Tuesday, August 04, 2015

"Blame the Messenger!" Seriously?

Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group
If I had to choose a single issue that is the greatest danger to Orthodox Judaism, it would be in how it educates its youth.  

I can already hear my critics saying what about sex abuse? Or existential threats to Israel? Or the extremism one finds on the fringes of Orthodoxy? Or the lack of tolerance among us… these issues and so many more pose serious  problems for us all. I do not wish to minimize any of them. I have dealt with many of them in the past and will continue to do so.

But for me the greatest danger is education. Or more accurately the lack of it with respect to Limudei Chol (secular education).

It seems to me that the more right wing we get, the less important secular education becomes. It doesn’t matter if you are Chasidic or Lithuanian Yeshiva types. The lack of a decent – or in some cases any - Limudei Chol program is going to destroy us - if it doesn’t make a big u-turn.

We all know what is happening in Israel. For boys, it does not exist at all in high school. No English, no math, no science, no history… nothing except Gemarah 24/7/365. There is no preparation in any subject that will help them support their wives and children.

The US Yeshiva system, on the other hand, has always had a secular studies curriculum in their high schools. And there still is one, albeit decreasingly so. These schools are constantly diminishing what they teach... and schools are increasingly arising that have of no secular studies at all.

The Chasidic world has never had much of a Limudei Chol program  – even while encouraging their men to work in order to support their families. Except for some notable exceptions, their menial education has not prepared them for any jobs but menial ones for menial pay. Hardly enough to support their very large famiies.

Stepping back and looking at the whole picture, one has to be dismayed. I have discussed Israel many times in the past and their situation is beyond the scope of this post. The Yeshiva system still has enough Limudei Chol which enables its graduates to seek higher education and better jobs. It is mostly the Chasidic schools that I address here.

When someone comes along and tries to remedy the situation in that segment, it ought to be cause for celebration. That is what I did when I heard about Yaafed (Young Advocates For Fair Education) which I wrote about a short while ago. I applauded Naftui Moster, the no longer observant expatriate Belzer Chasid who founded and leads that organization. He has gotten the city of New York to investigate 39 Chasidic schools to see if they comply with the city’s educational requirements. That is a good thing, not a bad one. 

But in an oped in a secular political news outlet, Ezra Freidlander – a successful businessman from that community - says the following: 
In our community, mesorah (loosely translated as tradition, values, and fundamental beliefs) is the core of our educational system, a concept that has defined the Jewish people from time immemorial and has been the source of our continued survival. So when a person like Mr. Moster and his organization comes along, calling on the New York State Department of Education to investigate our Yeshivas, my only response is: “How dare you? What right do you have to interfere with such sensitive and sacred matters?”
Do Moster’s claims have any validity at all? That is irrelevant. His actions speak louder than his words. By what he has done, he has completely disqualified himself from the conversation… I highly doubt that this organization truly cares about our youth. Or about the quality of our Yeshiva system. 
He goes on to say that he thinks that ‘our Yeshivas do adequately meet the State’s educational criteria’. Which if true, would hardly make such any such investigation objectionable. But I tend to doubt Mr. Freidlnader’s claims - based on the testimony of so many people that have been educated there, including some like popular singer, Lipa Schmeltzer who is observant. Lipa was quoted saying that he was robbed of an education.

Friedlander accuses Moster of a nefarious motive which has nothing to do with improving their schools. The motive being to undermine and besmirch the community he abandoned... and to shut down their schools.

At the end of the oped Freidlander says yes, we do indeed blame this messenger.

That is a shocking statement for me. How can  someone blame a messenger for telling a truth you acknowledge has merit? How can you say that is irrelevant because he is no longer observant? It's like someone during the Holocaust who was in a concentration camp saying that that Communist Russia has no right to liberate you because you don’t agree with communism. 

If God sends you a boat to save you from drowning during a flood, are you going to first ask the driver if he is observant?  

Whatever Mr. Moster’s motives may be (and I am NOT at all convinced that they are nefarious) his effort to change the educational paradigm in these kinds of schools is one that anyone with a modicum of common sense should support. If it takes a government probe to do so, - so be it. The children there are captives of a system that is failing them - all while making  the claim that their children are being educated 'Al Taharas HaKodesh'. 

There's not enough money to improve things in that community? Whose fault is that? Maybe if there had been better education to prepare them for better jobs the problem wouldn't be as acute! The clear fact is that they are being short changed big time. And some of the parents there are beginning to see that. It doesn't matter what his motive is. The Chasidic world is drowning. God is sending them a boat. They ought to get in the boat and not look at who’s driving it.

Yaafed has responded to Mr. Freidlander's oped. It can be read here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

It's Long Past Time!

Jonathan Pollard
Former CIA Director James Woolsey expresses my views on this subject succinctly. “It’s long  past time!” He is talking about the release of Jonathan Pollard.

For the 2 or 3 people on earth that don’t know who that is, Jonathan was convicted of spying for Israel. As a Naval Intelligence analyst, he stole massive amounts of classified material and passed it along to his Israeli handlers. Although Israel was considered a friendly country that would never use classified material to in any way harm the United States, the feeling was that once the information is released, it is compromised and could easily fall into the hands of our enemies.

After Jonathan was caught he decided to fully cooperate with the authorities as part of a plea bargain that would reduce his sentence. That plead deal should have been honored.

But at his sentencing hearing, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger argued that despite any deal - the damage Pollard did to this country was so severe that he did not deserve a reduced sentence. The court listened to him and sentenced Pollard to life in a federal prison.

Many of us at the time, myself included, felt that this was not only excessively harsh but that it was completely unfair and even unethical for the government to renege on a deal it made with him. Especially since his crime was done on behalf of a friendly country. The sentence was harsh as one given to a traitor that passed secrets to an enemy nation. 

James Woolsey
But the argument in favor of that harsh sentence was always that the damage Pollard did by passing massive amounts of classified documents to Israel did untold damage to the US; endangered the lives of our assets spying in unfriendly foreign countries; and that his release would demoralize members of the intelligence community. Agents that were subsequently killed were blames on Pollard. (Although it was later learned that it was not Pollard that was responsible  for it – but other agents like Aldrich Ames, who spied for the former Soviet Union.) Meanwhile Pollard’s claim that his love of Israel moved him to do this was disputed by the fact that he took money for his acts.

Every single President from both parties refused to release or reduce Pollard’s sentence. The explanation was always about the damage to our country and the demoralization it would cause to our agents.  

Of course spies much worse than Pollard are released all the time serving very little of their sentences. That’s because they are usually traded for American spies in foreign countries caught spying for the US. Pollard did not have that luxury. Israel was not in possession of any American spies that they could trade for Pollard. So, Pollard stayed put in Prison, mostly in isolation.

I always had mixed feeling on the subject. On the one hand I felt an injustice was being done here, the sentence being way too severe for the crime relative to those who were convicted of spying for our enemies… where our agents did indeed die after their identities were revealed.

Caspar Weinberger
On the other hand, there was the fact that so many American Presidents that did not have an anti-Semitic bone in their bodies felt that his prison term was justified and refused to pardon or parole him. From Reagan, to Bush 41, to Clinton, to Bush 43, to Obama, not a single Presdeint saw this as an injustice. I surmised that I must be missing something. By not knowing exactly what the classified information Pollard stole was, we simply did not know enough to see just how much damage he did.

So I questioned whether those who so strongly advocated for his release were really doing the right thing by agitating for Pollard’s release. With all that opposition in the intelligence community; and one President being told by one CIA Director that if Pollard was released he would resign, I thought there was a lot more to his crime than any layman knew about.

But now, since former CIA director Woolsey is privy to that information, I tend to believe him when he says Pollards release is long overdue. And indeed an injustice was done. Woolsey was recently quoted as saying that he doesn’t know of a single American agent that was harmed by what Pollard did.  He said that Pollard should have been released a long time ago. 

Now, after serving 30 years in prison he is eligible for parole. As I understand it, federal guidelines provide an almost mandatory parole when a prisoner has served more than 2/3 of his sentence. In the case of a prisoner serving more than a 45 year sentence or more - he is supposed to be released  after 30 years unless there was serious misbehavior while in prison or it is believed that he will commit more crimes once he his released. Pollard has served 30 years. He will be released in November with no objection from the President.

A lot of people are saying that Obama is throwing Israel a bone to appease them over the Iran Nuclear deal. The Obama administration denies any connection. But It doesn’t matter to me. I’m glad he’s getting out. According to Woolsey the accusations against Pollard by Weinberg were grossly exaggerated. So in the end, an injustice was done.

Many people say that we were wasting our political capital lobbying to free Pollard. It was a lost cause anyway – and the belief was that the government had legitimate reasons for keeping  him in prison. But it appears those reasons did not exist. At least not according to Woolsey. I’m sorry he had to endure such a long prison term. I regret not being more proactive in advocating for his release. Even if it meant spending political capital on a lost cause. Because doing the right thing is never a lost cause.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Criticism Isn’t Always Based on Bigotry

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
One of the things I have noticed over the years is that people who strongly identify with a given Hashkafa, cannot abide criticism from anyone outside of their community. 

This applies to all groups. In Judaism it includes Open Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionists,  Sephardim, and Charedim – both Chasidic and Lithuanian Yeshiva types. None of us likes our ox to be gored, because we see ourselves as the closest representation of Emes. No matter where we come from, if criticized by someone from the outside, we take umbrage and many in our group see the critic as a bigot against us.

I find that the Charedi world is the most sensitive in this area. The minute someone from outside their group suggests that a particular problem may exist and suggests a possible contributing factor related to them in some way they get extremely defensive. To the point of paranoia. “They are out to get us!”

Case in point. Last week a deranged Charedi man by the name of Yishai Shlissel decided to stab some people marching in a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.  I don’t think anyone would suggest that Charedi Hashkafos promote these types of actions.  But the minute someone suggest that perhaps there might be  a connection between this man’s actions and  motives sourced in the way that subject is treated in that community, you are called a Charedi basher or the like by members of that community.  But let us look at the facts.

The sense of moral outrage expressed by many Charedim about a gay pride parade in the city of Jerusalem was  palpable. I’m sure that Shlissel was affected by that moral outrage and absorbed it. And he decided to do something about it.

No one is saying that actions were sane… or that all Charedim would do this or even condone it. Of course they don’t... and wouldn’t. But you cannot get away from the man’s motives. Motives that he learned in his community. Can anyone imagine a Open Orthodox Jew doing this? Shlissel probably thought of himself as a modern day Pinchas, fighting the good fight against one of the most severe sins of the Torah. “B’Makon She’Ayn Ish…!”  

Rabbi Yaakov Menken has done exactly this in his latest post on Cross-Currents.  Instead of feeling the outrage most of us do at what this man did, the first thing he worries about is the forthcoming ‘display of bigotry’ against the Charedi world. True, he condemns what happened and prays for the recovery of a victim in an unstable condition. But his primary concern is that people will blame the entire Charedi community for the actions of a deranged man.  Here is how he puts it: 
I am, of course, referring to open displays of bigotry against the Orthodox community. Because if someone uses the actions of a single deranged individual to slander an entire community, to imply that the community somehow supported or abetted the crime via action or attitude, that isn’t fighting bigotry — it’s showing it. 
No one is slandering the entire Orthodox community. But one cannot ignore the distinct possibility that this man’s actions were may have been generated by the kind of rhetoric coming out of his circle. Just because no one else ever did this doesn’t mean it can’t happen again with someone else. 

And as I said in an earlier post, there is not a doubt in my mind that some of the other bad behavior which has taken place by extremists in the Charedi world (or the religious Zionist world) were motivated by attitudes absorbed by them in their community. The message is not that Charedim have to change their Hashkafos. Much as I would like them to they have a right to their views. The message is not that they should change their Hashkafos. The message is that they need to change the way they express them.

Rabbi Menken and a great many others don’t seem to understand that.  All they see is ‘bigotry’. Now I’m sure there is quite a bit of that. And I condemn it. But not every outside critic is a bigot. Some of us just want to see a change in the way they present their message. If that would change then it is possible that under similar circumstances, someone else in the future like this fellow will not be moved to do that.

It would be nice if they could rid themselves of this paranoia and take the criticism in the constructive way it is meant.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Who Would Want to be Part of a Religion Like This?!

Yishai Shlissel - about to pull a knife from his jacket (CNN)
I can’t blame them. Not after reading about 2 horrible events that just happened. 2 events that involved Jews whose religious ideals caused them to commit heinous crimes. Religious Jews who could not be further apart politically and religiously… and yet are motivated by the very same thing. Serving God. In that goal a Charedi man stabbed six gay activists at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. And Jewish settlers (Price taggers) set fire to a Palestinain house which ended up killing a baby and severely burning his brother and parents. 

So no, I can’t blame some people for abandoning Judaism after seeing such things. And in both cases this is not first time that happened. The Charedi attacker, Yishai Shlissel, was just released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for doing exactly the same thing in 2005. And obviously, this is not the first time Jewish terrorists (price taggers in this instance) committed a heinous murder against Palestinians.

This is what happens when people take their religious ideals to extremes. It’s kind of like ISIS. They too commit heinous acts for their religious ideals. One of which is beheading infidels.  I see absolutlely no difference between them. Zero!

Burned remains of Price Tag arsonists (YWN)
There are those who will be angry at me for comparing Jews to Islamic terrorists. That’s OK. Let them be angry. But that does not change the fact that religious fervor taken to extremes causes some people to commit heinous crimes in the name of God.

That explains how Muslim religious fanatics can hijack some planes and fly them into a tall building: It explains IS beheadings;  It explains IS mass murdering infidels – shot in front of the graves they dug; It explains Islamist suicide bombings and various and sundry violence against Jews - and even Muslims of different denominations.

To a lesser extent, it explains why Charedi hooligans can cause riots in Jerusalem; burn dumpsters; set fire to clothing stores; spit on reporters; throw rocks or acid at women wearing short sleeves or running suits; harass or beat up women sitting in the wrong section of a sex segregated bus; or hound 7 year girls whose religious standards are not the same as theirs.

And to a greater extent, it explains how a religious Zionist follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane can commit mass murder at Ma’aras HaMachpela; and how a Religious Zionist extremist can assassinate a sitting Israel Prime Minister.

These are all birds of a feather.It doesn’t matter. They are all the same. It is all about religious fervor. The differences being only a matter of degree.

The religious leadership share in the responsibility for these heinous crimes. I’m not absolving anyone of personal responsibility. These people will hopefully get their just deserts. Nor do I say that the rabbinic leadership supports this violence – or violence of any kind.  I’m sure that in most cases the rabbinic leadership will unequivocally condemn every single heinous act. But often those condemnations come with a ‘but’. The ‘but’ being that they understand “why he (or they) did it. And although they did it in a very misguided way, they sympathize with his (their) goals. Sharing the same religious views as the extremist who committed the violence. In some cases people who share the views of the perpetrator will venerate him as a martyr, as many Kahanists still do with mass murderer Dr. Baruch Goldstein.  

The problem is that in every case their acts are based on religious fervor that has been preceded and exacerbated by rhetoric of the worst kind. The condemnations of the Gay Pride Parade -referred to by many in the Charedi world as the Toevah (abomination) parade - were very loud and very strong. Especially because it took place in Jerusalem. The opposition was fierce. Religious leaders and their politicians were up in arms - disgusted by the idea that the holiest city in the world could host a parade that was about pride in being a homosexual, whose sexual acts often involve what the Torah calls a Toevah.

I can understand their pain and outrage. But rhetoric such as that will motivate some people to act the way Yishai Shlissel did. And rhetoric of the type often heard from Rabbi Meir Kahane and his spiritual heirs (e.g. Arabs are dogs! ) motivates those ‘Price Tag’ settler terrorists.

There will of course be a lot of handwringing by the leadership, expressing sorrow while denying that these people acted in accordance with their religious beliefs and ideals. They may even say that the people that do these kinds of things are sick – and that the religious ideals they espouse should not be blamed for their heinous acts.

They can say that. But they have to take at least some responsibility for it. Much the same as Islamic religious leaders have to take responsibility for terrorism done in the name of Islam. Islmaic State (IS) members are religious  Muslims. Terrorists settlers are Religious Zionists. Yishai Shlissel is Charedi. They did not make up the religious values they were acting upon. They learned them. Whether it’s extremist Muslims chanting  “Death to the Jews!” … Religious Zionist Kahanists chanting “Death to the Arabs!” …or an extremist Charedi  yelling “Death to the Gays” – it is religious fervor that motivates them.

If I’m a Jew wavering in my commitment to Judaism or a sincere potential Baal Teshuva or convert… and I see this kind of stuff happening so often to one degree or another… why would I want to be a part of this religion? And if I’m a non Jew looking at it, why would I want to support the Jewish people or their country?

I can’t make the Charedi or Religious Zionist rabbinic leadership do anything. But I wish they would see that some of their angry religious based rhetoric - both verbal and written - contributes to the violence. Much the same way that Muslim clerics preaching Jew hatred contributes to Muslim violence. It makes fanatics go the extra mile.

Condemning it after the fact means absolutely nothing in the face of the constant recurrence of these kinds of things. I wish that instead of the constant angry rhetoric one hears in those circles from various of their leadership over issues that bother them - they would instead honor the words of Mishlei (3:17)  which say, ‘Derocheha Darchei Noam’ – ‘(The Torah’s) ways are ways pleasantness’. Then  maybe - just maybe - there will be at least one less extremist atrocity committed by a misguided Jew.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

It May Be Legal. But is it Ethical?

‘What a great ‘Chop’! The word ‘Chop’ is Yiddish for ‘catch’. You will often hear this expression from people that see something clever being done to advantage. I have heard this expression used about gaining government funds on a technicality which makes it legal even though those funds are obviously not what the government intended it for.  When I hear that phrase in that context, it disturbs me. 

That’s because in essence they are supporting something which at the very least is tinged with the unethical. A Forward article points out Yeshivos and day schools in Lakewood are being granted the lion’s share of Federal E-rate subsidy funds. This might be an occasion for someone to say, ‘What a great ‘Chop’! 

E-rate funds are designed to subsidize internet connectivity for low income students. It is available for both public and private schools. Lakewood receives more of those funds per student than any other significant New Jersey city: $282 per student versus Newark which receives $82 per student.

Now I have no problem with Lakewood or any other school system applying for government funds legally. What ever formula the government uses to determine per capita distributions – I’m sure was applied to Lakewood.

But I have to question the ethics of using funds designed for use in an area that is completely condemned by the institution being granted those funds. Even if it is obtained legally. The loophole they are apparently using is that those funds may be used “for things like telephone systems and voicemail for administrators.” 

But Lakewood schools do not have any more phones and voicemails than any other school - public or private. There are some internet connected computers in some of these schools. But as the Forward reports in an example, one school of 1025 students that has only 5 internet capable devices. They  had received $700,000 in E-rate funds!

Again, I am not accusing anyone of fraud. But it is unseemly for a school system to be receiving federal funds whose primary purpose is for something their rabbinic leadership has severely condemned.

How severely opposed to the internet is Lakwoood’s rabbinic leadership? One may recall that Lakewood Yeshiva’s Mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Salomon organized an Asifa (gathering) for that purpose. That Asifa featured Rabbi  Ephraim Wachsman introducing Rav Wosner with a quote from Rabbenu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva. Which says that when Riv’vos Yisroel (multitudes of Israel) gather and decisions are made by the leaders for action of the group, anyone who separates himself from the group has no chelek (portion) in Olam Haba’a.  

Rav Wosner proceeded to condemn it with much force – forbidding the internet at all in the home and advocated expulsion from Yeshivos children who have it in their homes. At the time Rabbi Avrohom Schor threatened his Shul members with ‘expulsion’ from his Shul if they had it in their homes.

And yet this is what Lakewood’s Yeshivos are getting money for to the tune of millions of dollars. To add insult to injury, the trend in Lakewood’s schools is to move away from secular studies altogether. There are some high schools there that offer none at all. Despite the fact that New Jersey State law requires all private schools to offer a secular studies program equivalent to what is taught in the public schools. Are they getting E-Funds too?

I understand the need. Lakewood’s residents are comprised in large measure of Avreichim many (most of?) whom barely earn enough of a living to put food on the table for their large families. They have little funds available for school tuition. Those schools have to pay teachers and administrative costs. They need to get the money from somewhere. So they find ‘creative’ ways to do so by applying legally for state and federal help. They have become quite skilled in doing so.

It is also pro forma to tell every Avreich how to apply for Pell Grant funds and other government programs for the poor. Which in my view is also an ethically questionable exercise - considering that these people are poor by choice. Welfare programs are designed for people that are poor, but not by choice. Noble as is the goal of Torah study, it is unethical  in my view to subsidize it with funds intended for the poor.

I do not wish Lakewood any ill. It is a huge Makom Torah. At the same time, they ought not to be doing these kinds of things to help them out financially. Especially since I question the entire paradigm of pushing everyone into the Beis HaMedrash full time for as long as possible - instead of advising people to pursue their own particular niche. And providing an education that will help them do that. 

If they would do that, they would be smaller and better – retaining the elite for the Torah study while allowing the rest to get good jobs in the fields they are best suited for. That would provide more money for less – but more deserving Avreichim.  Wouldn’t that be a more ethical way of solving their financial problems?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Asserting Our Rights To the Land of Israel

Saying Shema on the Temple Mount (Jewish Press)
These are the kinds of stories that make my blood boil. One was in the Jewish Press and the other in Mishpacha Magazine last week  (not available online) .

The Jewish Press story is a short video of a Religious Zionist Jew going up to Har Habayis (the Temple Mount) and reciting the Shema. He is promptly arrested and hauled away by the police. The Mishpacha story is about a Shul demolition just outside the city of Kiryat Arba near Chevron. Chevron is currently a city populated by Arabs. In both instances these people are made out to be heroes, while the government is portrayed as Reshaim- evil people. And both stories could not be further from the truth.

In both cases, the police were doing their job. And the so-called heroes were breaking the law. But that is not how the authors of those 2 articles portrayed it.

The Jewish Press story that accompanied the video is very short.  Above the video it says:
This is what happens to a Jew if he dares pray “Shema Yisrael”, one of the Jewish People’s oldest and most central prayers, if he is on the Temple Mount… 
Below the video it says:
If I were an Israeli policeman, I would be so embarrassed. 
The Mishpacha story portrays the illegal structure as merely a Shul where Jews wanted to pray. They even talk of an Arab Sheik from Chevron that supported them. (Needless to say, he was a minority view in that area.)

But in both cases we have people whose disregard for the law is based on their Religious Zionist fervor. So fervent are they that they believe  their actions in service to those beliefs supersede the law. Even if it means inciting Arabs in that area to even greater hatred and violence than they already have. This does not concern them because their beliefs inspire them to do it. They are doing it for God.

Before I continue, let me be clear. The land of Israel is ours. All of it. It was titled deeded to us by God Himself. Rashi in Bereishis tells us that this is the reason why the Torah begins with the creation story instead of with the first Halacha. The point being that God created and therefore owns the universe and he can give it to whomever He chooses. He chose us.

This is a true statement. If you are a believer in God and the bible, you have no alternative but to admit that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.

So what’s the difference between me and those Religious Zionists that do these kinds of things? Religious Zionists belief that the return of Israel into Jewish hands is the first flowering of our redemption and that Moshaich is at hand. I do not. If one believes as they do, it is a small step from there to taking matters into your own hands and breaking the law in pursuit of the messianic goal of retaking all of the land God gave to us. And caring little about the consequences.  In that context, they see themselves as heroes and martyrs. Anyone that thwarts them is seen as a Rasha - thwarting God’s will.

They try and elicit sympathy from the reader by implying that a Jew was arrested simply for saying Shema – as did the Jewish Press article. Or as Mishpacha did - saying that the police destroyed a Shul for no reason. Reading this without knowing the context, how can you NOT have sympathy for these Jews? How can you not paint the police as anti religious Reshaim?!

What they don’t tell you is the real reason they are doing these things. They are asserting their right to all of Israel. They want to make it clear to the Arabs and the entire world that they are simply reclaiming their own land. If the Arabs want to live there too, fine. As long as they acknowledge who's the boss.

Problem is - like it or not, those areas are solidly Arab. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, they don’t want us there. They want that piece of real estate for themselves without any Jewish presence. They feel threatened when settlers start asserting themselves in those areas making statements like building a Shul.

Or is the case of saying Shema on Har Habayis, they will say that this is the Makom HaMikdash and we have every right to pray here as you do. More, in fact!  While that is true as explained above, the Arabs are not about to give up the mosque was built centuries ago, nor their belief that that place is the 2nd holiest place in all of Islam and rightfully theirs. 

They believe that we have no business there. They see any attempt to pray as an assault on their rights and the beginning of a possible takeover by force. Especially when they see Religious Zionist militants that have on various occasions promised to do so. So of course they get upset when they see a Jew praying up there.

Even if there is no Issur in ascending to the Temple Mount (which is far from clear), what these Jews accomplish is nothing except inciting the Arabs to more violence. The State of Israel has wisely forbidden them to do things like that. Now is not the time to assert those rights because we are not in the era of the first flowering of our redemption.

I know that my view is not a popular one with many religious Zionists that agree or at least sympathize with what these people do. But in my very humble opinion, these people are misguided. They may be sincere and believe that they are doing God’s will. But the price for allowing them to act on those beliefs is too high. They are exacerbating Arab anger and inciting them to violence. Which increases the chances that more Jews will get hurt.  And it increases hostility from the international community.

They might answer that the Arabs hate us anyway and would harm us the same if they didn’t do it. They may also say that the hostility the international community would be there – with or without them. But incitement like theirs cannot be rationalized away. The more you poke at a hornet’s nest the more they will come out to sting you.

We have to wait for Moshiach to do those kinds of things. Then we will have God on our side. Until then, I’m glad that the Israeli government is doing what they can to stop them. We have a country now. And we ought to do whatever it takes to convince the world about the righteousness of our cause. Inciting Arabs and world opinion against us is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Basic Education Will Improve Their Lives

(Yiddish says 'Foy - English is impure!') Does't this say it all? (VIN)
One of the things that bothers me is when Emes is discounted because of its messenger. That is how many in the Charedi world that Yaffed addresses feel about it. Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education) is an organization founded by Naftuli Moster, a former Belzer Chosid. He is no longer observant. So his message is completely discounted. But it shouldn’t be. This is an organization that advocates for better education in communities like the one he is from.

That community sees him as a Rasha – an evil man that has left the fold. Someone that has no business telling them how to lead their lives and what they should teach their children. Those communities of course have the right to educate their children in any way they see fit. But that should not give them Carte Blanche avoidance of secular studies. Which is what they more or less do. 
Chasidim in communities like these spend little time in elementary school of secular studies and after the age of 13, they spend no time at all on it. While not all Chasidm are like this (some are actually quite educated and are in professions like medicine, law, and academia - the Twersky family comes to mind) they are the exception. Satmar and like minded Chasidim eschew secular education.

To say this is counterproductive to their own welfare is an understatement. The lack of a decent secular education forces most of  them to live on the meager incomes that meager educations allow. Meager incomes that cannot support one individual, let alone a family of 10 or more children, Which is not all that uncommon.

The irony of communities like these is that they do not advocate full time Kollel  study for life as the ideal. Their ideal is much the same as mine in this regard. Stay in Kollel for a year or two and then go out and get a job to support your family. Full time Kollel for life should be reserved for the elite of the generation that will become our future leaders and teachers.

The problem however is (as I have stated many times) that they do nothing to enhance their earning potential. They do the opposite  - denying them an education that would help them earn a better living.

I am not quite sure why they ignore secular studies so much. Perhaps they believe that one does not need to learn the typical subjects taught in a high school in order to make a decent living. How much geometry does one need in most typical jobs – even good ones? How does knowledge of American history or Shakespeare help one in his livelihood? 

While it is true that these subjects don’t help you earn more money in life, the overall educational experience does. It is not the individual subjects that help you. It is the discipline of secular study itself that does. Secular studies require a different set of skills than does Talmud study or the study of Chasidus or Halacha. Subjects that take up the entire day of a Chasidic Yeshiva or Kollel student.

And then there is the English language. Which is perhaps their biggest impediment. Only someone completely oblivious to the culture of the American workplace would think that competence in speaking the English language is not a factor in getting a decent job.

One of the things I have personally noticed about these kinds of Chasidim is that they have a very poor command of the English language. There are several reasons for that. One is that they learn English as a second language. Yiddish being the first and primary language spoken in the home and in school. Second they have no education in English. No grammar No spelling. No composition. Nothing. With this kind of culture they end up sounding like immigrants even if they are second or third generation Americans.

Why do they treat English that way? I was once explained the reason for this. They purposely do not want their English to be spoken well because that would make them identify too much with the   culture  . A Chasidic Rebbe said that he considered it a Chilul HaShem to speak English too well!

That was a mind boggling revelation to me, But it helped to explain why these types of  Chasidim don’t speak English that well and are practically ignorant of its basic spellings, grammar, and syntax. The idea of teaching it in their schools is therefore anathema to them! And yet I can’t think of a more basic reason for their not being hired  for decent jobs – even if they have then requisite skills.  

What this leads to is heavy reliance free loan societies set up by the few very wealthy philanthropists that somehow had the wherewithal  to become successful businessmen. Like the Satmar Chasdidm that own B&H, one of the most successful electronics stores in the world. They and others like them are very charitable and provide a lot of good jobs for their Chasidim and many other types of Jews religious and otherwise - and even non Jews. But it is a drop in the bucket for their needs. Their population exceeds what the owners of  B&H and other wealthy philanthropists can provide in jobs; and in money for those free loan societies.  I do not believe that relying on charity for sustenance  is the paradigm the Torah suggests for its people.

Then there is the problem of relying as well on government programs. Assuming that most Chasidim do not cheat the government for more money than they are entitled to there are enough who do cheat them for it to have become a Chilul HaShem more than once. How many stories about defrauding the government or misuse of government funds have been in the news already?

But even if every single Chasid of this type was 100% legal and aboveboard, I still have trouble with people using a welfare system as a basic means of support simply because of a Hashkafa that refuses to educate their Chasdim well enough to earn that money themselves. Welfare funds are not intended to be used as supplemental income for those refusing to get an education that would enable them to earn that money

It appears that many of these Chasidim are beginning to realize that they are being seriously short changed in their education.
So I’m very happy that this system is being challenged. From VIN
“Enough is enough!” That’s the basic message of a letter sent by concerned parents, former teachers, and former yeshiva students to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and seven district superintendents in Brooklyn and Queens expressing upset over the lack of a substantial secular education in at least 39 yeshivas. 
Fifty-two unidentified signatories added their names to the letter, noting that ultra-Orthodox schools, especially boys’ yeshivas, spend far less time on secular instruction compared to the time spent on religious education.
Organized by the nascent education advocacy group Yaffed, the letter asks officials to “investigate the quality of secular education and, in particular English instruction, at the listed yeshivas and to take steps to ensure that pupils at these yeshivas receive the essential and substantially equivalent education to which they are entitled.” 
They may see Yaffed’s call to investigate their schools as a form of Mesirah - informing on them to the authorities. But the desire to be left alone to teach what they want should not be at the expense of using the welfare system as a means of support. I see this as a favor that will hopefully force them to start teaching their people the basic skills necessary to support their families.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Schism Removing it from Orthodoxy

Ordaining ceremony for female rabbis (Ha'artetz)
An analysis of the state Orthodoxy in our world today has been attempted by Yair Ettinger. In his lengthy Ha’aretz article he questions whether there is a revolution that is causing a schism – a split in the Orthodox world. He is talking about the innovations by the left of which Open Orthodoxy here in the United States is the prime example.

Ettinger cites some of the current trends that indicate that that may actually be the case.  Chief among them is the increased number of women who have been ordained as rabbis – both in Israel and the United States. It can’t be denied that there has been such an increase. The question is whether that increased number means a new segment within Orthodoxy, or a segment outside of it. The question remains unsettled in this article. But it is a phenomenon that can nonetheless not be ignored.

I have argued that the phenomenon pushing the envelope of Orthodoxy to the furthest extremes of the left has zero chance of ever becoming mainstream. I still believe that despite the expanding numbers.

But what about those numbers? If that many Jews are pushing or joining this leftward move to the outer edges of Orthodoxy and beyond, doesn’t that give it momentum and doesn’t that mean that Orthodoxy will indeed have a new movement? Do numbers matter?

Numbers do matter. The question is whether numbers can make assertions about their identity when they are not accepted by mainstream members of that group or their leadership.  That is the crux of the issue. I do not believe a movement can define itself as members of a movement when its leadership rejects them.  In the case of Orthodoxy, the rabbinic leadership of both the right wing and Centrists have rejected them.

Why that is the case has been discussed here before. I am not going to re-hash it. I would just point out that the ‘slippery slope’ argument has been put forth by one of their own leading lights. Rabbi Daniel Sperber is quoted in the Ha’aretz article: 
“Slowly but surely, it turns out that the entire status of women in Judaism is changing. Within this process there are several things that seem drastic, quasi-Conservative or neo-Reform. You have to remember: Sometimes it’s enough that the questions arise, and we also have to be aware of the dangers. I spoke in the United States a few weeks ago, and there I said that we’ve reached a point where the boundaries are expanding, and the more you advance the wider the horizons. Until now everything we’ve done was within legitimate halakhic parameters. We have to be careful not to cross the boundary, and the boundary is vague.” 
Obviously I am in profound disagreement with his innovations. But even he realizes that a slippery slope exists.

Suffice it to say that there is a schism, but it is a schism that is taking large numbers of seriously observant Jews out of Orthodoxy, despite their protestations to the contrary.  And protest they do. They insist on calling themselves Orthodox despite being rejected by virtually all the rabbinic leadership to their right. The question is why? Why insist that you are Orthodox if you are clearly so rejected by the peers to your right?

The answer in my view is obvious. They want to be accepted as an Orthodox – since they claim to be following Halacha in all of their innovations. Some of their brighter and more scholarly rabbis have written Teshuvos - responsa for these innovations. The most controversial of which was written by Rabbi Herzl Hefter justifying the ordination of women. The problem is it is that his Halachic justification is weak and written by a comparative lightweight whose opinions are motivated more by ideas that are foreign to Judaism than they are by strict interpretation of Halacha - sincere though he may be.  A rabbi with the heft of Rav Soloveitchik is needed for that kind of change. And Rav Soloveitchik would never have agreed with these innovations or his reasoning for them.

Rabbi Hefter’s ideas and those of his fellow travelers will find a more welcome home in Conservative Judaism. It is there where ideas like his are already being honored. Lest he say that the Conservative Movement is not Halachic, I would argue that they consider themselves no less Halachic than Orthodoxy. They have their rabbis and Teshuvos too. Although there has been some dissent about that in recent years among the Conservative rabbinate, they still maintain a Halacha committee and consider themselves to be Halachic.

What then is the difference between them? Every innovation the Conservative movement had  – certainly in their early days - had Halachic reasoning and responsa behind it. Let them join the Conservative Movement which is way ahead of them on the scale of the feminist revolution. They may have a difference of opinion about what is an isn’t Halachic. But they certainly fit into their paradigm more than Orthodoxy’s paradigm. Besides they are bending over backwards to be inclusive. What better way to be inclusive than to join them? Perhaps they will have even more influence on them that way.  They can be the right wing of Conservative Judaism.

Their answer to that is probably the same as the right wing and Centrists would give. They do not accept their responsa as valid. They not consider the Conservative movement to be Halachic despite their written responsa justifying themselves. Well, in my view, it is just a matter of degree.

But what about all the increasing numbers of sincere observant Jews that truly believe in these new innovations? Most are people that believe in Orthodoxy; were raised in Orthodoxy; and want to remain in Orthodoxy - albeit serving God in their own unique way. Here is the way Rabba Rachel Berkowitz expresses this idea: 
“Real rabbis are crying.” “I feel a tremendous privilege, which I probably don’t deserve, of being part of a significant moment in the history of the Jewish people, and I hope that this will influence this ongoing revolutionary process. I am grateful to God for enabling me to reach this moment.” In tears, Berkowitz then recited the Shehecheyanu, a Jewish blessing recited on special occasions: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”  
I am absolutely convinced that Rabba Berkowitz believes that she is among the most sincere Jews in Judaism. And her tears of joy were real. She truly believes that she can serve Judaism best in her capacity as a rabbi.

Nevertheless, I consider her to be a victim. She is a victim of the times  seeing egalitarianism as the justification to change the traditional role of women in Judaism. She has taken a legitimate goal outside of Judaism and applied it to Judaism. And she has the blessing of her rabbinc mentors to do just that.

As I have said countess times. Judaism is not a egalitarian religion. It is a religion about serving God in ways He has mandated for us. Which in many cases require different roles for men and women. The goal of every Jew is to fulfill God’s mandate in the best way he or she can. It is not the goal of Judaism to serve God the way we feel like serving Him. It is the goal of Judaism to serve God the way He wants us to. Which is defined in the Torah as interpreted by the sages.

It may be permissible and even laudable for women to do things mandated only for men. But tradition has set parameters for that. Generations of non mandated but permitted practices by women have been in many cases codified into law. But in no case was a practice traditionally not accepted changed for reasons that were not existential.

A true egalitarian cannot countenance roles. A true egalitarian wants to eliminate roles. They see the sexes as completely equal in every respect. And if your religion denies that - it is deemed wrong and to be discarded. 

Traditional Jewish roles should certainly not be undermined by movements that do not respect it.

But Rabba Berkowitz and other sincere women like her have been convinced by their leaders that they can pursue egalitarian goals despite all of that. They have been given assurances that their desire to serve God in the way they chose is perfectly fine.

That said, there has been a tolerance of some of these innovations by the right – even where there was disagreement with them. Things like Women’s Teffilah Groups though frowned upon did not de-legitimize them from Orthodoxy. But they have long since moved way beyond that with things like ordaining women.  And this does not even touch the highly problematic tolerance of Apikursus within their midst. (Which was the deal breaker for me.)

So even while this movement seems to be expanding, It is not expanding as a part of Orthodoxy. Without the imprimatur of a Rav Soloveitchik, a Rav Lichtenstein or a Rav Hershel Shachter, they are on their own.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sudden Destruction of Jerusalem

Khameni: "Israel must be annihilated" 
It happened so suddenly. That is what Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik points out in his interpretation of one of the Kinos Tisha B’Av that we said this morning. (Commentary to Kina 6 in the Kinos Mesores HaRav).

He was talking about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Sometimes a tragedy is  expected intuitively and when it happens the shock is somewhat buffered by the expectation of it. But in the case of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash no one really expected it to happen. People were going about their business as usual. The Kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash were doing their daily Avodah – offering sacrifices to God.

Even the prophet Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu) to whom God revealed that the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed was shocked by it when it happened so suddenly.  Yirmiyahu was told by God to leave Jerusalem to go buy a field from his uncle (32:6-17). When he left he expected to return to a city intact with the Bies HaMikdash still running full steam. That is what he saw when he left. When he returned, the Beis Hamikdash was gone.

This is what the word Shovas – ceased - in that Kina means to tell us. Shovas Suru Mani. Our joy ceased. That the word Shovas means a sudden ceasing is indicated by how it is used in another context. U’VaYom HaShiviyi Shovas VaYenofash -  On the seventh day He ceased from work and rested (Shemos 31;17). Chazal tell us that God worked up until the very last second of the sixth day creating the world. An in that very same second (the latter half of it) he came to a sudden full stop.  From there we see that the word Shovas means suddenly ceasing. The Beis HaMikdash suddenly ceased to exist. When tragedy happens suddenly the impact and shock is far greater. It is emotionally and psychologically much greater. That is how it was for our ancestors in the Temple era.

I am reminded of the Holocaust. No one there expected what eventually happened. There was disbelief even as people who witnessed the horrors came back to their families to report it. Can’t be! Life went on until they were all rounded up and eventually sent to the gas chambers.  Those few who had the prescience to see what was coming, and got out of Europe lived to see the end of Nazi Germany.They lived to see their children and grandchildren live and prosper.

Most Jews in Germany during the 30s just didn’t believe their beloved Germany would do this to them. Jews were after all loyal and productive citizens, many of whom fought gallantly for Germany in the first world war. No way could a little antisemitic rhetoric by a German leader be anything more than that. Rhetoric.

Well we all know what happened.  Another Churban happened. A Churban better known as the Holocaust. The shock must have been immense to those whose lives one day was as normal as could be – and the next day they were rounded up and sent to Ghettos eventually to be killed.

Is history repeating itself? Are we not seeing the signals being sent from Iran? The antisemitic rhetoric coming out of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, in Iran is no less frightening that the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Nazi Germany’s supreme leader in the 30s.  Hitler killed 6 million Jews. There are 6 million Jews in Israel.

People who are living the good life here in America seem to just be writing Khameni’s rhetoric off as – rhetoric. Just as American Jews in the 30s felt about the Hitler‘s rhetoric. Even German Jews living in Germany felt that way.

Will we not learn anything from history? If the leader of a powerful nation says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, should we not believe him? Should we not believe that given the means and  the opportunity, Iran will do exactly that?  And isn’t this nuclear deal increasing Iran’s ability to do it? Do we really think that giving Iran what it wants will bring them into the family of peaceful nations… that Iran will stop seeing the US as the Great Satan and Israel as the Little Satan?

I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to be figure out that Iran will carry out it’s threat when they think they are capable of doing so. A capability they may have in very short order once they are able to buy and develop the most sophisticated weaponry available on earth.  This deal guarantees them that. What do you suppose they will use those weapons for?

I am not saying it is 1939 all over again. Conditions today are entirely different than they were then. Jews are not being rounded up and placed in Ghettos by anti-Semitic governments. We have a strong Israel now. And a US government that has guaranteed that it has Israel’s back. Governments of the world are combating antisemitism instead of fomenting it.  So, no – it isn’t 1939 all over again. Not even close. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the clear threat of an Iran that in the not too distant future will be well equipped to destroy Israel. If not directly, then by proxy (Hezbollah and Hamas).

I don’t know that we can change the inevitable. This deal, bad as it is, will probably go through. But we should at least recognize just how bad it is. It is a deal that should have never been made. Not until Iran was more desperate than it is now.  A deal that was made with an Iran knowing that all options were NOT really on the table. They knew that this President would never go to war. That made it too easy for Iran to get exactly what they wanted – giving up little in exchange.

We should be aware of the dangers of a hostile country in Israel’s neighborhood - a country bent on its destruction now getting the money and the means to do it.  We cannot afford to be complacent. I don’t want to see Jerusalem destroyed yet again!  God forbid. And it could happen suddenly.

Friday, July 24, 2015

When Piety becomes Worthless in the Eyes of God

Guest Post by Netanel Gertner

Prominent Jews caught in a money laundering scheme in 2009 (NYT)
It is commonly taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Less talked about is the First Temple, which is surprising. Surprising, because the precursor to its destruction is well documented; because the First Temple was still the era of prophecy. Prophecies in which God speaks in His own words about the problems of the day that had ruined society.

We are told that each generation that does not see the Temple rebuilt has participated in it’s destruction. This is harsh, but logical. It means that were such a generation to have a Temple, its deeds would eventually lead to its destruction. We are part of the problem if we cannot develop and maintain a society that is morally and ethically upright. 

The Shabbos before Tisha b’Av is Parshas Dvarim, known as Shabbos Chazon – named for the opening words of the Haftora, Chazon Yishaya, extracted here:

שִׁמְעוּ דְבַר-ה קְצִינֵי סְדֹם הַאֲזִינוּ תּוֹרַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַם עֲמֹרָה. לָמָּה-לִּי רֹב-זִבְחֵיכֶם יֹאמַר ה שָׂבַעְתִּי עֹלוֹת אֵילִים וְחֵלֶב מְרִיאִים וְדַם פָּרִים וּכְבָשִׂים וְעַתּוּדִים לֹא חָפָצְתִּי. כִּי תָבֹאוּ לֵרָאוֹת פָּנָי מִי-בִקֵּשׁ זֹאת מִיֶּדְכֶם רְמֹס חֲצֵרָי. לֹא תוֹסִיפוּ הָבִיא מִנְחַת-שָׁוְא קְטֹרֶת תּוֹעֵבָה הִיא לִי חֹדֶשׁ וְשַׁבָּת קְרֹא מִקְרָא לֹא-אוּכַל אָוֶן וַעֲצָרָה. חָדְשֵׁיכֶם וּמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם שָׂנְאָה נַפְשִׁי הָיוּ עָלַי לָטֹרַח נִלְאֵיתִי נְשֹׂא. וּבְפָרִשְׂכֶם כַּפֵּיכֶם אַעְלִים עֵינַי מִכֶּם גַּם כִּי-תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ. רַחֲצוּ הִזַּכּוּ הָסִירוּ רֹעַ מַעַלְלֵיכֶם מִנֶּגֶד עֵינָי חִדְלוּ הָרֵעַ. לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט אַשְּׁרוּ חָמוֹץ שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה

“Listen to Hashem, you leaders of Sodom. Listen to the law of our God, people of Gomorrah!”

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”, says Hashem. “I am stuffed from your burnt offerings and sacrifices of rams and the fat of cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

“Your celebrations of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos and your fast days, are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings! I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you raise your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you might offer many prayers, I will not listen, because your hands are covered with the blood of innocents!

“Wash yourselves and become clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways; learn to do good. Seek justice! Help the oppressed and vulnerable! Defend the cause of orphans! Fight for the rights of widows!” – (1:10-17)

There were many prophets whose stories did not make the canon of Tanach; the ones that were included were selected because of their resonance beyond their time.

The prophet goes on to mention corrupt leadership and bribery. It is impossible to rid society of evil completely; even in the most ideal world, there would still be a justice system. This is a recognition of human choice and error. But this is when a society is challenged; when evil rears it’s ugly head, how do we respond? It ought to be forcefully and definitively dealt with. 

This is why perversion of justice may be the ultimate crime. If a society is too corrupt and broken to protect it’s citizens, people are trodden on without ramification. That society, in a subtle, but substantial way, endorses and protects criminals and predators. If only lone individuals care, the society as a whole is morally bankrupt. Where is the compassion?

How many of our vulnerable people are unprotected? Every year there is another scandal, another cover up, another aguna, another molester, another abuser. When our institutions and leaders fail to remove criminals or call them out for what they are, it is a betrayal, at your expense. We are not a community if we do not protect and ease the burdens of our brothers and sisters. There is grave injustice when individuals proven dangerous beyond reasonable doubt are allowed to retain influence. That this could be a veiled reference to any one of numerous incidents says a lot about where we are.

A generation that does not see the Temple rebuilt has participated in it’s destruction. The prophet’s words echo, and it is chilling. 

Don’t misunderstand this. This is not a polemic against our leaders. This is a call to action directly to you. Don’t rely on other people for a job you could and should be taking on. We need you.

We have much to be proud of today, but make no mistake; we cannot launder or buy off mediocrity in one area with excellence in another. The people of that time were diligent and meticulous in their prayer and sacrifice, yet so awful at other things. The amount and scale of Torah study and charity in the world today is phenomenal, and unprecedented in history. But how much is it really worth if we do not act like God’s ambassadors on this world? In the words of Chazon:

לָמָּה-לִּי רֹב-זִבְחֵיכֶם יֹאמַר ה שָׂבַעְתִּי עֹלוֹת אֵילִים וְחֵלֶב מְרִיאִים וְדַם פָּרִים וּכְבָשִׂים וְעַתּוּדִים לֹא חָפָצְתִּי – “I am stuffed from your burnt offerings and sacrifices of rams and the fat of cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats!” (1:11)

The lessons we ought to learn from history knock on our door, repeatedly, louder and louder. In Moshe’s parting address to the people he spent his life trying to save, he says to them:

אֲדַבֵּר אֲלֵיכֶם וְלֹא שְׁמַעְתֶּם – “I spoke; yet you would not listen!” (1:43)

We see problems around us, and we do not fix enough of them. Praying more, with greater intensity, is not the solution that these problems require. We just need to fix them! If we had a Temple today, we would lose it; otherwise it would be here. How can we fast, weep, and pray when there are so many poor, hungry, abused, and other vulnerable people around us? Is it something to be proud of that we are in dire need of so many excellent charities and outstanding individuals? Such individuals and organisations lead the way for the rest of – but they do not remove our own obligations.

It is so easy to make that difference; resolve to be better, in a real, substantial, accountable way. 

Volunteer more. Give more charity. Give food and clothes away. Make sure no child is left without a school. Participate in your community. Use any influence you have, talk to influential people, and make that difference. Even if it’s just you alone. Take responsibility for the people around you, who don’t yet know that you are someone they can rely on to help them.

Our enemies label us as cruel; but they could not call us cruel, unless on some level, we are also cruel to our own. In 2014, several rogue Jews killed an innocent teen; something unheard of. While there was a unanimous and loud global outcry from our communities, something about the way we educate and raise young people generated that grotesque tragedy. They killed a person, another human being, who was so “other” in their minds that it did not matter that he was innocent. And we all think that way to some extent.

So read Chazon. Because it reads like it was written especially for us. If it’s too hard to motivate yourself to cry for what happened long ago, then cry for now; for how far we are from where we are meant to be, for the agony in our communities. Cry for the all the injustice around you that you can’t seem to do anything about; tears that burn. I know I will. 

צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה – “Zion will be redeemed through justice; it’s restoration will be through righteousness.” (1:27)

Netanel Gertner sends out a weekly email with Divrei Torah. He can be reached at nathan.gertner@gmail.com