Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Real World Education of a Liberal Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Turx, Trump, the Media, and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Uncivilized Behavior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Throw Them in Jail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is the Future of Modern Orthodoxy Doomed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

No Pressure. No Obligation. No Subscription Fees.

It's that time of year again. Most people like to be paid for the work they do. Even if they love their jobs. How many times have I heard a popular actor or actress who is well paid for their work say they love their jobs so much that they would do it for nothing. But the fact is that they are well paid for their work. Most of these people are multi millionaires. So I think you have to take what they say about ‘doing it for nothing’ with a grain of salt.  But I do appreciate that they love what they do.

I too love what I do here. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. But unlike those celebrities who make millions for their work, I make practically nothing. The few ads I have here barely pay for my yearly internet fees.  So once a year I make a pitch for a little financial compensation as an incentive - to go along with my labor of love.

I’ve been doing this now for over 10 years – contributing one post per day except for Shabbos and Yom Tov. It isn’t easy coming up with original material every single day of the year no matter where I am. But I have continued to do so with the rarest of exception.

I therefore once again ask that those of you that enjoy reading this blog - and if the spirit moves you - to donate* whatever amount you wish into my PayPal account (located at the top right margin). But - and this is really important - only if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it – or even if you just don’t want to donate anything, that’s perfectly fine with me. Everyone is welcome here and this blog will remain open and free.  But if you do want to show your appreciation for this blog in even a minimally financial way, it will be tell me that my work here is worth more than nothing… and it will keep me posting daily with what I hope is quality material (most of the time).

I am grateful to the Jewish Press and the Times of Israel for publishing so many of my posts online. Even though they don't pay me I appreciate the exposure. I also appreciate all those of you that are moved to comment on my posts. You add a lot and I have learned much from you.

As I said last year, good Jewish blogs are getting harder to find. I think that’s even truer today than it was last year. My blog is still here and going strong.

Once again, I want to thank all of my readers and those who comment for making this blog the success that it is.

Harry Maryles

*Contributions are not tax deductible.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Deciding Orthodox Practice

R' Hershel Schachter - a signatory to the OU Psak
The debate goes on. And it is as divisive as ever. Those who seek an egalitarian goal in Orthodoxy see denying women the ability to be serve as rabbis as a denial of their basic human rights. There is no argument that will dissuade them. Having been raised in a culture that sees  egalitarianism as an inviolable  value makes them seek to insert into Judaism wherever they can. 

It is as though these advocates of egalitarianism believe that this value is on par with all the Mitzvos of the Torah. Denying them this perceived right is seen as denying them their ability to be fulfilled as a Jewish woman… or even as Jew… or perhaps even as a human being!

How sad it is that the concept of equality between the sexes - a value which is otherwise quite noble - is used to attack the rabbis of our generation as nearancient relics of the past who refuse to recognize how badly they treat half of their own people. They deny them the right to serve God in ways they feel they best could. That these rabbis do not in any way have that as their motivation does not even occur to them. But the truth is that they are only motivated by what they believe God wants of His people. And as the most Torah knowledgeable Jews of our generation who are very aware of the culture in which they live, it is they who are most qualified to determine that. Certainly not JOFA or rabbis of far lesser stature that are sympathetic to their egalitarian cause.

But this post it is not really about that. It is to point out a comment made by Rabbi Gil Student in his own defense of the OU’s statement. Because of the hot debate over this topic, that point can easily be overlooked. I think it is too important to let slide. Here is what he said: 
In terms of process, the OU followed the right path. It did not turn to poskim in Israel, who might not fully understand the situation in the US. It turned to poskim in the U.S. – rabbis who lead their own shuls and/or visit communities across the country. They received written and oral input from leaders of many different communities. And after reaching a decision, they communicated it to the public in a lengthy document explaining their reasoning and providing their sources. 
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of what Rabbi Student said here. As I have said in the past, the 2 worlds of Orthodoxy cannot be farther apart on a variety of issues. Although there is the obvious commonality of following Halacha that all of Orhtodoxy shares, the Hashkafos seem to divide us more than they unite us. It is wishful thinking to say that the Charedi Hashkafa of the US and Israel are the same. (I should add that even in America there are communities like Satmar that fall more into the Israeli camp than they do into the American camp. But the divisions are clear.)

Just to cite a few examples of the differences: the way the internet and smartphones are treated; the way secular studies in elementary and high schools are treated; the way participatory sports are treated; (or even spectator sports in some cases)… all of these issues are treated in an almost opposite fashion by the US and by Israel. It is almost as if there were 2 Torahs. One for America and one for Israel (and Satmar like communities).

The problem is that after the Petirah (death) of major Poskim in America like Rav Moshe Feinstein, his successors have looked eastward for guidance in some cases. So that even after they had ruled on a public matter, they allowed themselves to be overruled by Israeli Poskim.

The most famous (or should I say infamous) case of this was when Rabbi Natan Slifikn’s books attempting to reconcile Torah and science were deemed to be heretical by major Charedi Poskim in Israel . Rabbi Slifkin had vetted his books via a number of Poskim who gave them their approbation. But when senior Israeli Poskim ruled that those books contained heresy, those rabbis withdrew their approbation.

I am not going to get into the exact issues that led to this ban. (Been there and done that.) I am only pointing out how looking at Israel whose culture is so radically different than ours is not the way American Poskim should feel obligated to rule. And I’m happy to see that the OU Poskim followed that principle.

That episode caused untold grief to Rabbi Slifkin and his family. And it caused many American –even Charedi Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva that were teaching that the views expressed in Rabbi Slifkin’s books were acceptable - to have to backpedal. I recall speaking to one Charedi Rosh Kollel in America who told me that his outreach efforts would now be hampered by  the Psak of those Senior Israeli Poskim. In the past he allowed people who advocated Rabbi Slifkin’s approach to speak to even in his own Avreichim about that view, right in his own Beis HaMedrash! But… no more. I asked him what he was going to do. He basically shrugged – not really having an answer.

This is why it is important to know the environment in which one Paskins. So that a Posek will not just arbitrarily take the Israeli Psak and apply it to his own environment. This is why the OU took the opportunity of their statement to not only forbid, but to permit… ruling where the role of women may be expanded within the limits of Orthodoxy. Even if not always applicable in all circumstances.

The Poskim of the OU have gone out on a limb here to do the right thing. My hope is that the leading Poskim to their right will follow their lead in this regard and allow for such an expansion when circumstances demand it. They have broken ranks with Israeli Poskim in other areas, as mentioned above. I hope they will do it here as well.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Whose Fault is it, Anyway?

Note the black eye! (YWN)
18th century Irish statesman and political theorist, Sir Edmund Burke, once famously observed that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.  At no time in history was that more true than during the Holocaust. 

But this is true at all times and for all people. And once again evil has triumphed in part for that reason in the Charedi town of Elad in the State of Israel. A 10 year old ‘Chardalit’ (Charedi/ Dati Leumi)  girl was assaulted by a  couple of young Charedi girls as she was waiting for a bus. Why did they assault her? Because she was carrying a smart-phone.  From YWN: 
She was returning from a friend’s home when she was confronted by the attackers, who said “Throw the tamei phone on the ground. We will step on it and break it for you”. They of course explained to her that the phone was not a certified kosher phone and therefore, she was not permitted to keep it. 
When she refused, she was attacked, knocked to the ground as they began pulling her hair. This continued until the bus she was waiting for arrived at the stop. She boarded the bus, bleeding and crying. They continued taunting her on the bus and when she turned to others to assist, they remained silent. Finally, the girl approached the driver, who threw them off of the bus two stops later. 
One might want to write this off and say that these are just children. Don’t judge the entire Charedi community by what a couple of immature kids might do.  Their parents would obviously never do or condone anything like that.

Well, I do not judge the entire community that way. I happen to agree that most Charedi parents would not do or condone that behavior. The problem is that there is a reason those young attackers did what they did. It’s because they have been indoctrinated to an extremely negative view of smart-phones. They see them as so evil - that it warrants this kind of response. And they have plenty of adult role models for exactly that kind of behavior. 

One does not have to search too far to find it. It was adults from an ultra-Charedi Bet Shemesh suburb that tormented a 7 year old  religious Zionist girl, yelling and screaming at her... calling her a whore because she was not dressed according to their particularly strict standard of modesty for children. 

Of course that wasn’t the real issue. It was really a turf war over a school built on the border between a ultra Charedi section and a Dati Leumi one. I guess they felt it was a legitimate tactic to torment young girls not dressed accoring to their strict standards to accomplish their ends.

I recall interviews that were taken from other ultra-Charedi residents there. They either defended it or excused it by saying they wouldn't do it but understood why the protesters did and agreed with their reasons. And no one from that community stood up to defend that young girl during those protests. They just stood idly by and let it happen... probably with a sense of justification about their ends.

So why shouldn’t these young girls express the same zealotry? After all they were defending their cause. They might have even thought they were saving the soul of that young smartphone owner!

The same kind of thinking may have been on the minds of all those onlookers who according to the YWN article saw the beating this young girl was taking and did nothing!

Whose fault is this mess? It is the fault of the kind of extremism that is so characteristic of the ultra-Charedi world in Israel. This is unlike the nuanced approach that has been adopted by the Charedi world in America. Most American Charedi rabbinic leaders  have finally realized that there may actually be a useful purpose to smart-phones. They no longer oppose them in their entirety. I’m not even sure they ever did  officially ban it. Despite that big Internet Asifa (gathering) at Citifield a few years ago that made it sound like they did. Any sort of ban they might have once considered has been replaced by urging the use of filters.

But not Israel. They are still pretty much in the banning mode. Much of the ultra-Charedi world in Israel only allows their members to carry Kosher-phones.  These phones have no internet connection and can basically only be used to make phone calls. If I understand correctly, most Charedi schools in Israel will not allow children to attend if a parent uses a smartphone.When a community takes such extreme measures to deal with a problem, which I concede is legitimate in more ways than one, then it should not be a surprise when children take extreme measures to enforce them.

But even if extremism is the mentality that guides this world, I have to wonder why the good people on the bus just sat there watching those 2 young girls beating up on that young smart-phone owner. Even if they approved of their goals they should not have approved of the means these young zealots were taking. Did they? 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Hubris and Inconsistency

Conservative Movement's Louis Ginzberg
One of the first things the founders of the Conservative Movement did was to remove the Mechtiza from their synagogues. They argued that since this idea was no where mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch there was no reason not to allow the American custom of family type seating in houses of worship. 

They felt secure in the claim that they were still a Halachic movement; and were just being sensitive to the ethos of their times. They believed they had to do this in order to conserve Judaism in America since its inherent freedoms and ‘melting pot’ spirit would cause Jews to leave Judaism entirely - siding with the American cultural ethos over the Torah’s ethos.

The Conservative Movement was not a frivolous one. They were sincere in their beliefs. Their founding founders were brilliant Talmidei Chacham, some of whom were educated in the finest Yeshivas in Europe. These European Yeshiva trained European architects of Conservative Judaism believed that the survival of Judaism required taking some innovative measures. They attributed objections to it from their right to the old fashioned European mentality these rabbis brought with them from Europe – being completely unaware of the ways of America.

If this scenario sounds a bit familiar, that’s because the same thing is happening again. But with a different issue. When the Conservative movement was founded, they saw the tradition of separating the sexes in a Shul to be an impediment not sourced in clear Halacha. So they addressed it by eliminating it… using some of the finest Talmudic minds of their time to bolster their argument.

Today, the same argument is being made by rabbis on the extreme left of Modern Orthodoxy about a different issue: The ordination of women as rabbis. They argue that there is no clear Halacha to prevent it. By not accepting this innovation they say we will lose some of our best, brightest, and most highly motivated people in Judaism. They point to the inherent inequality of denying a woman this opportunity who have only the most altruistic of reasons for seeking to serve as rabbis: which is to serve God and the Jewish people. They further argue that by denying them this opportunity Judaism will fail to be enriched by these very knowledgeable women. Whose perspective has been sorely lacking in our lives as a Jewish nation.

This kind of thinking has picked up speed by some Modern Orthodox rabbis on the extreme left. There are now seminaries that are dedicated to ordaining women. And they have some very vocal grass roots supporters. Another glass ceiling that has impeded women from achieving their full potential has now been broken - they will say.

Arguments against it by the mainstream of Orthodoxy are challenged as having no Halachic basis. It therefore allows us to incorporate innovations based on the current cultural ethos which they say outweighs arguments based on tradition. And like therefore just like the  Conservative movement of old, they claim to still be a Halachic movement.

I can’t help but notice the parallels here. In both cases there was a plausible reason to innovate against centuries of tradition. In both cases the claim was made that it did not violate Halacha. In both cases there was some merit to that argument. And in both cases rabbis that supported those innovations were highly knowledgeable of Jewish law. This was especially true of the European Yeshiva trained founders of the Conservative movement. One of them, Rabbi Louis (Levi) Ginzberg was referred to as a gaon (Talmudic genius) by R’ Elya Meir Bloch one of the founding Roshei Yeshiva of Telshe in America. He put it writing in the forward of a Sefer – thanking HaGoan R’ Levi Ginzberg for his help in getting it published.

Not so sure that  today’s Left wing defenders of female rabbis are anywhere near Rabbi Ginzberg’s league. I think they might even acknowledge that if you asked any of them. And yet not a single one of those rabbis would today remove the Mechitza from their shuls today. Nor would they likely even Daven in one. The Orthodox opposition at the time was unanimous. Modern Orthodox leaders of our time – even those on the extreme left still adhere to that prohibition. Juts to cit a rather famous example: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin staked his career on it when he insisted that Lincoln Square Synagogue install a Mechitza if  they wanted him to serve as their rabbi. Which brings me to an article by one of Rabbi Riskin’s colleagues.

Rabbi Herzl Hefter
I don’t know much about Rabbi Herzl Hefter. But I’m told he is quite brilliant and a Talmud Chacham.  Rabbi Hefter is the founder of Beit Midrash Harel, a seminary in Israel that confers the title of rabbi upon women that have studied and passed his exams. Which I’m told are similar to the ones male rabbis take.

The rejection of this innovation by a long list of mainstream Orthodox rabbis in both the right wing Charedi world and Modern Orthodox Centrist world has been unanimous. Most recently the Orthodox Union (OU) – which is guided by Centrist rabbis have added their own prestigious name to that list with a lengthy explanation written by those rabbis in defense of their position.

The left has dismissed it saying (as they have many times in the past in defense of their own position) that Orthodox opposition is not based on Halacha and instead base on arcane ideas about tradition that are irrelevant to the ethos of modern man.

In an incredible act of hubris, Rabbi Hefter has compared the arguments used in the OU statement to those made by Rabbi Dr. M.J. Raphall of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City.  Rabbi Raphall was an Orthodox Civil War era rabbi who defended slavery as a biblically sanctioned practice. While Rabbi Hefter immediately clarifies that evil of slavery as practiced in the antebellum South is nowhere near the same thing as the ‘plight’ of Orthodox Jewish women today, he nevertheless believes the arguments used by Rabbi Raphall are practically identical to the ones made in the OU statement.

Despite his claim that he is not saying the OU statement as an endorsement of slavery… and despite his concession that the opposition is idealistic and sincere - I find this comparison to be disgusting, regardless of how he views the similarity of argument.  

The imagery evoked by the slavery of the antebellum South used in any context with the rabbis that oppose him suggests a sort of guilt by association. As if any of these rabbis would have made the same arguments to support slavery in its day. Rabbi Hefter wants us to conclude that if that argument is good enough to deny women their ‘freedom’ it is good enough to deny black slaves their freedom. Which he knows they would not do thereby suggesting they rethink their argument.

The differences between enslaving people – especially the way it was done in the pre-Civil War South and denying a women a degree as rabbi are so vast that comparisons between them can have only one objective. To smear the opposition. That is what Rabbi Hefter has done. Even if he doesn’t realize it.   

The fact is that Orthodox Jewish women are not ‘enslaved’ in any way. Their contributions are as important as those of men. Their learning deserves to be recognized – and is in many ways. And we are all richer for their contributions whether they be mandated by Halacha or discretionary. Orthodox Jewish women are free to pursue any endeavor they choose.

But the one thing they can’t do by virtue of our traditions and by virtue of the unanimous opinion by virtually all of Orthodoxy’s mainstream leadership - is to become rabbis. That standard will prevail just as the standard of requiring a Shul to have a Mechtiza has prevailed, despite the best efforts of the well intended to try and change it.

At the end of the day what we have here is an inconsistent response to 2 issues that have the same parameters. Rabbi Hefter accepts one and rejects the other. And I’m not particularly fond of the way he tried to do it either. In fact I lost any respect I might have otherwise had for him because of it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A Welcome 180

Manny Waks at the podium - panel members seated to his left (NYJW)
At 18, he left the Orthodox community, his family publicly confronting his abusers, his faith shattered by the abuse he had suffered and the indifferent response he had encountered from many leaders of his then-charedi community. 
This excerpt from a story in the New York Jewish Week is the story of Manny Waks and supports the idea (discussed here a couple of days ago) that many of those that drop observance are survivors of sexual abuse. 

Sex abuse is an issue that has plagued the Orthodox Jewish world and has been the source of much controversy. Many Orthodox leaders have been criticized for their failure to properly address it. Positive change had slowly been taking place but had a long way to go. Leaving survivors with the feeling that they would never see justice.

Survivor advocates were often harsh in their criticism. Which was strongly rejected by rabbinic leaders who said they were not reflecting the Torah point of view. But that seems to be changing.

In what seems like a 180 degree turn… the Agudah Moetzes has dropped its opposition to extending the statute of limitations for abuse victims to file claims against their abusers and enablers. To say I’m surprised is an understatement. Nor can I express enough my gratitude for this turn of events.

It is gratifying to see Agudah’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel appearing at a New York Jewish Federation conference on abuse in the Orthodox community. He was joined by Rabbi Mark Dratch a modern Orthodox leader who founded JSafe, an anti abuse organization; and two survivors: Manny Waks who organized the conference and David Cheifetz a member of the panel (...in the picture above, seated in the center between Rabbi Dratch on the left and Rabbi Zweibel on the right).

The Global Summit on Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community convened last week. From the New York Jewish Week article: 
In an opening night panel discussion, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the charedi Agudath Israel of America, said the umbrella organization’s rabbinic leadership now supports an extension of the statute of limitations in New York State for sexual abuse victims to bring civil and criminal suits.
 Agudath had earlier opposed such an extension, citing the potentially financial liability that day schools, camps and other institutions could face…
 Sexual abuse is “a very, very important issue. This is something we can’t ignore,” Rabbi Zwiebel said... “We’ve become more and more aware of it.
 
While I disagreed with  Agudah’s past position on this issue, I have always understood their concerns about extending the statue of limitations. They feared that viable religious schools that had long ago changed the hands of leadership since any abuse took place would be vulnerable to lawsuits decades after any abuse took place.

That would cripple them financially – possibly even forcing them to permanently shut their doors. They refused to listen to advocates that pointed to evidence that this did not happen in communities that lifted that statute.  

They felt even though justice would not be served for a survivor it was outweighed by an existential fear. Every religious school was needed have to accommodate the population explosion that has been filling classrooms to capacity...  even faster than they are being constructed. Schools would be closing because of something that happened decades ago that that current leaders had nothing to do with.

But… justice was left un-served in far too many cases. Abuse victims are often reluctant to come forward since by doing so they creates a stigma about themselves and their families causing communal difficulties for them. Like the all consuming issue these days of Shidduchim. Many survivors of abuse have therefore only come out decades after that abuse, And then find out that it’s is too late to do anything about it.

Agudah has now been convinced that their arguments are valid and have changed course.

There is yet another issue that Agudah seems to have moved forward on, that of Mesira - the prohibition of informing on fellow Jews to secular authorities. Although there are many interpretations that explain this prohibition as not applying to just societies like that of the United States - there are some that interpret it as absolute.  Here are Rabbi Zweibel’s comments about that: 
(T)he concept of mesira… is not applicable when the evidence against an accused abuse perpetrator is clear. He said charedi rabbis are instructed to tell members of their communities to immediately bring accusations of clear sexual abuse to police, instead of to rabbis. And he invited Jewish victims of sexual abuse at the hands of other Jews to bring a case in a beit din (Jewish court), where no statute of limitations exists. 
This is wonderful news. It seems the culture is changing. Past reticence to deal with this issue has changed into pro-activity. Rabbi Zweibel was asked what Agudah is doing to deal with this issue:

“Not enough,” he answered. “We all recognize that we have to do more.”

This summit did not only have Agudah representation. It even had Charedi representatiopon from Israel. Rabbi  Arie Munk who heads a mental health organization in Bnei Brak  attended and said: 
“Twenty years ago, nobody came to these conferences” — if they even took place, Munk said. In the conservative charedi world, where topics like sexuality are traditionally considered a violation of modesty standards, and abuse at the hands of community members would be considered a collective embarrassment, the topic was rarely discussed openly.
 “Nobody’s quiet anymore,” Munk said.
 
He wants to create a registry of  sex offenders that would bar them from entering the country.

I will end with an excerpt quoting Dr. Shira Berkovits, a psychologist and attorney who founded Sacred Spaces, a “cross-denominational initiative” which sums up my own feelings about this: 
 (I)t “was not a small thing” that Rabbi Zwiebel “was willing to state on the record that he supports an extension of civil” statutes of limitations. “It is a big deal and he should be given credit for it … and held to it.” Berkovits praised Waks’ initial advocacy work in Australia as being “light years ahead of anywhere else. He didn’t quit until the institutions began dealing with the issue. He’s done it at great personal cost.” She called Waks the most successful anti-abuse activist who had been a survivor.