Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Two Israel Haters

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
I laughed so hard - I almost choked on my doughnut this morning when I read this little news item on VIN
Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday. 
I could not contain myself. Thank goodness my wife knows the Heimlich Maneuver… you never know.

Is there anyone in the world who takes this woman seriously? She is either a shill for Hamas or one of the stupidest people on the face of the earth.

Of course accusing Israel of war crimes is no laughing matter. But to not mention at all the war crimes committed daily by Hamas - sending deadly rockets indiscriminately at Israel into civilian populations is  mind-blowingly prejudiced. As is not mentioning the fact that Israel has agreed to a cease fire and actually stopped its offensive, while Hamas kept firing rockets into Israel. There are so many violations by Hamas, it would take pages upon pages to list them. 

Nor does she take into account the fact that Hamas actually wants its people to be killed by Israelis so that people like her can be convinced that Israel is committing war crimes. When a mother from Gaza cries over her dead family, Hamas privately cheers while publicly ‘showing’ the poor innocent lives that have been lost; the severely injured lying hospital beds talking about their losing wives, parents and children, the new homeless  whose homes were blown up by Israeli missiles… This works very well for them. The more damage they have, the more they like it. Israel has no chance of not killing civilians no matter how much they try to avoid it.

And they try mightily. Not only that -  Israel has set up field hospitals near the Gaza border for Palestinians that have been injured. How many Jews can be found in any Hamas controlled hospital? (Hint: Zero). The only thing you can find in a hospital in Gaza (besides the obvious) is rockets ready for use against Israeli civilian populations.

And she chooses to criticize Israel implying a threat to try its leaders for war crimes?! If there is anyone to blame for the innocent civilian casualties in Gaza it is clearly Hamas. They are the war criminals. Period. End of discussion.

While Ms. Pillay may not be the brightest bulb in the room, Neturei Karta (NK) cannot be accused of being stupid. They are simply brainwashed in the extreme to the point of being evil. How else can anyone explain the picture in Al Jazeera of a young Chasidic looking man holding a Palestinian flag at a rally protesting Israel’s attack on Gaza on July 11th?

The entire Jewish population of Israel is in mortal danger and this rather well groomed fellow joins with Palestinian protesters and their sympathizers, carries a Palestinian flag, wears a button that says ‘Free Palestine’ and an ID badge saying ‘Jew - not a Zionist’. All while Israel is being bombarded daily with hundreds of rockets. All while Jewish soldiers are risking their lives in Gaza trying to put an end to it. The funerals for the soldiers are heart rendering! ...and this guy stands with their murderers!

Of course the constant refrain I hear from the right is that no mainstream Jewish organization takes NK seriously. Not even the most right wing ones. Even Satmar rejects them. Typically you will hear comments from the right like, ‘There are very few of them - probably numbering less than a total of a hundred or so worldwide and everyone condemns what they do’.

Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London

Well, I’m not so sure that that they have no support at all from the right. Unfortunately there is a very prominent Charedi Dayan in England by the name of Aharon Dovid Dunner that has absolutely no problem speaking at one of their protests. I have come across a video from a while back of Neturei Karta in England protesting the disruption of graves at a construction site in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Dayan Dunner had no problem at all speaking at their rally. This does not look to me like a rejection of Neturei Karta. This looks more like tacit approval of the group, despite their disgusting behavior.

I cannot accept any kind of explanation that says he rejects them but only uses their platform to state his views - which happens to agree with them in that instance. That would be like joining with Hamas in support of Tznius in women’s clothing. By standing with them, you imply their legitimacy no less than standing with the Conservative or Reform movement implies legitimizing them.

Dayan Dunner is a respected figure in the mainstream Torah world. He actually spoke in Monsey’s Ohr Somayach, a mainstream Yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva. (Photos of the event are available here). 

I call upon the Jewish world to reject not only Neturie Karta, but to reject Dayan Dunner who by his mere presence on the same stage with them tacitly approves of them.  I would also ask that Ohr Somayach of Monsey express regret in inviting him to address their members.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Message to Elimelech Miesels: Time to Come Clean

Meisels (top left) pictured in a flyer together with R' Matisyhau Salomon
The rockets are still flying from Gaza into Israel.  And our brave soldiers have entered Gaza risking their lives for our people. May God protect them. As of right now 28 Israeli soldiers have been killed by Hamas. May God Avenge their blood. The situation is very serious. I pray that it ends soon and that Hamas is either destroyed or made impotent. 

As we await a positive outcome to this situation there is another horror story coming out of Israel. One that I wrote about last week. This too has destroyed some lives. Until yesterday, I did not know just how sick the sexual encounters Elimelech Meisels had with his victims were.

To briefly review - Meisels who was for many years the head of four seminaries was judged to be a danger to the young women that attend them. The Special Chicago Beis Din created to deal with these matters made that determination in a published letter. That Beis Din consisted of three of the most prominent Rabbonim - all Poskim and Dayanim - in the city.

As I said, I did not until yesterday know the nature of his illicit sexual encounters. Grounds for removing him from any association with those seminaries can range anywhere from simply putting his arm around a girl in need of emotional support which is highly inappropriate but perhaps understandable  - to activities that are far more serious. Based on the wording of the original letter calling it ‘unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature’ I strongly suspected it was the latter.

Yerachmiel Lopin posted about the matter immediately and was inundated with comments. I weighed in shortly after my own verification about the validity of the Chicago Beis Din’s proclamation. The accolades about Meisels poured in. Comments ranged from denial and disbelief  - calling the Beis Din letter a forgery to saying his accusers were unstable girls  that lied because of some sort of personal vendetta. Others said it was impossible to believe since the behavior they always saw in him was inspiring and beyond exemplary.

Then there are all those who say that a man is innocent until proven guilty. We should give this wonderful man with so many accomplishments under his belt – the benefit of the doubt. We must be Dan L’Kaf Zechus.

After doing a little bit of research on the nature of his acts, I have found out exactly what he did. To call it unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature is an understatement. I am not at liberty to say what it was. But suffice it to say it was disgusting by any standard - even if he were not done by a respected seminary head.

The problem now is the following. Elimelech Meisels has not come forward publicly to admit he sexually abused some of his students. And that increases the Chilul HaShem immensely. The fact is that he not only violated the victims he had sexual contact with. He violated the entire rest of his student body who still believe in him and defend him.  By not admitting what he did publicly, the myth of his righteousness will continue to be perpetuated. They will continue living in denial and disbelief.  That the man who so strongly inspired them is an innocent man having been falsely accused by some very convincing liars claiming to be victims.

Elimelech Meisels must come clean and tell the truth. He must completely sever his relationship in every way to those seminaries, and not simply  just stop teaching there. He should then seek professional help.  

I strongly disagree with the Israeli Beis din that restored the reputation of these seminaries by simply removing him from the premises. It appears I am not the only one. My Alma Mater, HTC is severing their relationship with them too as is Torah Umesorah.

The fact is that a public admission of guilt is part of the Teshuva process. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has written two wonderful posts (here and here) on the subject that should be read by all.

As a footnote, I would add that the Gemarah’s principle of Ayn Apitopus L’Aryaos (there is no guardian for sex) is as applicable today as it ever was. And it applies to everyone, no matter what his station; no matter how respected; no matter how popular.

There have been many great people including great rabbinic figures, popular Kiruv rabbis, Poskim,  and Roshei Yeshiva that have fallen into this trap. They have allowed themselves to be put into situations that led to behavior they never thought themselves capable of.

I have never been more supportive of the Hilchos Yichud than I am now.  Any seminary head or individual that secludes themeslves with a woman for whatever reason puts himlsef at risk. Male psychotherapists, psychiatrists, rabbis, and counselors of any kind should never lock any doors when treating a woman. There should always be an open door with another person close by and the ability to enter the room at will.

I don’t know whether Meisels was a sexual predator whose ulterior motive was to set up seminaries for purposes of finding vulnerable females to satisfy his aberrant sexual needs… or if he was L’Shma from the beginning and just fell into a trap while seriously trying to help a troubled girl one on one late into the night. It really doesn’t matter to the victim. It should have never happened. If there are troubled young women that need counseling, he should have sent them to professionals.

In almost every case the perpetrator was  charismatic individual. The behavior of a charismatic leader is well described by Yerachmiel Lopin about Meisels in response to comments made in a recent Facebook post
Amazing", "friendly, "always available," and "fun" came up over and over in comments from many of the Meisels students. It is also clear that he was in the seminary at all hours and took girls out for "drives" or "coffee" in the early a.m. hours. Unfortunately, so many of them were besotted by him to the point that they would not let themselves admit the pattern or recognize how far along they were in themselves being potentially seducible. 
My advice to parents contemplating a seminary experience in Israel for their daughters is to stay away from charismatic seminary heads. Young women are too easily drawn to them which can lead to an intimacy from which they will never recover.

Under Constant Rocket Attack

For the duration of Operation Protective Edge I am hosting an advertisement free of charge  for an organization known as the Israel Free Loan Association (IFLA). It is located to the right and is a worthy cause. Please click on the image to read about what they do and how you can help.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Jew is Required to Learn Torah, Period

Guest Post by Yossie Litwak*

In a recent post I wrote about changes happening in the Charedi world that impacts on their Shiddach situation. I received the following e-mail from a young man deeply committed to the Charedi paradigm of Torah study. In the interest of fairness and balance and in my continuous goal of seeking Emes and I have decided to publish it.  As a condition for publication he asked that I not reveal his real identity. I agreed. His words follow: 

I enjoy your column but would like to respectfully disagree on your recent post: Should Women Marry a Kollel Man. Before I start I'd like to tell you that I am 21 years old and just recently got back from a 3 year learning stint in Israel. This can either be taken as "he's full of unreasonable and illogical enthusiasm," or, as I like to see it in my friends and myself, we are at the height of our spiritual growth. It's not a coincidence that many people, as they live through more of life’s experiences, lose touch with their original passion for Torah and its goals. I would like to suggest that the fresh insights from a boy straight out of yeshiva can have a lot of the truth, clarity, and honesty that may get lost as people older, notwithstanding that the boys' views may be unpolished, due to age.

The way our world works is that above all else, a Jew is required to learn Torah. Period, end of story. Anyone who denies this is not a believing, observant Jew. Notice - I didn't say someone who doesn't learn Torah is not observant, rather someone who denies that a Jew must learn. 

To sit and learn all day in Kollel is a beautiful thing. From what I have observed up close Kollel men are largely the best of the best, elite of the elite. The way the world would work if we all had unlimited money, and will work when mashiach comes,is that we'll all be learning and essentially serving g-d full time a la “shivti b’veis hashem kol yemei chayai”. Torah is not just another obligation to quickly fulfill. Technically, merely saying shema would satisfy the obligation to learn, but would totally miss its spirit.

Now that that's established let's look at our Kollel system. True, it is not a perfect system, but what system is? Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. Experience shows that religious Jews from all backgrounds appreciate its beauty. It's incredible! Thousands upon thousands of young men learning all day, with beautiful middos, families and hashkofos.

I did my research and found out that when this trend started 25-30 years ago everyone asked the same questions that they ask now, "Who will support the next generation, etc." But the fact is, they have, and still do, get by, and more importantly, they end up preserving the beauty of total devotion to Torah.

Meaning that at the end of the day they are scraping and getting by. Let's not focus on the rich parents scenario; i.e. who support fully, forever, from unlimited cash, to fancy vacations, to huge houses, because they are definitely in minority. Let's focus on the majority of the Kollel world. Yes, there may be many sleepless nights, psychological worries, fears of the future (not that these phenomena aren't there in working families) but - to repeat - they are getting by!!

Most Kollel families (and I mean real Kollel families, not “52-week honeymooners” in Arzei Habirah) are not going on vacations, not spending a dime more than they need to, not eating fancy foods, not buying fancy clothes. They are scrimping and saving and struggling, all to do the will of G-d to the best of their understanding.

Those who experience it up close, as I recently have in Israel, know that it’s truly a beautiful thing. You might tell me that the system will collapse. But as I have said, what's with the last 30 years, we are already a couple of generations into it, to everyone’s surprise.

If these heroes of ours are willing to scrimp, save and sacrifice in order to learn, then to suggest that we pull them out of yeshivas and/or discourage the next generation from attending Kollels can be viewed as bitul Torah and, in my humble opinion,Jewish suicide!

One can argue that working families have more money and are more comfortable etc.
But working families' needs are greater, no matter how much a working man makes - he needs more. His standard of his cars, houses, and vacations go up. A real Kollel man sacrifices all of these! He needs a roof, food, and water. It may be very hard, but if they're willing to sacrifice other pleasures, as many as there are, so be it!!!

For those among us who will be martyrs of physical pleasure for the spiritual sake of the Jewish nation, that is their struggle to decide to take on, and kol hakavod! 

As I said before, if no one is keeling over in the street because of lack of food and if these people keep learning for the sake of g-d, then they should continue uninterrupted and unchallenged!

In the year 2014, with all our technology etc. which make it so easy to drag one down, shouldn’t we be thrilled to know there are such men who are our shining light through the heavy darkness, keeping us a nation with a vibrant pulse, I know this sounds highly idealistic but I believe in the strongest sense that it's all true. Let us not be stuck on how we have done things in the past (eser batlanim, etc.). Let us be modern in our thinking and be flexible and innovative by focusing on today’s needs; which call for a dose of extra ruchnius, more than we have ever needed.

One may also argue that not everyone belongs in Kollel full time. I would respond to that argument with my strongestagreement! My main point is NOT to send all of the world’s Jewish youth to Kollel. Rather, that if they choose to go on their own, let us applaud it rather than denounce it, and recognize that at the end of the day, they will sacrifice, and ultimately survive,all for the greater good of klal yisroel. Is there social pressure to do this? Undoubtedly. Is it from their rabbeim? Surely! But so is their core belief in Hashem, their commitment to shmiras Shabbos and their concern for klal yisrael. Of the all the pressures out there on our youth, mah tov that THIS is the pressure that is our “problem”.

I do agree with your secular studies point - and this Kollellifestyle is not for everyone obviously! However if one wants to go, let him go! At the very least let us, first and foremost recognize and celebrate all the positive in Kollel, before focusing on the drawbacks.
Again, one may chalk all of this up to youthful idealism or naiveté, but I feel we are privileged that for the first time in how many generations we have merited a dominant national mindset to go learn G-d's Torah as a priority!

Let's embrace it, not challenge it! If these noble Kollel men arephysically alive, strong willed, and battling, then they're heroes of the highest regard!!

*Not his real name

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Staying the Course in the Face of a Successful Tactic

Whose fault is it?
Early this morning I turned on the radio on my way to Shul to hear the latest on the situation in Israel. I heard a reporter say that there were a large number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza this morning. A missile had been fired by Israel into the densely populated area of Gaza City. PA President Mahmoud Abbas called it a massacre.

This is a tactic that works. At some point the nations of the world including the United States will not continue to tolerate the increasing numbers of civilian casualties. Even if they are not the target of Israel’s attacks the collateral damage will put pressure on Israel to stop. So far, thankfully, this is not the case.

It is indeed sad that any innocent civilians are being killed.  But do not be fooled into thinking it is the fault of the Israeli government. They have gone way out of their way to avoid civilian casualties. The city that was hit today had 2 days warning of a major strike. The population had ample time to leave the area. If they had done so, there would have been no casualties at all. They chose to stay.

Let us be clear. This is a tactic. Hamas knows that it has no other means of winning its war with Israel. Nor has it had any luck convincing other Arab nations that they are not themselves the ones at fault. Even Abbas blamed Hamas for the increasing casualties because of their refusal to accept an Egyptian brokered cease fire (which Israel accepted immediately).

Hamas has very few if any friends. They even broke with Iran over their policies with respect to Syria. To their chagrin their rockets have done little damage due to Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’. They did not expect that to happen at all.

And yet they keep on sending rockets into Israel  which assures an Israeli response. They need Israel to respond and kill as many of their civilians as possible. They realize that is the only way they can get any kind of world sympathy. They have been urging their population not to leave their homes even after being warned about an impending attack. They call these people brave defenders of the Palestinians cause. ‘Palestinians are defending their people with their bare chests’ one of their leaders said recently.

An attack happens. Mothers are seen crying. Severely injured people are seen bleeding in hospital beds. Dead babies killed when their home was blown up are laid out in front of cameras to show the world who Israel is ‘targeting’. Inadvertent killing of some Palestinian children playing soccer on a beach is filmed ‘proving’ that Israel ‘purposely targets’ people who have nothing to do with Hamas when in truth Israel was aiming at tunnels on that beach that Hamas uses to sneak into Israel and in no way targeted those children.

The more of their civilians get killed, the better they like it. Each crying mother carrying her dead baby – killed by an Israeli missile increases world sympathy for them. Who wouldn’t feel sympathy of a crying mother who just lost a precious child?! That is a tactic that works.

Before you know it the UN will meet and will censure Israel for their disproportionate response. (Translation: Not enough Jews are dying making it an unfair fight).

Israel has no choice to defend itself and take out targets they have determined to be a danger to the lives of their citizens. They are doing whatever is humanly possible to avoid innocent civilians from being killed in the process. But how do you do that effectively when Hamas does their level best to assure their civilians become martyrs for the cause?

Israel must not be deterred. They must continue to do what they have been doing for the purpose of reaching a sustainable ceasefire. They must continue to have respect for innocent human life even if the enemy doesn’t. Israel should not be deterred by the increasing criticism over the increasing casualties.

If the nations of the world  truly want to stop the carnage they should support Israel in that goal and realize that the casualties are the direct responsibility of Hamas itself.

I’m glad to see Secretary of State John Kerry this morning reaffirm Israel’s right to defend itself in the strongest of terms. I did not hear him use the word restraint. His goal is a sustainable cease fire. That is exactly Israel’s goal. I am equally glad to see that Senator Lindsay Graham this morning urged Israel to stay the course and get the job done and that the morality of a war is not to be judged by the number of casualties sustained by the enemy.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bring Them Home Safely

As our young men in Israel enter Gaza to do battle with our enemies who wish to annihilate us I am posting this prayer composed by the Chief Rabbinate asking God to protect them and make them victorious over their enemies. Please take a moment to say this prayer. The English translation is in the right margin. Click to enlarge. My hope is that politics will be put aside and that every Shul worldwide will recite this prayer (or one like it) after the weekly Torah reading this Shabbos.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Questions About the Satmar Rebbe

Satmar Rebbe, arriving in Switzerland on the Kasztner transport from Bergen-Belsen 
In a hard hitting 2 part article in Tablet Magazine (part two is here) about R’ Yoel Teitlebaum - the Satmar Rebbe, Menachem Keren-Katz details biographical data about him that paints a very ugly picture of a man whose many followers believe to have been the greatest rabbi of his generation. Indeed even those outside of Satmar consider him to be among the greatest.

To his credit, the Satmar Rebbe built an empire of proud Chasidim in Williamsburg out of few Holocaust survivors originally consisting of mostly Hungarian Jews. Satmar Chasidim are known for their piety, their insular ways, their distinctive look (long Payos, long beards, the long black coat called a Kapote or Bekeshe, the furry hat called a Shtreimel), the extremes of modesty in which their women dress,  and their legendary acts of Chesed towards fellow Jews of all stripes  

The Satmar Rebbe was a Talmud Chacham and Posek with few peers whose extreme piety was legendary. He built an infrastructure that includes an educational system, many synagogues, and many interest free loan societies. Satmar Chasidim have since grown to be one of the largest groups of Chasidim in the world. After his death the village of Kiryas Joel (named for him) was established and it now flourishes. It is run by the son of his successor, R’ Aharon Teitelbaum. (Williamsburg is now run By R’ Aharon Teitelbaum’s brother, Zalman).  

How wonderful this is when looked at in isolation. The problem is that there is a lot more to the story of the Satmar Rebbe that may not be so flattering.

My issues with Satmar are well known by those who read this blog frequently. It is his attitude about the State of Israel. 

As I have said many times in the past - although I strongly disagree with him, I respect his view that Israel has no right to exist based on his interpretation of a Gemorah.  But I do not respect at all how he expresses those views and the behavior that has been generated by it in his successors and followers (e.g. the recent disgusting comments by the current Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel). I especially reject his virulent attack in writing aganst another Gadol, R’ A. Y. Kook who supported the idea of a Jewish State.

And although I strongly disagree with Satmar’s isolationist approach to the world, I can understand the view that his people must live insular lives in order to be protected from negative influences.

Dr. Keren-Katz does not stop there. His attack against the Satmar Rebbe is bad as it gets. After some exhaustive research about his activities pre and post Holocaust Dr. Katz’s conclusions are devastating.

I do not believe one must necessarily come to these conclusions even after reading his presentation of the facts. They may in fact reflect his own bias and can very easily be interpreted favorably and consistent with his anti Israel views.  Dr. Keren-Katz’s lengthy article should be read in its entirety first to better understand his perspective.

At the end of his article, Dr. Katz asks some hard questions. Are they valid? If not why not? If yes they deserve answers.
Why did Rabbi Yoel fail to warn his followers before the Holocaust?
Why did he try to immigrate to Israel after forbidding his followers to do so?
Why did he thwart attempts at cooperation, which could have saved so many lives?
Why did he not set a personal example for his Hasidim?
Why did he abandon his congregation, incarcerated in ghettos, and flee in the middle of the night?
How did he come to abandon his closest friends in the Cluj ghetto?
Why did he board the Kasztner train, which was organized by the abhorred Zionists? 
Having survived, why did he never return to rebuild his congregation in Satmar?
Why did he refrain from assisting in the spiritual and religious rehabilitation of the Holocaust survivors in the DP camps?
Why did he alienate himself from Agudath Israel and the Zionist organizations that had helped to extricate him from the Nazi horrors?
And why did he adopt such radical stances, such as blaming the Holocaust on the Zionists, to justify his actions and decisions during the Holocaust? 
From Tablet: Menachem Keren-Kratz, a researcher of Hungarian Orthodoxy and of contemporary Haredi society in the State of Israel, is the author of Maramaros-Sziget: Extreme Orthodoxy and Secular Jewish Culture at the Foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

Update: Upon further reflection I realized that the post as originally written did not accurately reflect my feelings on this matter. I have thus revised the post to better do so.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Frum Footsteps

Guest Post by Allison Josephs

Allison Josephs (right) seen with her 'partner in Torah', actress Mayim Bialik
One of the most troubling issues for Orthodox Jewry in our day is the fact that there are so many young Jews from Chasidic and non Chasidic strict Lithuanian styleYeshiva backgrounds that are dropping out of observant Judaism. This is often referred to as going off the Derech (OTD). So severe is this problem that the Charedi world is paying serious attention to it – as article after article about it appears in Charedi publications.  (Nor has it gone unnoticed in the secular Jewish media.) What success the Charedi world has had in turning the tide is unknown to me. But I’m sure that the problem is far from being solved.

As has been made clear time and again, there are a multitude of reasons why someone might go OTD. I’m not going to go through them now as I have in the past. I do however want to focus on one aspect of this that is particularly disturbing to me. It is the fact that when someone can’t handle the strictures of of their Chasidic or Yeshivish lifestyle - instead of trying out different versions of Orthodoxy, they drop out completely.

Having written about this in the past, I quickly found out that Modern Orthodoxy (MO) is not an option for a someone raised in isolation from the rest of the world. The irony is that many of the strictures that a they might want to break away from do not exist in MO. Just to take one example, the internet which is forbidden in the Chasidic world is completely permitted in the MO world. If they were able to make the transition many of their issues would go away and they would remain observant.

But that just isn’t happening. Not only is a ‘trip to Teaneck’ like a trip to Mars for them, I’m sorry to say that the MO community has not been all that warm and welcoming to them either. Add to that the Chasidic and Yeshivish world treats Modern Orthodoxy to be as unacceptable as going completely OTD… and you have these troubled young Jews dropping out of observance completely with virtually no chance to find an alternative Orthodoxy.

There is an organization that helps these people make the transition from religious to secular society called Footsteps. They are a group that has no religious agenda – for or against. They simply help you make your way into a secular world without regard to religion. Chasidim that drop out find this organization eminently helpful. For the most part these former Chasidim become secular and non observant.

I have in the past lamented the fact that there was no religious version of Footsteps that could help these expatriate Chasidim transition into a more modern but observant lifestyle that would give them want they want. Well now there is one. Allison Josephs has risen to the task. This is not the first time she has risen to the task. Her program Jew in the City was created to break the stereotype of the Orthodox Jew as depicted in the media and entertainment industry. Her new project can be described a Frum Footsteps. What is that? I’ll let her tell you. Her words follow.

A year and a half ago I spoke at Rockland County Community college. After my talk, a couple approached me; they had been raised in one of the strictest Hasidic sects in Monsey, but did not feel that they could remain in it anymore. Unfortunately, their families had rejected them when they expressed their desire to lead a more moderate observant Jewish life. “We still want to be frum," they told me, "we just don’t know who to follow.”

I was troubled by how lost they were and told them I wanted to help them find a place to belong, but then someone interrupted us, and when I looked up, they were gone. I tried to find them after the talk to no avail, so I started reaching out to people at major Jewish organizations, asking if anyone wanted to help create a program to help people in this situation. Nobody was ready to do anything about it.

As the months passed I'd remember every so often that these people were still out there, needing help, but then several weeks ago, something pushed me to finally act: I read an account online of an ex-Satmar woman who wanted to stay observant after she left her Satmar community, but every non-Hasidic school she checked out didn’t want her kid. Her new non-Hasidic neighbors never really welcomed her and her son had no one to play with until she started paying a neighbor to do so. After enough rejections, she got fed up and just left all together. Today she is no longer observant.

The moment I read this I knew that something had to be done even if I didn't know what that thing was, so I posted an article on asking our readers to speak up now if they were willing to help people in this situation. We heard from 200 people from around the world. We even had two woman volunteer to spearhead our effort which we've named "Project Makom." Its mission is: helping former and questioning Haredi Jews find their place in Orthodox Judaism.

We put out a survey to find out what former Haredim would want if people cared to help. Based on that info, our directors developed the following survey which we'd love for you to fill out. You need not be an expert. Just someone who cares and who can offer your friendship, your home, etc.

Ha'emtza readers are the perfect group to helping these wandering Jews as you represent steadfast commitment to Torah yet do so in a moderate way. We have no funding for this initiative and will only be able to help out those who are searching if each of us can help out just a bit. Thank you for being there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Should Women Seek to Marry a Kollel Man?

What every Charedi woman wants her future husband to be a part of
An article on the so called Shiddach crisis in the Charedi world appears in Gil Student’s Torah Musings. The author, Efraim Vaynman suggest that we rethink the issue in light of what appears to be a watershed moment in the Charedi world.

It is a moment where even the Charedi world itself is beginning to recognize that its current emphasis on full time Torah study for all men is unsustainable. I am frankly very happy to see that. That should be as clear as day to anyone with even the remotest knowledge of basic math.

The way the system was supported in the past was in large part by parents and grandparents contributing mightily to their Charedi children and grandchildren who were in Kollel. The obvious problem is that with family size typically so large it becomes impossible to support each and every son or son in law learning in a Kollel.  If you multiply the 6 or more children one typically finds in Charedi families by the 6 or more children each of them will have, you end up with 36 or more grandchildren per grandparent to support. The generation after that will not have any earners to support the exponentially growing learners

One would have to be literally be a millionaire in order to contribute funds significant enough to each grandchild. Add to that the cost to parents of educating children through high school and it isn’t too hard to see where this is going. The money available from both the parents and the grandparents is just not going to be there. The current system is unsustainable and everyone know it.

In Israel the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is virtually no preparation for the workplace through high school. Combined with the push to learn full time in Kollel – it makes the problem even more acute.

But as Mr. (Rabbi?) Vaynman points out the Israeli problem is being corrected by government fiat. The number of boys that will be able to learn full time will be reduced significantly as most of them will be drafted and opt for the training provided by the army. This will enable them to get good jobs once they complete military service.  Hopefully Charedi leadership will no longer fight this and realize that they will actually benefit from this both materially and spiritually. The poverty of the community as a whole will decrease. And the caliber of Torah study of those who do study full time will increase

The American Charedi scene does not have anyone being forced into a draft. But Americans by and large have some preparation for the work place since secular subject are taught in most of their schools. At the same time however, the pressure to stay in full time Torah study is immense. Both from mentors and from peers.  At this point I’m not sure who is better off. But I do think things may in fact be moving in a direction of better viability for Charedim in both countries.

The evidence for this in this country is something I talk about all the time: the emergence and growth of moderate Charedim who do prepare well for the workplace, many of whom become professionals. While retaining their Charedi Hashkafos - their lifestyles differ little from the Modern Orthodox right.

These are all good signs. But what does this have to do with the Shiddach crisis? Mr. Vaynman says that while realities for Charedi men are changing - what Charedi women are still looking for in a man is not. They are all looking for Kollel men. While there are many reasons why the Shiddach crisis exists – this situation contributes mightily to the problem.

Woman who attend seminaries in Israel are infused with the importance of Torah study for men. They are taught that these are the kind of men they should seek as husbands. They are taught that the highest level of Judaism a woman can attain is to marry and support a man who is in Kollel and encourage him to do so as long as possible.

As the pool of men who study full time decreases, the pool of women seeking them increases. Thus there are less marriage prospects for these women.  The Kollel system is apparently beginning to go down the trek of servicing only the best and brightest. The rest of the young men in the Charedi world will be working. Less learners will be better supported by more earners. And the money raised for learners will not be diluted by the masses. Something I have advocated for many years. This is as it should be

But what about the young women being taught to demand husbands that learn full time? Is that going to change? I think it has to. That may not solve the Shiddach crisis for the Charedi world. But it sure would help if these young women are not indoctrinated to seek only Kollel men.

What is unfortunate here is how we even got to this point. Why do we now have a system that either rejects or places so little value on secular education? It was not always like that. Even in the Charedi schools. My first 2 years of high school were spent in Telshe. Secular subjects were taken seriously then.  

We had a full load of course work that included math, science, and social science, and English. We were required to a full load of courses. We had to study Shakespeare. In some cases term papers were required. We had homework from every teacher and were required to study hard for tests. Grades were based on (among other things) mostly how well we did on those tests. Many Charedi Yeshivos, including Torah VoDaath, Chaim Berlin, and even Lakewood’s high school in Philadelphia had curricula like this and required their students to do homework.  

High school graduations were matter of pride among teachers, parents, students, and even Roshei Yeshiva. Today those studies have been reduced to a bare minimum. If I understand correctly Philadelphia which once prided itself as having an excellent secular studies program has reduced the number of hours per day they study those subjects and no longer allows their secular teachers to assign homework!

Why did it change? How did we let it come to this? How is it that what was perfectly acceptable – even laudable has become barely tolerated by now?

Well necessity is the mother of invention. Or in this case – reinvention. There is going to be a paradigm shift – like it or not. I happen to like it. I think seminary heads in Israel ought to like it too and stop teaching their students to seek only men who study Torah full time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Unwanted Physical Contact of a Sexual Nature

Elimelech Meisels
Rabbi Elimelech Meisels is a tremendous Talmid Chochom,  a co-author of Hashkafic works, and stemming from a distinguished family. He is an incredible Mechanech. Thousands of girls can testify to that.  He has the respect and admiration of many thousands of former students and their parents for being there for their daughters. He has helped girls get through many things and actually saved lives. Where would they be today if not for him? He is a special man who helped Klal Yisroel in countless ways. 

This is the problem with a serial sex offender like Meisels. They are often very accomplished and successful individuals that inspire many followers with their charisma.  And yet he is a sexual predator who preys on the vulnerable. He knows how to ‘groom’ his victims. Most of whom are in their late teens. How talented this individual is. And how sick. Yes, it is unfortunately possible to be a talented Mechanech who has saved many lives and at the same time be a callous sexual predator that can ruin many others lives – all for his own personal sexual gratification.

It is difficult to understand how it is possible for someone like this to have been preying on the vulnerable for so long. At the same time, it’s easy to see how he can get away with it. The accolades in the first paragraph are based on comments many of his former students made defending him on Yerachmiel Lopin’s blog. He is a beloved figure. For the many he helped – which is no doubt the majority, he is an icon. It is therefore impossible to believe someone like this could ever do anything so egregiously wrong. Not only is he a great Mechanech - he is also a happily married man. How could anyone dare say anything so negative about him?

It is this kind of thinking that a motivates the defenders of people like Nechemya Weberman… or Baruch Lanner. It is also the kind of thinking that causes rabbis of good will to say that abuse must be first reported to them before going to the police. The thinking is that people with such great reputations and so many accomplishments cannot possibly have done what they have been accused of doing. They must be given the benefit of the doubt. Allowing the police to get involved would instantly ruin the man’s reputation. So of course the rabbis must be consulted… God forbid that this man, his wife, and children suffer needlessly at the hands of a false accuser. That’s what good reputations will do for the predator.  Which of course allows them to continue their clandestine behavior while continuing to behave in an exemplary manner in public.

But at least in this case, justice seems to have prevailed so far. Victims of this guy have come forward and the rabbis believed them. A letter was published by the special Beis Din in Chicago created for exactly this purpose. Here it is their statement in its entirety:  
The Special Beis Din of Chicago has convened to address allegations of improper conduct, including unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, between Elimelech Meisels and students of the following seminaries with which he is affiliated: Pnimim, Binas Beis Yaakov, Chedvas Beis Yaakov, and Keser Chaya.
Based on the testimony and documents received by the Beis Din, including testimony by the claimants and by Elimelech Meiels, the Beis Din believes that students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and it does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time.
Because these seminaries and Mr. Meisels are located in Israel and not in the United States, a distinguished Israeli Beis Din consisting of Rabbis Menachem Mendel Shafran, Chaim Malinowitz, and Tzvi Gartner has assumed for this matter.
Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst
Rabbi Zev Cohen
There are many people who have suggested that this letter is fake and the signatures are a forgery. I personally spoke to Rabbi Fuerst, one of the signatories. He told me it is real and that he signed it as did the others.

For those who don’t know, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst is the Dayan for Agudath Israel of Illinois. A Posek that was mentored by Rav Moshe Feinstein, he is the ‘go to’ Rav for many people in here in Chicago (and beyond) for just about any Shaila in Halacha one might have. He is also the Posek for NCSY Midwest.

Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz is the Av Bet Din (chief judge) of the Rabbinical Council of America (Bet Din of America) and Rosh Bet Din (Emeritus chief judge) of the Chicago Rabbinical Council Bet Din.

Rabbi  Zev Cohen is the Rav of Congregation Adas Yeshurun, a Dayan, Rosh Kollel of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel  and one of the most trusted rabbis in Chicago.

These three people do not usually cross paths. But they have come together here as one to warn the community about this guy. They do not even refer to him as rabbi, refusing to give him the title he earned (and now dishonored). Which is pretty amazing since Rabbi Fuerst’s mentor, Rav Moshe Feinstein used the title ‘rabbi’ in his Teshuvos when referring to Reform rabbis. Imagine how undeserving this fellow is of that title.

On his blog, Yerachmiel said that people close to that Beis Din told him that among his pickup lines were “my wife is boring….”. Imagine your daughter hearing things like that from her charismatic seminary head. I’m told that many seminary girls will develop a crush on their seminary heads.  That makes it easy for a dirtbag like Meisels to take advantage of them.

Yerachmiel was also told that the abuse involved many young women and was severe.

While this situation may or may not involved abuse of minors, there is no question in my mind that it involves some form of molestation or worse. If the students he abused were minors (usually defined in this country as under 18 if I understand correctly), he could be prosecuted for statutory rape if he had sex with any of them. I have no clue what the laws of the State of Israel are with respect to that. But my hope is that the distinguished rabbis in Israel who have accepted the task pursue that avenue if it is available to them.

The bottom line here is the following. If you have a daughter that will be studying in a seminary in Israel, stay far away from this man and any seminary with which he is connected.

Elimelech Meisels has been removed as head of the above mentioned seminaries. For details, see here.