God would be pleased with the corruption of the Torah true values we Charedim hold dear.  How in good conscience could we ever call such a person a Tzadik?

Satmar Rebbe, (JAZ)
God prefers we call Tzadikim those that curse the State Israel and call for its dismantling  . People who have referred to Gedolei Olam like Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, ZTL with words reserved for Haman HaRasha (the Hitler of his era). You know… people like the Satmar Rebbe. He was a Tzadik. I am sure they never omit the letter T when they write about him!

What makes this particular omission particularly egregious for me is that Hamodia is generally a lot more moderate than those I call extremist Charedim. As in those who recently harassed a Charedi solider calling him a Nazi. They are usually on the right side of these kinds of issues. So that when moderate Charedim read an article like this, they see it as the moderate viewpoint.  

Now I don’t know how many of them will even notice this omission. But for those that do, the message is clear: Remember - even thought the obituary is a relatively decent one, he is still not one of us. And certainly not a Tzadik. 

 This is disgusting and I strongly protest it! 

It appears that the link no longer works. It worked before. They must have taken down the obit. I hope they correct it and put it back up.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, ZTL – a Torah U’Mada Giant

R' Lichtenstein in 2014 meeting with R' Rabinoiwitz, the Kotel Rav (VIN)
I never met him. But for me he was a giant. As he was for myriad other Jews in Orthodoxy and beyond. He had no peers. I Am saddened to report that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein passed away today at age 81.

He was a Torah giant unlike any other. He was unique in the sense that he exemplified the Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada (TuM). While there are many religious leaders that oppose this Hashkafa, some of it based on the belief that study of Mada should never be studied in place of Torah - I believe some of it is largely based on error. That’s because in truth Torah U’Mada is a very broad category that encompasses many approaches. No one made that case better than Dr. Norman Lamm in his book of the same title. 

Torah U’Mada is simply the idea that Mada – or worldly knowledge although secondary to Torah knowledge is a worthy study that ought not be ignored for a variety of reasons. This is why I include R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz (TIDE) as a subcategory of TuM. Even though adherents of TIDE are quick to deny any connection to TuM they too are mistaken. They associate it with Dr. Lamm’s personal approach which they reject. Other definitions of TuM can be found in R’ Ahron Soloveichik’s book, Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind.

R’ Lichtensetin' Petirah (passing) is being reported by many news websites such as VIN and even the secular Ha'aretz. And he is being hailed as a Torah giant even by Charedi websites like Matzav and YWN where some of his many achievements are mentioned. But Charedi praise was not always the case when he was alive. Quite the contrary. It was in fact his very embrace of secular studies that brought scorn upon him for some right wing circles.

Rav Lichtenstein had once said that his study of English literature at Harvard University (where he received his PhD) helped him to better understand certain sections of Tanach. He did not claim that such study was necessary for others. Surely many Torah giants that never studied English literature did not necessarily lose out. But for himself he said it was a necessary component that aided him. This belief on the part of Rav Lichtenstein is an actual demonstration of one of the primary reasons to study Mada – as an aid to Torah study. A reason stated by no less a Torah giant than the Vilna Gaon!

When an Israeli Rosh HaYeshiva (of American background) had heard that he had said this, he called together his entire Yeshiva and lectured his students about it. He was angered that a Rosh Yeshiva in any way said that Mada had positive value with respect to Torah study… and virtually condemned him. Without naming him he said  that this Rosh Yeshiva does not only not know Torah he doesn’t even know Shakespeare! (…having misheard what R’ Lichtenstein actually had said. He never mentioned Shakespeare.)

That Rosh Yeshiva could not countenance placing value on anything other than Torah study itself. This is the Charedi Hashkafa of Torah Only. One may only study Torah until he studies it all (...all of the Talmud and all the Halacha Seforim with all the commentaries ever written on them) and masters it. Only then is one - permitted - to study Mada. Which is of course a virtual impossibility.

And thus was R’ Lichtenstein denigrated. But he never flinched… never retracted his views and stood by them until his dying day.

He and I had one thing in common besides our Hashkafos. We saw Rav Aharon Soloveichik as our primary mentor. I had other influences as well (which I listed in my bio located in the right margin). And of course so too did Rav Lichtenstein. He considered Rav Hutner, his Rosh HaYeshiva when he studied at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin to be among the more important influences in his life. And of course his father in law, Rav Joseph Dov (Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik when he studied at Yeshiva University (YU).

It makes sense that these three figures influenced his Hashkafos. All 3 of them advocated the study of Mada. Both Rav Ahron and R’ Yoshe Ber had advanced degrees in Mada. And R’ Hutner (along with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz) famously tried to create a college level secular studies program at Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. They actually got to a point where the New York Board of Regents had accredited it. The only reason it never happened is because Lakewood founder and Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler said no. He was considered the Gadol HaDor in the Yeshiva world at the time and when he made a public policy decision that was the end of it.

Woe is to us. Who will replace this great man? Is there another Rav Lichtenstein whose genius in both Torah and Mada was so great? Is there another Torah giant that is also renowned for his expertise in any subject of Mada? If there is, I haven’t heard about him yet. There are some names… but I don’t think they quite measure up to him. At least not yet. There are Torah greats whose Mada is lacking. And there are Mada greats whose Torah is lacking.

I believe that the reason for this is that the move to the right has become so strong that Mada has been at best marginalized if not outright abandoned as a discipline for a Torah student to study. Gone are the days when a Rosh HaYeshiva at Chaim Berlin advises his students which subject to take in college – as did Rav Hutner.

Yeshiva University has not produced anyone of that caliber yet. A lot of students have attended YU over the years and decades since Rav Lichtenstein was there. But I don’t know of anyone they have produced like him. I suppose that’s because of the nature of a YU that steers most of its students into career paths other that Torah study. Those in YU that do tend to achieve great heights in Torah study have generally bought into the arguments of the right and do not seek great achievements in Mada as a goal – seeing it more as distraction rather than an important area of study.

I realize there are exceptions. More than a few students at YU do seek excellence in both. But I don’t think there is a critical mass that will produce another Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

Today we lost more than a Gadol. We lost a man that was the role model for Torah U’Mada in our time… with no apparent heir to follow. Baruch Dayan Emes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Unexpected Development

UTJ Keneset member Moshe Gafni
It appears that the last Kenesset in Israel may have actually changed the Charedi world for the better more permanently than was once imagined.

It was widely held among Charedi leaders that all the changes affecting them passed by the last Kenesset was at most temporary. That God would surely not allow the ‘evil edicts’ to stand. Of course to me the edicts were not evil. They were not only - not evil - they were beneficial. It would improve their lives without forcing them to change their values (despite their protestations to the contrary).  At the same time it would raise their stature with their fellow secular Jews. The new laws would also enable them to better support their families; contribute to the economy;  and serve their country along with the rest of their Jewish countrymen.

But it seems that the original  Charedi expectations that the elections would change things back to the way they were before were grossly exaggerated.  Politicians are realists. The Charedi politicians of Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) actually understood that they were not going to get everything they wanted. They went into negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu knowing that they were not going to change most of the new laws affecting them. But the one thing they thought they would change is the way Charedi draft resisters would be treated. They believed that those resisting the draft who study Torah should be exempt them from the same consequences (jail) that those that do not study Torah get. 

They called that ‘jailing people for studying Torah’. Skipping the step of dodging the draft. With that, they cast the Israeli government right up there  with the worst villains in Jewish history… like the Romans of Talmudic times who banned Torah study under penalty of torture and death. 

Of course that is the furthest thing from the truth. This law is not about punishing those who study Torah. It was about applying the law evenly… and not giving one segment special treatment.

Nonetheless, armed with what they thought was a legitimate grievance they went ahead  with negotiations. It is a grievance that actually had support even among some of the secular leadership and much of the population according to some reports. They therefore believed their goal of changing the penalty for resisting the draft from jail to a fine was realistic - and one they could live with.

It appears that this too will not happen. Arutz Sheva reports that the Prime Minister did not give in. Apparently the belief that he would help them in this respect has not materialized. For the Charedi parties this was a non negotiable item.  Without which they would not join the governing coalition. The Prime Minister’s refusal to remove that sanction caused the Charedi parties to walk!  The Prime Minister has therefore asked President Rivlin for an extension of 2 weeks to form a coalition. With or without them.

This is an unexpected development. The results of the last election seemed to make it a foregone conclusion that the Charedi parties would return to power via joining the ruling coalition. But it seems that as of now, the new government will not include them.

It is too early to know how all this will end up. Will the Charedi parties blink, and join the government after they contemplate the effects of staying out of power? Or will Neatnyahu blink and give in to the Charedi demand if he cannot form a coalition without them?

I don’t know. But one thing that I do know is that most if not all of the changes implemented by the last Kenesset will hold. The laws will remain in place.

Will they be fully implemented? Or will they  be honored mostly in the breach? Will the government ‘look the other way’ and not implement sanctions if the laws are flouted? I don’t know.

But on a practical level on the most contentious issue –  Charedim in the military, it seems that the government is winning. Which to me means that Charedim are winning too. It has been reported that Charedi recruitment into the army is increasing dramatically to the point of meeting government quotas.

So it could very well be that all this posturing is just that – posturing. More than ever the  Charedi mainstream is finally begining to take advantage of opportunities to materially improve their lives.They want more for their families than living at the poverty levels of the Kollel lifestyle. They are taking advantage of Israel’s efforts to accommodate Charedi needs in the armed service and are joining in unprecedented numbers.

After all is said and done, it might serve the Charedi leadership better to just go with the flow instead of crying bloody murder. There will still be Yeshivos. And their numbers will probably continue to grow. But what there won’t be is the universal requirement that all Charedim learn full time indefinitely no matter what. And thereby unable to get a job for lack of army service. Which has kept so many of them in poverty while living the Kollel lifestyle.

My hope is that  eventually only those that are fully committed and capable of learning Torah at the highest levels will remain in a Kollel for more than a few years. The rest will hopefully serve their country in some capacity  after a few years in Kollel. And then join the workforce. And as a corollary, my hope is that they are enabled to better prepare for the workforce than they are now. Which is the goal of some of the other legislation passed by the previous Keneset.

It was Yesh Atid that was most responsible for changing the law in this way. For this, their leaders were cast as Amalek by the Charedi world.  But it now appears that their policies are not just the will of Yesh Atid.  Bayit HaYehudi (whom many consider to be the heir to the Religious Zionist party) supports maintaining the draft law as is. It is apparently the will of the majority of the Israeli people. And now - the will of the Prime Minister too.   They can’t all be Amalek.

It is apparently the will of God that these laws remain in place. May it continue to be.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Time to Remove the Evil from our Midst

Screenshot of the YWN video
Comment 1: How would anyone feel if one of their’s became a turncoat and joined the other side? During a time of war or shmad, when the enemies of the Torah are trying to force you to join them you must resist.
Comment 2: I am a jewish charedi yeshivish woman and all I can say is that I’m absolutely disgusted. If you don’t want to join the army then get a petur and don’t join how dare you call someone a nazi for being in the army. Where are these chuldrens mothers and fathers. I hope they are very ashamed of the chilul Hashem they made. There children have no middos at all. Have you ever taught your children who nazis are???? If you wanna call an boy in the idf and nazi then you should not live in Israel and be protected by them day and night. In fact they should be receiving so much respect from all of yisroel. 
These 2 comments were made in reference to a YWN video (below) showing yet another disgusting display of human behavior by extremists in the Charedi world. They represent the polarization taking place within the Charedi world itself.

The video shows a Charedi soldier walking through a neighborhood in Ramat Bet Shemesh B and being treated like a Nazi. Ramat Bet Shemesh B is populated by what can only be called extremist Charedim. And their extremist behavior is not getting any better. 

Most extremist Charedim are Jews that live in virtual isolation from the rest of civilization. To the extent that they have any contact at all with the outside world is to the extent that they need them. For example if they need a doctor, they will see one. (They cannot produce their own doctors.) But they will never have any social interaction with them. For fear of being influenced by their values.

This community has absolutely no clue how to interact socially with anyone outside of their world. They consider non Jews to automatically be Jew haters. They consider the Israeli government and their police force to be the equivalent of Nazis. They consider non religious Jews to be hopelessly anti Charedi. And even other religious Jews don’t fare much better in their eyes – if they are in the slightest way Zionistic.

They therefore have no problem committing what most people would consider a public Chilul HaShem. Like spittng on reporters covering public demonstrations.  Or calling  a little girl a whore if she does not dress by their extremist standards of modesty. And many other types of such behavior

These people are a world apart. They are Porshim  Min HaTzibur – separating themselves from the rest of world Jewry or even the rest of religious Jewry.  Increasingly the moderate Charedi world is beginning to see them that way too. Which I believe to be the vast majority of Charedim.

It used to be the case that these people were looked at with a certain degree of admiration by the Charedi moderates. I believe that is no longer the case. After so many events like this, moderate Charedim are beginning to see them for who they really are. Although there are still some Charedim that support what they did. Or at least understand and have sympathy for them – as the first comment above shows.

The fruit of such extremes produces behavior that is so bad that in my view it makes their piety worthless. I have seen them this way for some time. And now the moderate Charedi world seems to be coming around to the same view. That is reflected by the reaction of the second comment above to what they witnessed in that video.  

The truth is that I pity these extremists. In my view they are in the category of Tinokos SheNishba. When a Jewish child is captured by non Jewish thugs and raised by them – they are not aware of the Torah and Halacha. They therefore cannot be blamed if they are not religious. These extremists were raised the same way in terms of how to interact with the rest of the world. It’s not their fault.

Nonetheless as R’ Chaim Soloveichik said to someone who tried to judge favorably - an Apikores (heretic) that was raised that way:  Nebech an Apikores is still an Apikores’. You can feel sorry for them.  But it dosen’t change who they are.  They are a group of Jews that believe they are the epitome of a Torah Jew when in fact they are the exact opposite of that. They are better role models for the Taliban than they are for Jews. Nebech.

Most people know that I am not a fan of the extreme religious left. I have strongly criticized some of their innovations and believe they have crossed some theological lines. When Agudah Moetzes leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow spoke out harshly against them at an Agudah convention a while back, I supported him and agreed with what he said. I took my lumps from a lot of my friends on the left. But I have yet to hear that kind of condemnation of the extreme right from the Charedi religious leaders. If there is any at all, it is usually accompanied with apologetics… and words like ‘Yes, they were wrong but you have to understand where they are coming from’.

I don’t understand how they can only see the extreme left in such harsh terms and yet never the extreme right.  They should be every bit as determined to expel the extreme right as they are the extreme left! Not only that but when it suits their purposed they cater to their every Chumra so that they will join together in a project. Like that internet gathering a few years ago. They wanted that type of Chasid to join them in order to be united of purpose. So they gave in to their every demand. Which ended up with an event that condemned Internet use well beyond what they intended. Something they had to fix with subsequent smaller meetings.

If the extreme left has gone off the reservation to the point of expulsion, so too has the extreme right. It is more than time to speak in the same harsh terms about them.

There may be little that anyone can do about changing the behavior of these extremists. But there is one thing we can do. And that is to excise them from Orthodoxy once and for all - and have nothing to do with them! Their behavior is as un-Jewish as the extreme left. It’s time to call a spade a spade and to stop looking at their externals as though that was the Ikkar (primary expression of Judaism). It is at best the Tafel (of secondary importance). Once that happens religious Jews can hopefully once again be seen as role models for the rest of the world instead of being seen like primitive savages.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rising from Divorce

---------------------------------paid advertisement------------------------------

OHEL’S New Groundbreaking Rising from Divorce Video Is a Community-Wide Call to Action 

Dr Hindie Klein, OHEL Director of Clinical Projects

Though ubiquitous for centuries, divorce today has increased significantly in the Orthodox community. In today’s times, almost everyone knows someone affected by divorce.

Given this new reality, OHEL believes there is an important need to better educate the wider community about the impact of divorce, and the specific roles that the wider community, Rabbis, community leaders, and educators can play to help ensure that both parents of divorce, and children of divorce can thrive.

Promoting Community Awareness

It is this belief that drew OHEL to make the groundbreaking new video, “Rising from Divorce” a film for all members of the community.

OHEL believed that a video could powerfully address the issue of divorce and its effects on divorced parents and children from a variety of perspectives: parents, professionals, educators, Rabbis, community leaders, and adult children of divorce.  We believed that it would resonate and be meaningful for everyone and very importantly, serve as a “Community Call to Action.”

What Question Did We Want To Address? 

Our focus was the “day after” after divorce. This would not be a video that addressed why couples get divorced.  Rather, we were interested in hearing about what it was like after the divorce.  What happens to the children and parents post-divorce?  How are parents treated—by their ex-spouses, by family, friends, children’s teachers, and the neighbor next door?  How are the children treated—by their parents, extended family, neighborhood or school friends, or teachers? We also wanted this to be a piece that would address not only what is happening, but also what should be happening; a video that would provide insight, help and practical guidance.

Who Should See This Video?

As more and more individuals and children are affected by divorce, the question arises as to the community’s role and responsibility to divorced parents and children in need. Rabbis, Educators, Community Leaders and the community at large are being faced with the challenging task of how best to sensitively respond to those affected by divorce.   What responsibility do we have to our future generation? 

The answer is in US—in all of us.

Everyone has a responsibility to reach out, guide, support and help parents and children of divorce. 

Brooklyn Screening and Panel Discussion Sunday April 19th

OHEL is launching the new video in screenings in Brooklyn, New York, Teaneck, New Jersey, and Long Island. The screenings will be accompanied by panel discussions including local Rabbis, clinicians and educators.

The Brooklyn screening is taking place this Sunday April 19th at The Young Israel of Midwood at 7pm. The screening of the 35 minute film will be accompanied by Divrei Brocha from Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Morah D'Asra of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin as well as words from Rabbi Eli Mansour, Rabbi of Bet Yaakob, who will be joining the panel discussion.

They say it takes a village.  Indeed, this is our mission: to engage ALL members of our community as comrades in arms, advocating for the welfare of our families. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund

The Segulah Pushka - Not needed here!
As someone that cares deeply about the welfare of Klal Yisroel and believes that one has to be Chas Al Mamon Yisroel (care about the money of my people) I have decided to offer my lucky readers the Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund.

Yes friends if you are in the market for a Shidduch, a cure for a deadly disease, salvation from the Lord, not working and need a real job, or are simply seeking Nachos from your wayward children - you have come to the right place.

For the small price of a dollar-a-day your problems will be solved. The Emes Ve-Emunah Segulah Fund is now open for business. All you have to do is deposit a dollar-a-day for a 30 day period into my PayPal account (located in the upper right margin)… and all your dreams will come true.

This Segula is a proven method of help in the merit of R’ Chaim Yankel Wallowitz of Pidbish, the great, great, great grandfather of my paternal grandmother, Shprintza. Chaim Yankel was known to his followers as the Segula King. When you went to him for a Bracha, he was sure to give you one. I know this for a fact. As his descendant, I too have been granted this ability and I will give you a Bracha for the low, low price of a dollar-a-day. (Must be consecutive days totaling 30).

It is a simple and economical undertaking. Here’s how it works: Deposit one dollar-a-day into my PayPal account for the sick of Klal Yisroel and recite the phrases of Yeshaya in Nach: chapter one: phrases 13 through 16.

The miracles to those in need who have done this Segulah in the past, have been witnessed by thousands of Jews worldwide!

In today’s critical era when everyone is so desperate for Refuahs and Yeshuos of all kinds,  Emes Ve-Emunah has integrated the aforementioned $1―30 day Segulah into its website as a source of Yeshuos to all in need.

We have designated our popular PayPal account in lieu of a “Segulah Pushka” specifically for this purpose greasing your path to salvation.  PayPal accepts all credit cards. Deposit your dollar-a-day for 30 days and watch it work wonders!

In fairness I should note that this project is not original with me. I saw it first at YWN . They are featuring a Segulah of their own but at twice the price ( $2 a day for 30 days). And they require you to go to the trouble of ordering a Pushka, no less! True - they had the idea first. But it’s a good one so I went with it. Although I’m sure that their Segulah is just as worthy as mine – mine’s cheaper. It’s half the price! Why spend more?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

America’s First Female President?

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Will Hillary Clinton be the next President of the United States? I think there is a very good chance of that. But it is not a certainty by a long shot. To no one’s surprise she announced her candidacy a few days ago. Here are my quick thoughts on the matter.

One must look at the candidate as a whole when making up one’s mind one who to vote for. One issue candidates never really fare that well anyway. So who is Hillary Clinton?

The truth is that I don’t think people really know – despite the fact that she is perhaps the most well known candidate running for office among all announced - and yet to be announced candidates. The name recognition is immediate. She was the First Lady during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the US Senator from New York during the Bush Presidency, and the Secretary of State for the first term of current President Barack Obama. She has therefore complied quite a resume.  

Her tenure as Secretary of State does tell us something about her foreign policy views. Although  even there, as part of the Executive Branch of government she was mandated to reflect the views of her boss, the President. So I’m not really sure what her personal views might be on a matter that is of utmost importance to me – as it should be to anyone who cares about the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

As I have said many times in the past, Israel is the most important issue for me. Although there are other issues that I consider vitally important, like the economy, and the kind of moral leadership an individual brings to the Presidency,  I always look to see how the candidate will be treating my people.

Especially those that live in Israel. Because for them, decisions about them made by the President can have existential import. One need not go too far back in history to see how even this nation behaved during the Holocaust. We closed our doors to immigration.  We refused to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz. And even refused to publicly acknowledged that Jews were being systematically murdered… that a genocide of the Jewish people was going on.

The words, ‘Never again!’ keeps popping up in my mind when I look at Israel. And I am very attuned to what candidates say about her.

So even though Mrs. Clinton seems to be quite the social liberal in her views, which is counter to my beliefs, that is still secondary as to how she views the Jewish people and Israel.

First let me say that I am 100% convinced that she is not in any way anti-Semitic. She is in fact  a philo-semite. There is no better proof of that than to look at Marc Mezvinsky, a Jew that her daughter Chelsea married. And the kind of marriage ceremony they had. It had a decidedly Jewish theme complete with a Kesubah, a Chupa, and a Kipa wearing groom.

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not in any way condone intermarriage between a Jew and non Jew. It is against Halacha. But what this marriage shows is that the Clintons are clearly philo-semites in that they very much approved of the marriage and the way it was done.

But what about her views with respect to Israel? There I might have some issues with her. Although she is a strong and vocal supporter of the state… and has publicly defended her when the chips were down - I am not all that thrilled with the focus she seems to the so called peace process or the 2 state solution.  It’s not that I don’t support peace. Of course I do. And it’s not that I don’t support a 2 state solution. I support that too. In theory.

But a JTA article that quotes her on this issue concerns me. Here are some excerpts:
In December, during the Saban Forum in Washington — an annual forum of Israeli and American leaders — Clinton endorsed Obama’s positions on talks with Iran and a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. 
In a late March conversation with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Clinton said that the relationship between the United States and Israel should return to a “constructive footing.” 
… “Secretary Clinton thinks we need to all work together to return the special US-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests, including a two-state solution pursued through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Hoenlein said in a statement regarding the conversation. 
It seems to me that she is willing to push Israel into a position that it cannot afford to be in. My guess is that the refrain one constantly hears of ‘taking chances for peace’ is translated to mean pushing Israel into a two state solution. Even while an organization like Hamas is committed to her destruction. And has done everything it could to try and make that happen. It’s one thing to try and do that from Gaza. It is orders of magnitude more dangerous to give them the West Bank and enable them to try it from there. That would clearly put Israel into mortal danger.  

This is why Israeli Prime Minister has said that even though he supports a two state solution, the conditions for it are not right. The Middle East is too unstable. Hamas is still committed to the Israel’s destruction and is backed by a terror spreading Iran that has been supplying them with weapons and moral support in that cause.

Yet, instead of demanding Israel’s mortal enemies to cease their efforts in that regard if they truly want peace, Mrs Clinton is focused more on getting Israel to ‘take a chance for peace’.  It would be folly and perhaps even suicidal for Israel to take that kind of chance for peace.

I am open to hearing her views as a candidate and not what she has said as an official and supporter of the Obama administration. If she ends up with the view that Israel cannot make peace at the expense of security and demands that security be the first issue to be resolved before peace can go forward, I will be with her. If on the other hand she keeps harping on Israel to ‘take chances for peace’, I will be against her. And vote for the candidate that sees Israel’s security concerns taken care of before anything can go forward .

Other issues that have recently come up about her integrity may hurt her. But I’m not sure they will destroy her. She is very popular with her natural constituency, female democratic voters and the democratic party in general. I think most of them will overlook the ‘e-mail’ and ‘Ben Ghazi’ controversies. The only question that remains is whether her popularity will hold up for the long haul. And how well received her Republican opposition will be. It could just be that the electorate is just plain tired of the Clintons (the Bushes too for that matter) and turn elsewhere. We shall see. In the meantime, I am not endorsing anyone yet. Way too early for that.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hollywood's Amoral Agenda

Image from a Jewish Action article
I found the exchange between Orthodox  parents of gay children and Hollywood screenwriter Robert J. Avrech to be a sad commentary on the world in which we live today. It was in the letters section of Jewish Action Magazine. And I believe it to be a combination of misunderstanding on the one hand – and on the other – a reaction by those sympathetic to people that suffer the emotional pain of rejection that comes with being  gay in the Orthodox world.  

There is no question in my mind that the rejection is real. Orthodox Judaism rejects anal sex between 2 men as sinful.  So that even if a gay person doesn’t engage in such behavior, they are nonetheless viewed as though they do.  That can do great damage to the mental health of a gay man. There is an organization called Eshel whose mission is ‘to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities.’ 

One letter was written by a group of parents belonging to that organization saying that Avrech’s article deeply offended them.  Another was written by freelance writer Tova Ross who wrote: 
Reading Avrech’s article, with its underlying implication that anything other than married heterosexual parents and heterosexual children should be grouped into some deviant category, was not only extremely hurtful but frankly, surprising to see in your publication that reaches such a wide Jewish audience and, surely, a wide array of different kinds of genuine families. 
Avrech’s offending paragraph in his original article appears to be the following: 
There are several shows in development about married lesbians and married gays, plus a sitcom about an adorable soldier who just happens to be transgendered. Each of these shows is designed to condition a young generation of viewers, Skinner-box style, to a new version of family, redefining deviance as something to be celebrated. 
First let me repeat what I often say here. Gay Jews are not to be rejected. No one should ever be rejected because of who they are attracted to. Gay Jews deserve the same level of respect as any other Jew. It is the character of the individual that counts, not his sexual preferences.

It should be noted that Avrech’s article was not about sexual identity per se. It was about how far Hollywood has sunk in matters dealing with the sexual mores in this country. A point well taken. 

When my own children were growing up, the worst offender of this type was probably a show called Three’s Company.  It was a sitcom about a straight man pretending to be gay so that he could share an apartment with 2 single women. There were a lot of double entendre jokes about that situation which went right over the heads of my children.  But there was no nudity or anything remotely comparable, no profanity, and no overt sexual situations on that show. The rest of TV fare in those days was even more harmless. Contrast that with today where one can see both straight and gay lovemaking  right on broadcast TV which – unlike cable - is supposed to have decency standards. The standards of acceptable dress for women on many programs is practically non-existent – leaving little to the imagination.

Avrech’s point was that that Hollywood has a leftist agenda that seeks to take sex out of the moral equation.  And an accompanying agenda of equating all manner of consensual sex as morally neutral. Married couples with well adjusted families and decent good old fashioned American values are no longer depicted as the norm. No more Father Knows Best or Seventh Heaven.  Now it’s shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy where sexual situations (both heterosexual and gay) dominate their plot lines; and depict their show’s characters as glamorous people with high moral values

I think Avrech is right. Hollywood has lost any semblance of decency when it comes to sexual mores. Instead they promote amorality. For Hollywood, the sexual revolution of sixties with its slogan of  ‘If it feels good, do it’ guides them. Sexual mores are irrelevant and have no place in one’s moral compass.

Avrech’s article was not about devaluing gay people. It is about trying to stop Hollywood’s agenda to wipe the sexual mores of the bible off the map. Promoting them as value neutral. 

As to how Avech’s approach affects gay Jews, I have said many times here in the past, hate the sin, love the sinner. One must acknowledge that gay men have Halachic challenges that most straight men do not. We should admire those among us that are gay and try to be Orthodox.  We should in fact encourage them.  But at the same time we cannot say that gay relationship is the same as a straight relationship. It is not.  It is a fact that unlike heterosexuals, gay men have no Halachic way of  satisfying sexual needs. Which is not something to celebrate. 

And yet, that is exactly what Hollywood is selling these days. And they are succeeding in spades. I note that Hillary Clinton’s recent video announcing her candidacy for President has images promoting  gay marriage in glorious tones.

Here is how Avrech puts it  in his response to those letter writers: 
The point of my article was not to devalue these families but rather to underscore the power of the media’s value system. Hollywood chooses, very carefully, which cultural trends it highlights and romanticizes, and which it treats with contempt.
Thus, leftists are almost always viewed as cool, attractive and virtuous, whereas Republicans are seen as narrow-minded bigots. Atheists are depicted as intellectual giants, but pious people of faith are seen as superstitious dolts. The point being that Hollywood products not only reflect, but impose a super-commentary that is stealth propaganda for leftist ideology. 

He's right. And he ought to know. As a successful Hollywood screenwriter, he sees it up close and personal.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Whole World is Watching

Is this our legacy to the world?
When I read the editorial on YWN (Yeshiva World News), I became sick to my stomach. And then it made my blood boil! I wanted to explode in anger. Not at YWN. But at the very target of that editorial – members of the Charedi world. What makes this particular editorial unique is that it comes from a website that is decidedly geared to Charedim. I believe it follows guidelines set by Charedi rabbinic advisers. The YWN editor calls it a massive Chilul HaShem. 

What makes this Chilul HaShem so massive is precisely the type of Orthodox Jews doing it. Charedim.  This is not to say that all Charedim are like this. Most are not. Nor does it mean that there aren’t other people who behave this way. There are - Jew and non Jew alike. But I don’t believe that there is an entitlement attitude of the type that fosters this kind of behavior among other groups of people like there is among these Charedim.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that the more religious one looks, the greater the Chilul HaShem. Why do they look that way? I believe it is out of a sense of religiosity. Which I also believe makes them feel superior to other Jews. Even to other religious Jews.

And the world responds – calling them ultra-Orthodox. Where Orthodox are seen as the most religious of Jews, ultra-Orthodox are the most religious among them!

In many ways they are more religious. When it comes to Bein Adam L’Makom (laws between man and God - often called ritual observance) they go out of their way to be strict. Consider the recent story reported in the Forward about Chasidim refusing to eat any processed food on Pesach. No matter how reliable the Hechsher they fear the remotest possibility that processed food might contain Chametz.  And yet when it comes to the kind of Chilul HaShem described by the YWN editor, they seem to be clueless - and couldn’t care less. The following in his own words is what the YWN editor witnessed:
A Charedi woman with her husband and family in a NYC subway station. A fare was paid for the mother to push her baby carriage through. Along with her carriage, however, went through FIVE others – all without meeting the fare requirement.

Three Charedi children in South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan tossing empty Kosher box drink containers into the East River. The parents sat on a nearby bench as this behavior continued for 15 minutes. With the river littered with chocolate bar wrappers, empty snack bag wrappers etc., not one – not two – but THREE non-Jewish passersby told the parents to have their children stop this behavior.

On the second day of Chol HaMoed, this writer witnessed a Charedi father pull his child’s pants down on a major street and allow his child to relieve himself on a public sidewalk. Later that day, this writer witnessed a Charedi woman walk her child to the front of a line in a popular amusement park, and simply cut the entire line of more than 50 people patiently waiting for their turn.
What makes matters even worse is the response the YWN editor got from one of these Charedim after trying to get them to be aware of the Chilul HaShem he was making:
After this writer confronted her and told her respectfully that approximately 45 of the 50 people on line were not Jewish and she caused a massive Chillul hashem, her Charedi husband reprimanded this writer and told him not to give other people “Musar”, and “mind his own business.”
The YWN editor ends with a plea for his community to be aware that people are watching them and begs them to stop. Unfortunately (and I’d be willing to bet that he knows this) he is wasting his breath. These people don’t care - as was made painfully clear when he tried to give Mussar to one of them.   

There are two reasons which I believe explains their behavior and their over-all attitude. They seem to feel that as members of the Chosen people - and being the most religious among them, they are free to behave in any way they wish. But it’s more than that. There exists among them no concern about what the world around them thinks about their behavior. They seem to place little to no value on their fellow man… seeing the Goy as the ever hating anti-semite.

That is an attitude developed by their parents and grandparents in a Europe where Antisemitism ran supreme culminating in the Holocaust. An attitude their fathers brought with them when they crossed over to these shores. An attitude their leaders promote. Many of them feel that even if they were to be on their best behavior, ‘the Goyim’ would hate us anyway, so why bother behaving? If the trash can is out of reach, just throw your wrappers into the river. If you can sneak onto public transportation for free, why spend a nickel?

As if to underscore this sense of superiority and attitude of the New York Times had a front page article about Charedim (mostly Chasidim) who ask their seats be switched if they find themselves seated next to a woman.  This phenomenon is increasing as the Chasidim increase their numbers exponentially. This too is based on their sense or religiosity and superiority, taking the laws of interaction with women to extremes. Thus being ‘Frum’ at someone else’s expense. They disrupt the airline schedule and inconvenience other passengers by asking them to give up seats they pre-arranged. Often refusing to sit down until the flight attendant finds a passenger willing to change seats with them.

Here too they care little how it affects others. It’s one thing to feel so devoted to God that they seek to avoid sitting next to a woman for fear they might inadvertently touch them. But when they do it at some else’s expense it ceases to be a religious stringency and has the potential of becoming a Chlul HaShem. And what that is all it is.  A stringency. Rav Moshe Feinstein, whom most Charedim consider the Posek HaDor of the 20th century sees no problem with a man sitting next to a woman on public transportation. Chasidim want to be more Machmir?! That’s fine. But not at the expense of others.  

But they have their Chumros and everybody else be damned. They are going to hold the plane hostage until they get their way.

I recall another experience when a large group of apparently wealthy Chasidim boarded  a flight to Israel and started treating the flight attendants like their personal servants -  making ‘requests’ of them as if they owned them. I could not believe my eyes. Wearing my Kipa I was extremely conscious of of my identity as a Jew and embarrassed. After suffering through this shocking display of bad behavior I later apologized to one of the flight attendants - and said that I hope that it didn’t reflect badly on all religious Jews. It was with a sense of relief that she said it didn’t. That was immediately followed with the not so surprising comment that she was used to this kind of treatment from Chasidim.

How much value do their religious stringencies have in light of the Chilul HaShem they constantly make?  A Chilul HaShem that reflects on all of us.

It makes us all look bad. It is condemnable! God doesn’t take kindly to people that desecrate His name so carelessly. I don’t think the size of their Esrog will matter all that much when they finally meet their Maker and He asks them about their enormous Chilul HaShem.

This behavior ought to be condemned in no uncertain terms by all of us. I’m glad to see the a Charedi website has done pretty much that. But it shouldn’t stop there. The condemnation ought to be coming from the highest levels of Charedi and Chasidic leadership. And it ought to include severe consequences if the behavior continues. Something that will get their attention. Like expelling their children from their Yeshivos.  No apologetics. No exceptions.

This behavior must stop. Unless there are serious consequences to their behavior it will only continue. And probably increase as their numbers increase. If it does not stop - the light unto the nations we shine will not be a very bright one.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Knocking Out His Teeth

Inexcusable! (Forward illustration by Lior Zaltzman)
When the Rasha (evil son) of the Hagadah asks his rhetorical question about the point of Pesach, the answer we give him is to be so sharp that it literally makes his teeth stand on edge.  (Hakeh Es Shinov.) Naftuli Muster recently experienced this reaction in spades.

You might recall that name. Naftuli is an expatriate Belzer Chasid who filed a lawsuit... 
...to get the State of New York to enforce its mandate for requiring a decent curriculum in its schools.  For their part, Chasidic leaders in these enclaves are quite proud of being a century behind the times… 
According to a New York Times article, Naftuli is no longer observant. But if one reads the story in the Forward, one would not conclude that. I don't know if he is or isn't. But it doesn’t really matter with respect to the points I am about to make.

During Chol HaMoed, the recently married Naftuli had visited his Hasidic grandfather and their daughter (his aunt) and her husband… and later his wife’s parents who are Charedi, but not Chasidic. He brought with his some Kosher L’Pesach cakes.

The Hechsher (Kosher certification) on these cakes were apparently of the highest caliber. There was no question about their reliability. The reaction to these gifts from these two families could not have been more different. Radically so. His grandparents, now Lubavitcher Chasidim are very strict about food items on Pesach. Lubavitcher Chasidim do not eat any processed food, no matter how great the Hechsher. Even if it were to have an Eida HaCharedis Hechsher, they won’t touch it. 

Being raised in Belzer Chasidus and having the same standards, he nevertheless assumed that very young children would be permitted to eat those cakes, just as he had been as a child in Belz.  What happened next is shocking. I could not believe what I was reading. From the Forward
“What is that? Take it out!” my grandfather yelled at me, pointing at the box. I tried setting the box on the table, telling him it’s kosher, when he yelled, “Don’t put it there, take it out! Get out with the food!” I tried setting it above the fridge, in a less accessible area, thinking that would suffice, but still my grandfather yelled. 
Surprised at his reaction to my seemingly courteous gesture, I offered the pastries to my aunt and uncle in the adjacent room. 
“You couldn’t bring it there, so you think you can bring it here?” my uncle hissed. “Get out of here.”
“What’s going on with this family? I’m trying to offer kosher food and this is how you treat me! This is  ------- ridiculous,” I said, my aunt, too, now shrieking me out of the room… 
“How dare you use that language in front of my kids,” she screamed, while her husband seethed into my ear. His breath was on me, his long, grey beard quivering in my face. “Get out or I’ll ------- stick a fork up you and your wife and eat you,” he said… 
My aunt toddled toward me. “You talk that way to my father, and I’ll hit you.” … Then she lunged at me, throwing a few punches at my face, before another uncle managed to restrain her. Leaving the hotel, my grandfather yelled after me, “You shaygetz! You mamzer!”
Even if you factor in the fact that his grandparents may have had pre-existing anger at Naftuli for  no longer being observant, this was not the reaction to have. If it was only about the food, they could have just politely said no thank you. Naftuli did nothing except to try and honor his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins with a holiday visit.

He came bearing gifts And he was treated like a lowlife piece of garbage by his own grandfather. Naftuli certainly did not intend to make his grandparents eat this food. He thought his very young cousins would appreciate these Kosher L’Pesach L’Mehadrin cakes.  

If this is the kind of Chinuch transmitted by his grandfather to his children, one of whom was Naftuli’s father or mother - it is no small wonder that he dropped an observant lifestyle. It’s true that there is always personal responsibility. And it’s true that many very fine families with impeccable child rearing practices have one of more of their children rebel to the extent of dropping observance, Nonetheless the wretched behavior of Naftuli’s grandparents in this episode is an abject lesson in how not to raise your children. If the grandfather is upset about what happened to his grandson, and wants to blame anyone, he ought to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Contrast that with the visit Naftuli made to his in-laws the next day. Still having the unopened boxes of cake, he wondered whether his Charedi in-laws might have a similar reaction. His wife responded: 
“My mother loves cheesecake.” We set the box on the kitchen counter when we arrived, joined everyone in the family room downstairs, and told them we’d brought Passover cakes. 
 “You brought cake?” said my mother-in-law. I stood frozen, horrified at what I’d brought upon myself a second time. But in the next instant, my mother-in-law tore up the stairs, and by the time I joined her in the kitchen she had plated herself a piece of cake. 
Two Charedi families. Two opposite reactions. Makes you wonder why the reactions are so different. Perhaps Naftuli’s family was so angry at his dropping observance that all they needed was the slightest pretext to blow up. But his wife of less than a year must have been in the same boat. She too must no longer be observant. Unless he returned to observance at a more modern level before he got married and both he and his wife are now observant. Or maybe he never even left observance. Just Chasidus. I don’t know.

Whatever the case may be, the role models for behavior are clearly not his grandparents. Or his aunt and uncle. The role models are his wife’s parents. Parents that are warm and welcoming as any loving parent would be to their children.