Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Judgment and Mercy

Guest Contribution by Meira Greenland

The well known and haunting prayer Nesaneh Tokef is recited on both days of Rosh Hashanna and the day of Yom Kippur during the Musaf service. Tradition has it that this prayer was written about 1000 years ago by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany. He wrote it as he was about to die after suffering torture and mutilation at the hands of his ‘friend’ the Bishop of Mainz for refusing to convert to Christianity. This prayer captures the theme and the mood of these days of awe. God judges all of our actions from the preceding year and records our fate in His heavenly book... Who will live and who will die.... Who by water; who by fire…

This sobering prayer ends with hope by telling us what can spare us an unfavorable judgment: Teshuva, Teffilah, and Tzedka – Repentance, Prayer, and Charity will remove the evil decree!

It is with this in mind that I present a Dvar Torah written by my granddaughter, Meira, who has begun her post high school year of study in Israel. It follows:

In this weeks Parsha (Ha'azinu), we find some of the  יג מידות  (thirteen attributes) of HaShem in the Psukim. In 32:4 It writes about how even though HaShem is מאד חזק (very strong) , when He brings punishment upon us- He does it exactingly - according to דין (judgement). He controls his anger and does not "overreact". HaShem in His ultimate wisdom knows exactly the right דין in every situation. He has רחמים (mercy) and doesn't "overpour" the punishment on us. 

Later in the Parsha Rashi points out how the דור הפלגה(generation of Noach) stole and had lots of jealousy. So Hashem was very angry. But, instead of destroying them, HaShem made borders between them and divided them. HaShem had the power to destroy and wipe them out. But He used His מידה של רחמים וארך אפים (attribute of mercy and being slow to anger) when He issued judgment. 

The ultimate theme of Rosh Hashanah is מלכות. And the ultimate theme of מלכות is using both mercy and judgment. On Rosh Hashanah and throughout עשרת ימי תשובה HaShem  judges us as our King. The King of Kings who is omnipotent.

HaShem has the capability to control His anger and to issue exacting judgment.

In these days we focus on doing Teshuvah while asking HaShem to use His מידות to judge us in the most favorable way and the most exacting way according to what we deserve. And to have רחמים on us. 

It's no coincidence that this Parsha falls out right after Rosh Hashanah, and right at the beginning of עשרת ימי תשובה to remind us that HaShem judges us with mercy and with precision- all we have to do is access that through Teshuvah and Tefillah. We are thus reminded that HaShem judges us with mercy and with precision- all we have to do is access that through Teshuvah and Tefillah. 

May we all be Zoche to a גמר כתימה טובה ושנה טובה ומתוקה!! 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Orthodoxy’s Successes and Failures

Image from Cross Currents for illustrative purposes only
I have been saying for some time now that the handwriting is on the wall. Today’s heterodoxy is about to join the many other movements that have arisen in Jewish history that are now either extinct or almost extinct. It is only a matter of time. 

I know that a lot of people get upset with me when I bring it up. But I am just the messenger.  Those who are making these kinds of predictions are not Orthodox nor do they have any anti heterodox agenda. They are respected academics. Such as Steven M. Cohen and Mickey Gussow and Edieal Pinker who made similar observations in a recent Forward article. The reasons for these kinds of conclusions are all spelled out and are hard to dispute. I think this can largely be summed up as follows: 
Only the Orthodox are having enough children to fuel population growth. Conservative and Reform Jews are falling well short of population replacement. We may compare Reform/Conservative Jews with the Orthodox at different ages. Among 60-69 year olds, the ratio of Conservative/Reform to Orthodox is 14:1. Among 30-somethings, it falls to just over 2:1. And among the children, it’s less than 3:2, as Orthodox numbers have almost caught up to the combined Conservative and Reform numbers.
The data clearly show how non-marriage, intermarriage, and low birthrates have taken their toll on Conservative and Reform population numbers. 
No surprises here. Just hard data. But this post is not about that. It is only a preface to a real problem facing Orthodoxy that some might argue counters its growth. I’ve heard it argued that Orthodoxy’s OTD problem is so great that those opting out of observance outnumbers those coming in as newly observant (often called Baalei Teshuva or BTs). 

I have no real way of knowing whether that’s true or not. But even if it is that still leaves the much higher birthrate as the primary reason for our growth. Orthodox Jews do have substantially more children than Jewish members of heterodox movements or Jews of no affiliation.  That seems pretty clear.

But that still leaves going OTD as a major problem. Especially if there are more ‘leaving’ than ‘coming in’. Either way it is growing one that is far from being solved. And one that should give us pause before we celebrate any victory for Torah observance and the lifestyle it engenders. There is no victory when there is such a massive attrition rate.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer makes note of that in his own article of the subject at Cross Currents. Here is what he says: 
I am concerned about trends in Modern and Charedi Orthodoxy. In Israeli society, there is a very steep attrition rate among Religious Zionist youth, and the situation in America does not appear to be so posivite either. Although the numbers are not as severe among Charedi youth, there is an increasing preponderance of stories of such youth “going OTD”, including children and grandchildren from prestigious rabbinical families. All in all, there is powerful growth, but the substantive cracks cannot be overlooked.
In Modern Orthodoxy (MO), the factors for attrition are: 1) positive immersion in/embrace of secular culture, including its values and practices, which are frequently antithetical to Torah practice  and values; 2) an often sterile, uninspiring religious atmosphere. 
I think that’s right to a large degree as it pertains what I refer to as MO-Lite families. I do not, however, see this as a problem in more right wing MO (Centrist) families that are serious about observance and where that is reflected in the home. Unfortunately I believe that there is a  lot more MO Lite families in Modern Orthodoxy than there are serious Centrist ones. 

While there are serious Left Wing Modern Orthodox families that are similarly serious, the problems there are of a different kind and beyond the scope of this post.

Rabbi Gordimer deals with the OTD problem in the Charedi world, too: 
(M)uch of the educational system avoids any parnassa training until the point of sha’s ha-dechak or close to it has created some serious problems – which inevitably impact the religiosity of a portion of those caught up in the problems. (Not to mention that this strategy is bound to force people to rely on public assistance and perhaps cut the corners of honesty due to major financial pressures.) …tens or hundreds of thousands of young men receive not even minimal parnassa training until extremely late into the game, if at all. Not to mention lack of instruction in decent and professional communication skills. 
This is all very true. I fully agree and have discussed these problems many times. But there are other reasons that a Charedi youth might go OTD. It isn’t just the lack of Parnassa training. In some cases it is abusive family situations. In some cases it is child sex abuse that turned them off. In some cases it is intellectual – based on unchallenged influences (such as the internet) outside the home or the classroom. Unchallenged because most educators still don’t know how to deal with them. 

But I think the biggest problem It is the way the Charedi educational system has evolved. I believe that the competition between Charedi schools to be the best (i.e. where the most Torah is learned) - and/or to be frummest (I.e. where more Chumra observance is required) has caused more young people to go OTD than any other reason. Maybe even more than all other reasons combined.

Now I have no proof that this is the greatest reason. But if one reads the story of ‘Malkie’ and so manhy other soreis like hers, I don’t see how one can have any other conclusion. It would be interesting if a survey of these young people could be done to see what the percentage of them were turned them off by  their educational experience.

I believe the problem is a lot greater than anyone realizes or is willing to admit. This is not a new problem. Nor is its growth anything new. What isn’t new is a realistic solution. For Modern Orthodoxy the solution is to make Judaism more inspiring to their youth. Inspiration begins in the home. Which means somehow inspiring the parents. How to do that is beyond m paygrade. But I think that is the only real solution.

What about OTD Charedi youth? First there needs to be a good secular studies program. Furthermore there has to be an end to the completion between schools. The workload of all students has to be lightened. There has to be room for young people to come home and chill... to spend some time on hobbies or the like. No student should be required to spend all of their time away from school doing homework.

Frumkeit ought to be abandoned as a goal – leaving that up to each household. (If a family does not use Chalav Yisroel, or the mother wears a denim skirt - that ought not be a cause for concern.) 

Every student ought to be treated by every teacher as the most important person in the room. No matter what their capabilities are. 

But perhaps most important is that – just like the MO community, this community too needs to be inspired. I recall one wise educator (I no longer recall who) saying that the problem isn’t that children are going off the Derech. The problem is that they were never ‘on’ the Derech in the first place.  They are uninspired by what they are taught in the home or in the school. Which is more of a ‘what’ than a ‘why’. 

Yes it’s important to know what the Halacha is and how to do it properly. But if that is all that a child learns he may end up asking the ‘why’ himself and coming up with his own answers. And they may not be the ones you want to hear.

So, yes Orthodoxy has a lot to be proud of. We are the only denomination that seems to have a future. But as we go forward we ought to pause and reflect. And make sure that no one is left behind.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Outside of Orthodoxy

Scene in Jerusalem yesterday (Jerusalem Post)
I’ve tried to ignore stories like this. Not because they don’t upset me. They do. But because they are so ‘normal’ for that community – I should be used it by now. But when I read yet another story of violent protest on the part of extremist Charedim in Israel, I can’t help but recoil. They more than upset me. They enrage me. I get so angry that I sometimes want to go over there and cheer the police on!

I am referring to yet another demonstration by extremist Charedim. From the Jerusalem Post
(T)he grandson of the grand rabbi of one of these extremist groups, the hassidic Toldos Avraham Yitzhak sect, was detained two weeks ago by the military police for failing to report to the IDF enlistment office when called to do so, which led to Sunday’s riots. 
A law worked out in the Kensset between the religious parties and the government exempts all Yeshiva students from serving in the army. All the government requires them to do to get that exemption is to register with them. The majority of Charedi Yeshiva students do exactly that and get their exemption (or deferment).  But as is well known by now there is a faction led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach that refuses  to do even that. He has called for resistance to the point of even being jailed if necessary.

Toldos Avraham Yitzchak Chasdim are not followers of Rabbi Auerbach. But they are of like mind – rejecting the State of Israel as an evil empire. So when one of them gets arrested for non compliance  - they riot.  And when the person being arrested is of ‘royal blood’ all hell breaks loose. At least that’s what it seems like form the pictures on VIN
Now people in any democracy have a right to protest what they believe to be unfair laws. While I believe the law is more than fair (in fact I believe it to be unfair to most of the rest of Israelis that not only register but actually serve) I still support the right to protest something one sees as wrong. What I do not support is what happened here.

These are vile people!  Not only were they violent - they protested in ways that forced police to use extreme measures to control the crowd. Making it appear that the police were the ones using unnecessary force against them. Otherwise known as police brutality.  

I know that police brutality exists. And that is condemnable. And there may have been some of that in this case, I don’t know. But it seems to me that the way they protested  was designed to elicit a violent response from the police. This way they can blame the whole thing on them and the ‘evil empire’ that sent them there! The empire without which these very same people would be slaughtered by another evil empire. A real one. Like Iran. Who promised to do exactly that if they get ever get the chance.

But these people are oblivious to this reality. They only see one evil empire: Israel. Their goal is the same as Iran’s goal: to eradicate the state of Israel. What they do not realize is that the genocide Iran has promised includes them!

I am so sick of people like this. It isn’t only those that are directly involved in rioting. I believe that they are widely supported by the rest of their community - as well as their own rabbinic leader. Especially since royalty is involved!

Which to me - makes this community a lot worse than the one currently protesting in St Louis. A police officer that shot a black suspect he apprehended was found not guilty of murder. That generated a protest by members of the black community that felt an injustice had been done. A white policeman got off the hook for killing a black man.

Now I trust the system. If after due process, a jury found him not guilty, that means they found his actions justified. But I also understand where the black community is coming from. There has been a history of prejudice against black people in this country that has in the past no doubt skewed justice against black people. So they are understandably protesting.

The protests have been peaceful by day. But they have turned violent at night. It is believed that a group of rabblerousers infiltrate the peaceful protesters then and cause all kinds of havoc with damage to public and private property. It isn’t too hard to draw a parallel to Toldos Avraham Yitzchak Chasidim rioting in the streets of Jerusalem.

I believe the two groups deserve the same kind of condemnation. If it were up to me, I’d throw them all in jail and throw away the key! I have a lot more respect for the peaceful protesters in St Louis than I do with the rioters of Toldos Avraham Yitzchak. Who are probably supported by the rest of the community. Unlike the violent protesters in St. Louis that are probably not supported by theirs.

It is unfortunate that Jews who are otherwise so meticulous in their ritual observances; devotion to the word of God as their rabbis interpret it; and whose belief system is based on the same tenets as mine - are at the same time such unsavory people. Accept for their ritual observance and the way they dress, they are no different from the unsavory rabble that have infiltrated the peaceful protesters in St. Louis.

I have no tolerance for any of these people whether in St. Louis or Jerusalem.  But when Jews are involved, it gets personal.

I occasionally see puff pieces written in Charedi magazines about communities like Toldos Avraham Yitzchak – praising them for their meticulous ritual observance. Or the kindness they might show to fellow Jews. Or the strong devotion they have towards their Rabbinic leader. Or their devotion to their ideals – even though they might not agree with them.

As  I said, I have no issue with disagreement and respecting those with views different than my own. But when those views generate the kind of behavior so common in these communities, they need to be called out.  This is what is lacking among the more mianstream Charedi factions of Orthodoxy. 

They need to be condemned for it by the rest of the Charedi world. Charedi  publications ought to publish a feature story on them along with the kind of pictures published in VIN - explaining why they deserve such condemnation instead of simply saying their views are different than ours. And unless or until these extremists change their ways, they should be considered Chutz L’Machane – outside of Orthodoxy! 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Open Plea to My Cousin, Elana

R' Binny Mendel Maryles
Elana Maryles Sztokman is family.  Her grandfather, Dave Maryles – a pioneer of Agudath Israel of America, was my father’s first cousin. I never actually met Elana. But I know her family quite well. Her great grandfather Binny Mendel Maryles (my father’s uncle) was the family patriarch and helped raise her father, aunt and uncles after her grandfather, David died too young from Leukemia in the 1950s. The Chicago branch of the family felt very close to Binny Mendel . He spent many a summer at our home in Toledo.

All of this happened long before Elana was born. While this may not be entirely relevant to this post, I thought a little family history is in order as a preface to what I am about to say.

I have always admired Elana - even when I disagreed with her. She has never been reticent to express her view no matter the personal consequences to herself. Which often included harsh criticism in the form of name calling by self styled Orthodox ‘keepers of the gate’ (to use her words).   As an Orthodox feminist she suffered some pretty abusive language from some pretty nasty people. Which served no purpose at all.

Even though I disagreed with her, I never questioned her motives. As a feminist she felt that egalitarianism  was the only way towards men and women being treated fairly in this world. Women are entitled to the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in society as men. Only when that was achieved would  women realize their full potential as human beings. She believes that until that happens women will continue to suffer at least some degree of degradation.

I actually agree with her to a large extent. Where I part company with her most is in the area of Judaism. As I have said many times, egalitarianism is not the goal of the Judaism. The goal is to do the will of God as expressed in the Torah and interpreted by the rabbis thoughout the generations…. including our own.  While there is much overlap between the sexes in how we accomplish that, Judaism nonetheless sees different roles for us. This is anathema to the feminism of our day. Which Elana places on a very high plane.  That is why she accepted becoming the leader of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance).  And thus (for example) sees a woman becoming a rabbi as a egalitarian right.

What I never expected, however, is that she would seek to become a Reform rabbi. This is what she has announced she is about to do on her website, as reported by the Forward.

I have been reluctant to write about this because of the great respect I have for her parents. I do not want to hurt them, and I’m not sure how they feel about it. But with all the publicity surrounding this, I feel I must express how I feel about it. 

I am saddened! I cannot imagine her illustrious grandfather, having anything other than the same reaction – only that as grandfather  - a much stronger one. 

Ironically - last week’s Mishpacha Magazine had a hard hitting editorial by editor in chief Rabbi Moshe Grylak. He explained why he is so opposed to the Reform Movement. While I do not agree with everything he said, I do agree with the vast majority of it. Reform Judaism  wasn’t seen by its founders as a  movement equal to Orthodoxy. There was no Elu v’Elu. The founding fathers of Reform opposed Orthodox Judaism and tried to eradicate it. Quoting from the editorial
I recommend that you read Professor Jacob Katz’s book, A House Divided. Read about the early leaders of the Reform movement, the spiritual forefathers of those who are now demanding recognition of their legitimacy as a minority stream of Judaism in Israel, and how they persecuted the small remnant of Jews in their communities who clung to their faith in the Torah.
Read about how they joined forces with their local governments to stamp out every remaining kehillah of the Orthodox minority. How they silenced every voice raised in opposition, how they squelched every attempt to live by the Torah and its commandments. With their coercive, strong-arm tactics, they forced their new order on everyone within their reach and made a mockery of their own slogans and sermons about the right to be different, each according to his belief.  
Rabbi Gyrlak’s motive for writing the editorial was to explain specifically to those of us that are Orthodox and yet sympathize with Reform’s  ‘live and let live’ attitude why he is so adament in his opposition. These sincere but misguided (in my view) Orthodox Jews  argue we should just give in to their demands in that spirit. Here is why he says we can’t: 
What the Reform movement is demanding in Israel would require me to acknowledge that there is room in Judaism to deny the Divinity of the Torah and the obligation to fulfill mitzvos. They want me to agree that this is a valid Jewish outlook. Yet if I say I agree with that, I am proclaiming that the Torah is not of Divine origin. Obviously, my belief and theirs cannot coexist under the name of Judaism.  
Now it’s true that today’s Reform movement has ‘reformed’ itself again and now encourages observance rather fighting it. That point was overlooked by Rabbi Grylak.  But it doesn’t matter with respect to the primary argument’s he made.

Which brings me back to Elana. To join Reform Judaism as one or their rabbis is not only joing the movement. It is becoming a leader in it. Even if she remains observant (which she plans to do) to accept and be a leader of a movement that denies everything she believes in is a contradiction to the basic tenets of Judaism that she surely must have studied in her Jewish education. She is joining a movement that her parents, grandparents and great grandparent s fought against. By joining the Reform Movement she is saying  that their version of Judaism is as valid as that of Orthodoxy but better in the sense that it is more welcoming - and a far better place for feminists like her: 
(T)he Reform movement is the only (best) place where I think a woman can truly be free to be a whole person. And as a woman, I place that high on my list of priorities! 
Her experiences thus far have been very positive – describing the Reform rabbis that have been advising her in glowing terms – with the following admission:   
I am no longer interested in making "commitment to halakha" the be-all and end-all of my Jewish identification. I don't believe that the discussion about how to be Jewish should be about law. I think it should be about ethics, morality, and spirituality. 
While I agree that ‘ethics, morality, and spirituality’ are important facets of Judaism, Jewish law is paramount to our belief system. As important as ethics, morality, and spirituality are, they are not exclusively Jewish traits. Without Jewish law, there is no Judaism. At most you will have Jewish culture – which changes with the wind.

As we are about to enter Rosh HaShanna which begins the Aseres Y’Mei Teshuva, (10 days of repentance)  I would ask my cousin Elana, to re-consider her choices. Please please don’t do this. I ask you to reflect on your family and your heritage. The negative repercussions may be far greater than you anticipate. And doing this may end up being the biggest mistake of your life.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Embarrassing the President is Wrong

Image from Arutz Sheva
I am completely disgusted by their behavior. Which in this case has nothing to do with Judaism.

Although they might claim it does. Their religious beliefs revolve primarily around one issue -social justice. This is the only Mitzvah they place any real value on. And the ‘they’ in that sentence is heterodox rabbis.

Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis eat, live, and breath social justice. Heterodox movements are united. Social Justice is at the core of their beliefs. Those that do not see social justice their way are painted as heartless Neanderthals who might  as well be racists, bigots and antisemites.

The latest victim of their distorted views is the President. Now I am not a fan of the current President. I did not vote for him. And I agree that a lot of his rhetoric (mostly in the form of tweets) is foolish, insulting, misleading half truths, or sometimes just plain lies. He is (as I have said many times) an embarrassment to this country. But as I have also said, he is none of the things he is being painted as by heterodoxy. Nor directly, perhaps. But clrealy by inference through their actions. The President is not an antisemite, nor a racist, nor a bigot, nor an antisemite. Although he does attract them. Ironically, they see him the same way heterodox rabbis do.

The latest public demonstration of their antipathy for this President - is the rejection of the traditional conference call made by the President of the United States. Like his predecessor, President Trump wants to wish the Jewish people a Happy Jewish New Year directly through the rabbis of all major Jewish denominations. 

Heterodox rabbis – almost in unison have said ‘no thank you’ to the President because of what they claim is his ‘lack of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville’.  I agree that the President’s initial reaction to that event was less than perfect. But he is not guilty of what he is accused of: Not condemning the Nazis who protested in Charlottesville using their typical antisemitic rhetoric. The fact is that the President did condemn them by condemning racism and bigotry in all its forms.

What he did not do is specify the Nazi protesters in Charlottesville. Which was foolish but not surprising. He probably thought his initial comments condemning all racism was enough. But then added that there was violence on both sides.  That was seen by many people as equating Nazis to those that came to protest them.

It should be clear to anyone with a half a brain that the President does not equate Nazis to those who protest them. What the President actually did (rather badly to say the least) is try to say that there was- violence on both sides. That is a fact. The anti Nazi protesters came there for a fight and the Nazis were happy to oblige them. One of those Nazis took the fight to a higher level and rammed his car into the crowd killing one of the anti Nazi protesters. Which the president also condemned.

After almost universal and understandable criticism of the President for his intial seeming tepid and equivocating response, he later issued a clear statement condemning the Nazis by name without any equivocation. Only later to revert again back to blaming both sides and worse - claiming that there were good people on both sides.

The President’s critics went apoplectic after that. How in heaven’s name can anyone say that there is such a thing as a good Nazi?!  That is where their thinking ended.

I see it differently. The President was clearly not communicating what he meant.  I firmly believe that when he said there are people on both sides that are good, he wasn’t talking about Nazis. He was talking about people that were opposed to removing the statue of Confederate Icon, General Robert E. Lee. That is what generated the Nazi protest. There were good people that were opposed to that too (albeit not joining the Nazis in their antisemitic version of that protest). That’s who the President meant.  In no way did he – or would he ever - say that there is such a thing as good Nazis.

That conclusion seems pretty obvious to me. That anyone can think for even a half a second that a man whose daughter went through an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, and whose most valued adviser is his Jewish son-in-law  - is an antisemite is about the most laughable thing I can imagine.  

Not only does he rely heavily on the advice of his Jewish son-in-law, there are more Jews (and more observant Jews) in his inner circle than any other President in history! Not to mention that his choice for Ambassador to Israel was an observant openly pro Israel Jew. If Trump is an anti Semite, we could use a lot more like him.

None of this makes me regret voting against him. Nor do I agree with some of his polices. But one has to be fair in assessing the truth. Heterodox rabbis are blind to the truth because they do not agree with his politics. And they have great cover in hating him since he is such an easy target.

When they do agree with a President’s politics, they rarely criticize him. They overlook or spin any controversial view he expresses in positive ways. This was the case with former President Obama. As illustrated by Arutz Sheva
This is in sharp contrast to their silence about Obama's non-veto of a UN resolution condemning Israel, the first time the US withheld its veto in comparable situations. 
I am therefore very happy that all the representatives of all the mainstream Orthodox institutions have accepted his invitation. He will have a conference call with them, wishing them a happy Jewish New Year.

What about the vast majority of Jews in this country that are represented by these heterodox rabbis? I’m sure they support their rabbis’ decision to skip the call. Most non observant Jews that belong to one of these denominations have the same liberal approach to Judaism that their rabbis do. Judaism equals social justice. When they see anyone violating that tenet, in their minds they have violated what Judaism stands for.

The problem is that even though the non Orthodox demographic is by far the largest one - with as many as 90% of Jews in this country not Orthodox… this statistic will not last long. Their demise is already happening. A lot more quickly than anyone would have realized just a few years ago. Polls have shown that of the 90% of Jews that are not Orthodox - many  becoming increasingly secular. Intermarriage is no longer an issue for them. They are fine with it. Nor do they even care that they are themselves Jews. 

I predict that all the scrambling of their rabbis  to remedy that will be for nought. That ship has sailed. For better or worse, these movements are doomed. They will go the way of other historical ‘movements’ that veered away from rabbinic Judaism and have failed. They may not realize it yet. But their grandchildren (who many end up not even being Jewish) will. It is only a matter of time. This has nothing to do with my feelings about them. It is just plain fact.

Clearly the only denomination that will remain standing is the only one that is growing. Orthodoxy.  I am therefore proud of all of my fellow Orthodox rabbis that have accepted the President’s invitation. The President has correctly snubbed heterodox rabbis who said in advance that they would not accept an invitation if it were offered.

Orthodox rabbis understand that the President is not only NOT an antisemite, he is a philosemite.  He has proven that many times by who he chooses as his friends and advisers. They also understand that he is the President and that even if they might disagree with him on certain matters, they still respect the office and therefore the man that was duly elected to occupy that office. It’s that simple.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Will ‘A Jewish Father’ End Up with Jewish Grandchildren?

I literally do not know where to begin. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for this fellow or to just be angry at him.

An anonymous individual  that calls himself ‘A Jewish Father’ just wrote an article in the Times of Israel ‘crying bitter tears’ about his financial plight as a modern Orthodox (MO) Jew. A ‘plight’ he has since ‘corrected’ claiming victory over the financial oppression he felt. A victory that may end up being Pyrrhic. Unless he doesn’t care that much about his children’s Jewish future. More about that later.

His complaint is that Orthodox Judaism costs too much. And then goes about demonstrating that even someone like him - a practicing Jew that has an upper middle class income (well into six figures) is basically living from check to check. He says that after many years of working and living the (expensive) life of a religious Jew, he doesn’t have two nickels to rub together for his retirement.

His primary expense is (was) tuition for the religious education of his 4 children. At $20,000 per child he was paying $80,000 per year in pre tax dollars. Which he said was half of his post tax income. And because of his rather substantial income he was not given any financial assistance by the school.

Of course tuition expense wasn’t the only problem. There was the yearly expense of Pesach vacations for his family; summer camps for his children; and the cost of Kosher food amounting to as much as $12,000 per year. And various and other and sundry Jewish things - such as Shul dues and charitable contributions.

This is not to say that some of his complaints weren’t valid. They were… and still are. As are some of his suggestions for improvement.

There certainly is a tuition crisis. Everyone that now has – or has ever had - a child in the religious educational system knows that all too well. This is one of the most serious problems Orthodox Jews currently face. It is existential in nature. Without the benefit of a formal Jewish education, history has shown that Jews will not necessarily remain religious – or in some cases even care to be.  

Their Judaism is easily overtaken by the sweet lure of a secular lifestyle. Being raised in a modern Orthodox home where in many cases immersion  in the culture is placed on a higher plane than religious practices, it should come as no surprise that once a child leaves home to a top university - which  in most cases does not have any Jewish infrastructure - he might easily shed his Judaism. ‘Jewish Father’ actually alludes to that. (I should hasten to add, that although a lot of MO homes are ‘lite’ in this way... that is NOT the definition of modern Orthodoxy. Which is beyond the scope of this post.)

Yes, it’s possible to remain a committed and observant Jew in this environment. There are some pretty famous examples of that. But it is no secret either that a lot of young college age Jews from modern Orthodox backgrounds end up dropping observance altogether under those circumstances. And these are Jews that in most cases attended a modern Orthodox day school and high school. Going to a public or private non Jewish school will surely not change that trajectory. It will enhance the probability of it.

‘Jewish Father’ decided to pull his children out of a religious school and send them to a private school at 1/3 the tuition of his former school. That - as well as tightening his belt in other areas  such as quitting his expensive Shul, ‘eating’ more frugally, and not going on Pesach vacations has helped to reduce his ‘Doing Jewish’ expenses. Although he thinks he can restore that last item under his revised financial plan.

All of that has helped him achieve his goal of beginning to put money away for his retirement (as well as for his children’s expensive ivy league education no doubt). His kids are doing well and he’s happy.

I wonder how he will feel if any of his kids end up abandoning their observance. They no longer have a daily religious environment in their school. They have a totally secular environment. Does ‘Jewish Father’ really believe that this will not impact their religious observance? That he recently hooked up with Chabad, is no guarantee that his kids will - when comparing them to what a secular lifestyle has to offer. Which they now experience on a daily basis.

Yes. Tuition is high. Most Orthodox Jews can’t afford to pay full tuition. Even Jews who make an upper middle class income like ‘Jewish Father’.  There is, however, one glaring thing that stands out in this fellows narrative. It is the fact that his school insists that half of his income be available for tuition. 

Having spent many years on a scholarship and tuition committee of an excellent religious day school, I can attest to the fact that we never insisted that any parent spend anywhere near half of their income on tuition. We also had an appeals process that parents could avail themselves of that in most cases would yield additional financial aid when justified by a parent appeal.  

Tuition - even with generous financial aid from a school can still be a burden. But the solution is not, pulling your children out of the school and sending them to a private secular school.   

What about ‘Jewish Father’? Were his‘religion’ expenses legitimate? Were they real? Let’s take a closer look.

Pesach vactations?! Really?! In what world is that not a luxury? He only now realizes it?! And thinks it can eventually be restored and justified over a religious education for his children?

That he quit a Shul whose dues were too high in favor of a Chabad shul was indeed a way to reduce his ‘religion’ expense. As was buying cheaper food. And certainly eliminating Pesach vacations. 

However, I am absolutely convinced that he could have achieved his financial goal with his children remaining in a religious school. Maybe not the one they were attending. But certainly one that would provide a religious environment for his children on a daily basis and give them a relatively decent religious and secular education. Furthermore, in my view, any school that thinks 50% of one’s income is a legitimate tuition expense ought to be shut down!

None of this solves the high cost of Jewish education. It is clearly becoming an increasing burden. Communal Orthodox Jewish organizations like the OU realize this. If I remember correctly, they have made solving the tuition crisis is a top priority. 

The truth is that we need good people to teach our children. And you aren’t going to get good people unless you pay them well. Which is the primary reason tuition is so high. And I agree with ‘Jewish Father’ that in some cases, a school is top heavy with well paid administrators. (Are 5 principals – as is the case with his children’s former school - really necessary?). These are all things that should be looked at. 

But one thing should be made abundantly clear. Taking your children out of a religious school and placing them in a secular school - even a good one - should never be an option. Because if you care about their religious future at all – you may end up with something you never wished for.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Does Orthodoxy Equal Social Conservatism?

Rabbi Dov Fischer
Most people that read this blog know that my political leanings are center-right. Which means that on most issues my views tend to reflect the more socially conservative point of view. There are however, some issues that I feel very strongly about that are in the domain of political liberalism. For example, on abortion I am pro choice. On gun control I favor stricter controls on gun ownership. On most other matters, I am in the conservative camp. For example I oppose gay marriage. And favor school choice (voucher programs).

My political views are informed by my religious views. I am pro choice because I believe that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare (to quote former President Clinton). Although abortions are generally not permitted by Halacha, there are circumstances where it is not only allowed, but required. If it is made illegal, than any legal exception in that law may not match our Halachic exception, making it unavailable to us when we deem it necessary. Keeping abortions legal (i.e being pro choice) makes abortions  available to us whenever we need them - without having to worry whether our Halachic needs match the government’s legal requirements.

Rabbi Dov Fischer has written an article in Arutz Sheva that practically equates Orthodoxy with political conservatism. In contradistinction to the vast majority of Jews who are not Orthodox and liberal. 

I think he is right. But sometimes that leads to political views that are not in the best interests of Orthodox Jews. Abortion is a case in point. Most Orthodox Jews are pro life. And believe that abortions should be made illegal. I believe this is the official position of Agudah as well.

How can this view be reconciled with the reality of Halacha? They would answer that in the main abortions are indeed against Halacha, and that we should reflect that view politically. If abortion is made illegal how would we get them when they are Halachicly required. I’m not sure how they would answer that question.

That being said, I would agree that the socially conservative way of looking at things more closely resembles the Orthodox way of looking at things. Here’s why.

Social conservatives take the bible’s view more literally than do social liberals. Which is how Orthodox Jews see the bible. When the Torah says something is forbidden, we believe it – as do social conservatives.  This is for example why Orthodox Jews eat only Kosher food and observe Shabbos.

Social liberals either ignore the bible - calling it an archaic document written by man that is irrelevant in our day - or twist interpretations of biblical verses into matching their own political views. Views that are often based on whatever the spirit of the times demand. Rabbi Asher Lopatin who supports gay marriage, a concept that needs an extremely novel twisting of  a passage in the Torah in order to match today’s liberal approach to it.

Most Orthodox Jews reject these kinds of novel interpretations.  We realize that not everything that society deems appropriate – actually is appropriate.

This is why Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, and the Catholic Church are so often on the same side of an issue. We see the bible in more literal terms. I truly think that a careful examination of the political views will bear out this correlation. 

Rabbi Fischer’s statement about Orthodox Jews being rock ribbed conservatives tend to be accurate if recent voting patterns are any kind of indicator. As he points out: 
Every serious study of Orthodox Jewish voting patterns reflects that, in precincts where Orthodox Jews live, Republican candidates win, and they win yuge.  This political conservatism reflects the Orthodox Jewish community’s more traditional religious and social values.  
(Yuge. That’s cute.)

One can clearly see that Rabbi Fischer is one of those rock-ribbed conservatives. I am not one of those. As noted by the aforementioned exceptions. I should add that although I am bound by Halacha, I freely admit that some of my liberal leanings makes that difficult for me sometimes. (Yes, I have questions. But I don’t reject Torah law just because I can’t answer them.)

Rabbi Fisher is not alone. Jonathan Rosenblum is another prominent Orthodox Jew whose values are socially conservative.  He describes what he heard at the Tikvah  Fund Seminar he attended recently. (The Tikvah  Fund is a conservative enterprise designed to promote conservative ideas in the Charedi world): 
THE FEATURED TEACHER this year was Yuval Levin, America's premier young conservative intellectual. Levin is editor of the public policy quarterly National Affairs. Besides being a policy wonk, he is a political theorist. His book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the intellectual arguments underlying much of contemporary political debate.
Any understanding of why Torah Jews tend toward the conservative side of the political spectrum, and why most baalei teshuvah move rightward politically as they become more observant, begins with Burke. Burke was acutely sensitive to the limits of unaided human reason, while respectful of the societal institutions that reflect the accumulated wisdom and experience of human societies over many centuries. Paine was the opposite. He extended no deference to existing institutions unless they comported in his mind with abstract principles of justice derived by human reason, in which he had boundless confidence. 
I think this is essentially what I am saying. 

What about Orthodox Jews that have liberal views? Clearly there are many (mostly modern) Orthodox Jews that do tend to be more liberal. But in my view, they have a difficult time reconciling their views with those of the Torah and need to rely on the kinds of ‘twists and turns’ of Torah law resorted to by Rabbi Lopatin with respect to gay marriage.

I believe a far better approach to political views is to look at neither conservative or liberal principles. One needs to look at the Torah as their guide and decide which direction to take based on that. This is what I do, which makes me a right leaning centrist politically.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Left Wing Orthodoxy's Divisive Choices

Image from the Forward
To the surprise of absolutely no one (least of all me) the Forward reports that the Orthodox Union (OU) is about to expel synagogues that have hired female clergy.  There are currently 4 or 5 member Shuls that have ignored the rule issued by the OU to member synagogues forbidding them from doing that.

There is some controversy about taking this measure among OU board members who feel that it should be left up to individual Shuls. But I don’t see the OU changing their position about women as rabbis. They are clearly opposed and have put that opposition into their rule-book.

The situation is not comparable to that of the Traditional Movement which took hold in the late 50s and early 60s. Orthodox rabbis took pulpits at Shuls that insisted on removing Mechitzos and installing microphones for use on Shabbos. These rabbis were encouraged to take those pulpits by a Posek who believed there were existential reasons for doing so. And since those Shuls were otherwise fully Orthodox, they were granted membership in the OU. Once massive opposition to them became clear - the OU finally ruled that Shuls without a Mechitza were no longer permitted to be members. (Those that were already members were however allowed to remain.)

Today these Shuls have chosen a path that is outside the mainstream of Orthodoxy. They believe that a woman’s leadership role in a Shul is compatible with Halacha and tradition be damned - at least in this case – since times have changed. Using past changes in tradition to support their argument they say that women should be able to break any glass ceiling they choose. 

That these changes were not done for existential reasons does not matter to them. They believe that the spirit of the times is a valid enough reason to do so. So much do they cherish this cultural value that they could not care less if the rest of Orthodoxy rejects them - considering it a matter of principle! 

Since these Shuls believe that their principles force them to violate the rules, I’m even surprised they haven’t resigned from the OU the moment those rules were established. And I don’t really know why those rabbis within the OU should object to it. 

And yet, I’m not sure what the reaction of those Shuls will be to an expulsion. My guess is that even though they feel they are on the right side of the issue and the right side of Jewish history, it can’t be pleasant to be rejected by virtually the entire Orthodox mainstream establishment.

One may recall that the Conservative Movement had gone through a similar process. Their flagship institution, JTS,  was founded to create modern English speaking rabbis that could better relate to – and guide Jews acculturated to  the American experience. While there was nothing wrong with their motives, it was in the execution of those motives that led them astray and caused the entire Orthodox mainstream to reject them.

Now I’m not equating the two. The situation between Orthodox Shuls that have adopted a more liberal and open posture is not the same as the Conservative Movement. Aside from allowing women to assume the duties of a rabbi (in areas they believe Halacha permits it) they are observant of Halacha and promote full observance of it to their members. The Conservative movement on the other hand, paid lip service to Halachic observance, while wholesale violation of Halacha by their members was tolerated – and in some cases even given their blessing (e.g. their  ‘permit’ to drive to Shul on Shabbos).

These more liberal and open Shuls haven’t done anything like that. I don’t think they will. At least not yet. But it’s hard not to see the parallels. Once you open up the doors to controversial change, it doesn’t necessarily stop at Halachic lines. 

There are 2 examples of this kind of permissiveness among  the more open and liberal Orthodox rabbis that tend to side with those renegade Shuls.

One  is Avrom Mlotek, a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). He argued for acceptance - and even a warm embrace - of intermarried couples. Will this lead to his officiating at such a marriage? When he was asked about that, his answer was not all that clear about what the future holds for him. And yet he still wants to be identified as Orthodox.

Another is the embrace of gay marriage. While acknowledging the forbidden nature of homosexual sex (anal sex between 2 men), YCT head, Rabbi Asher Lopatin nevertheless publicly supports gay marriage claiming that the Torah itself promotes it when it says  it is not good for a man to live alone. Although the classic interpretation of that refers to marriage between a man and a woman, he stretches it to include 2 men living together.  

That completely ignores the fact that blessing gay marriage implicitly blesses the natural intimacy that any marriage entails. Which in the case of a male homosexual relationship usually means anal sex. An activity that the Torah considers a capital offense. Saying that endorsing gay marriage does not mean blessing the capital offense that will likely be part of their intimacy - is a remarkable dodge based on an unlikely intepretation. Although I’m sure he actually believes that he isn’t blessing it.

While I’m not saying that these Shuls have gone or will go that far – there is really nothing stopping them. Not any more than did a rule against hiring a female rabbi stopped them.  How much is the OU supposed to tolerate before everyone agrees they should be expelled? Since much of their agenda is driven by the spirit of the times, it isn’t too hard to see more serious changes coming.

The OU says that it that expulsion will not be discussed at an upcoming meeting. Perhaps. But the handwriting is clearly on the wall – as liberal Orthodoxy chooses  a path that will surely lead to yet further divisions in Klal Yisroel.

Update
The facts presented in an earlier version of this post were inaccurate, It has been revised accordingly. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

An Ounce of Prevention

1 in 6 women in the IDF have been sexually harassed  (Jerusalem Post)
One in six female soldiers in Israel are sexually harassed.  So reports the Jerusalem Post. This is an outrageous situation that ought to be remedied. The politically correct response to this is to get tough on reports of such incidences and to give harsher sentences to those found guilty of it. The problem with that is that as things stand now, accusations of even rape often end up being a ‘he said - she said’ (either with the accused saying it was consensual or denying t altogether)  resulting in no justice for accusers. Only problems.

I happen to believe that when a woman says she was raped or sexually harassed she should be believed. Most of the time it’s true. Nonetheless, it’s hard to prove in a court (even if it ever gets that far) when there are no witnesses other than the participants. In fact I think that the one out of six ratio is probably low. It is probably higher but not always reported for lack of anything to gain and everything to lose.

Why is this happening? I believe the problem is cultural. And it could be remedied in a way that is politically incorrect but very effective at least as far as the armed services is concerned.

The cultural aspect of the problem is western civilization’s obsession with sexual freedom. Ever since oral contraceptives made unwanted pregnancies largely a thing of the past, sexual mores have been thrown out the window. As a child of the sixties, when this change in the cultural paradigm was initiated - I witnessed it. The clarion call of the time was ‘If it feels good, do it’. Hedonism had won the day.  

Unmarried sex has become practically the norm. Even among the more moral element, engaged couples that live together is a lot more common than those waiting until after marriage to do so. The idea of saving it for marriage is practically ridiculed in general society nowadays. What was once considered proper behavior is now a thing of the past. That pre-marital sex is extremely rare among Orthodox Jews is considered an anomaly in our culture. How can you not ‘test the merchandise before you buy it?’…I often hear asked of those of us that remain celibate until marriage.

While one might say that this has nothing to do with sexual harassment of women, and that rape and harassment is about power - not sex,  I beg to differ. While power may be a big part of it, sex is clearly the means of achieving it. To deny that sexual gratification has nothing to do with rape or harassment is to deny human nature. 

When sexual permissiveness pervades the culture, it emboldens some men to ‘make a move’ thinking that the other party is as interested as they are. While that does not always equal sexual harassment, line are too easily crossed because of it. After all isn’t that the way things are always depicted in novels, movies, TV, and music? Sex is what sells automobiles and what sells beer. Casual sex is the norm. One would have to be in complete denial to say that it isn’t. 

We live in a world that is over-sexualized. Presidents in both the US and Israel who were otherwise highly respected have been guilty sexual  harassment or even rape. (Think Kennedy, Clinton, and Katzav.) Is it any wonder that army officers are guilty of it too? Or that sexual activity is so prevalent in the army? When sex is so oversold in a society it makes sexual harassment an easy slope to slide into for some people.

In my view the best remedy to this problem is to segregate the sexes. You can’t change the culture.We are all too deeply invested in it for too long a time. But you can do things to eliminate or at least reduce opportunity. Which is what the IDF ought to do.

I am kind of old fashioned about this. If that makes me sexist in the eyes of some, I can’t help it. I do not believe that women ought to be involved in combat. I actually believe that women are not generally as physically equipped to do so as men.

Yes, I know the argument. As long as the standards remain the same for both sexes and a woman can qualify she ought to be given the same opportunity as men. That sounds good and is the politically correct attitude. I do not, however, think exceptions ought to set policy. In fact if I am not mistaken I believe the general physical standards for army service have been lowered in both the US and Israel just to accommodate women. But even if the original standard is upheld, putting men and women together in an environment where hierarchy is all important, makes women in the military particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment or worse.

This is not to say that women shouldn’t have the right to serve in the military if they so choose. Of course they should. But only in the myriad of positions that are administrative and not combat.

Once you place them in combat units, they are perforce going to have to be involved with men and need to be trained to work together. That in my view is a prescription for the 1 out of 6 sexual harassment ratio.  Increased vigilance and better prosecution of violators of a code of conduct between the sexes will never completely work. Especially in ‘He said – She said’ confrontations that end up letting the accused completely off the hook; leaving the accuser as a trouble maker; and making life even more miserable for her.  Leaving her just as vulnerable as before.

For me this is common sense. Even if the feminist spirit of the times argues against it, isn’t it a small price to pay?  Isn’t an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Daas Torah - When Great Men are Worshipped

R' Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, R' Aharon Kotler & Irving Bunim
I want to be clear from the outset so that there is no mistake about my views. I have profound respect for Gedolim.  Who those Gedolim are may be a subject of debate among various factions within Orthodoxy. But the one thing they have in common is that their Torah knowledge is superior by far to that of the rest of us. 

Not that Torah knowledge alone is enough to make one a Gadol in a leadership sense. Although they may be considered a Gadol BaTorah, they may still not be qualified to be a Gadol B'Yisroel - a rabbinic leader. There are many factors that must be met besides Torah knowledge before someone can dispense wisdom to the masses. What those factors are is beyond the scope of this post.

Daas Torah is the term used by the Charedi world to refer to the views of those leaders who qualify as Gedolim. Although the term has been subjected to lot of ridicule by some, I believe ridicule uncalled for and unfair. That term simply means ‘Wisdom of the Torah’. Orthodox Jews should acknowledge that the Torah is the word of God. Thus God’s wisdom is contained therein. The difficulty is in how to find out what that wisdom actually is. The Torah cannot possibly  deal with every single issue that ever comes up even in one generation, let alone every generation. That is why those with the most Torah knowledge are best equipped to tell us what the Torah would say about any given situation. 

Even though there are people that have that kind of knowledge they do not always agree on how one should deal with a particular situation. This very important fact illustrates the difficulty of knowing exactly what the wisdom of the Torah is. An example of this in a communal sense was whether Orthodox rabbis should join a rabbinic body that includes Conservative and Reform Rabbis. Rav Aharon Kotler’s Daas Torah forbade any participation at all with heterodox rabbis for any reason. Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik’s Daas Torah permitted it if it was exclusively for the betterment of the Jewish people and theological issues were not involved.

One can debate the opinions of these great rabbis. But there should be no doubt that in both cases it was Daas Torah speaking. So that even though I  would see Rav Soloveitchik’s views more accurately reflecting the wisdom of theTorah, I still consider Rav Kotler’s views to Daas Torah as well.

That being said, what has happened to that idea has been warped beyond recognition into something that is not Daas Torah at all. Albeit still thought to be by far too many people in the Charedi world. This does not mean that there aren’t Charedim that view Daas Torah correctly. But there are far too many whose views are so warped, that it defies imagination.

Case in point. Yesterday a  Charedi friend of mine approached me after Mincha about an encounter he had with  a fellow Charedi.  He was asked if he heard what R’ Chaim Kanievsky said about Hurricane Irma being a Sakana (life threatening) . My friend responded along the lines that he couldn’t believe that anyone asked R’ Chaim a silly question like that and why anyone would make a big deal about a one word obvious answer. The fellow seem shocked at the response. How could he say something like that about a ‘psak’ from Rav Kanievsky?!  It was as though he committed blasphemy!

(Just to be clear. This is not a criticism of R’ Kanievsky. It is a criticism of both the need to ask a question the answer to which can be given by 8th grader - and the reaction of the Charedi fellow to my friend’s response.)

Unfortunately that incident didn’t surprise me. That’s because of how the Charedi world talks about their rabbinic leaders. They do so in terms that places them on pedestals so high that they become nearly god-like figures. Any reference to one of their Gedolim that can be perceived with even the slightest bit of criticism (even when there was none as was the case here) is grounds for questioning his credentials as a ‘Ben Torah’ (a term used to describe fellow Charedim). 

This not Daas Torah. This is Gadol worship. It mimics the kind or awe Chasidim give to there Chasidic Rebbes.

The phenomenon of Gadol worship has many fathers. Not the least of which is how Agudah speaks about its rabbinic leadership as absolute and final authorities on every matter about which they express an opinion. While agreeing that they are human and fallible, they nevertheless treat them as though they are infallible. So that anything they say s to be treated as though God Himself has said it. Rendering their ‘disclaimer’  meaningless.This kind of thinking is carried over to their banquets where inevitable there will be at least one speaker will take this attitude to an even more exaggerated level. 

But that is not the only factor.  Biographies about  about past Gedolim in the Charedi world - painting them as born holy from the womb - is practically how every biography is written. The subjects of the bios never struggle - never err even as children. They are presented as born perfect and remaining perfect throughout their lives. When Gedolim of the past are presented in such unrealistic terms – hiding any aspect of their lives that might be considered the slightest bit unflattering, it isn’t too difficult to see how anyone referred to as a Gadol in our generations are seen.  

Another factor that influences how  Charedi Mechanchim speak to their students about the experiences with their own Gadol. They tend to talk in the most glowing terms describing their personal encounters in exaggerated terms. I’m not sure they even realize they are exaggerating. The fact is they don’t really know more than their own experiences tell them and  have no clue about how they cmae tobe who they are – whether they had any imperfections in their character they had to overcome.  So a young student who may have the same Rosh Yeshiva later in life will already be in a state of awe before he ever meets him, and treat him accordingly. 

As the Gadol ages and his following becomes greater the stories about him spread as do the exaggerations. When you combine all of these factors, you and up with the incident my friend described to me.

This is a very unhealthy development for Orthodoxy. As I said Gedolim deserve our respect. What they do not deserve is to be worshiped as though they are gods.

There are too many people that have the kind of reaction my friend described.

I’m sure that Agudah officials will deny that they build up their Gedolim in unrealistic terms. But I have to question them about that when at every convention they speak about their Gedolim that way. I’m equally sure that  will deny thata their biographies exaggerate the greatess of their biographical subjects. But when they refuse to publish any of the himan struggles they had on the way to becoming a gadol, what other conclusions can one have than tto see them as beyond human and near godlike?!

And when Roshei Yeshiva ignore the kind of fawing their students have over them, that too encourages his attitude.

I would like to see the concept of Daas Torah revert to what it is supposed to be - respecting their views but not idolizing them. It would help if the exaggerations at conventions and omissions in biographies would stop. It would also help if Roshei Yeshiva would teach their students that they too had struggles. And actually point to mistakes they made. 

And so too would it help if a Rebbe would stop exaggerating about his personal experiences and perhaps relate something human about them.

I will end with an excerpt from Rav Ahron Soloveichik's book, The Warmth and the Light, which I referenced in a previous post on the subject:
In Parhsas Ki Sisa where we have our first instance of what happens when a great man, Moshe Rabbenu, is worshipped. That kind of worship led to the Maaseh HaEgel – the worshipping of an icon – the golden calf...
How is it possible that the people who were just so overwhelmed by the Shechina and declaring ‘Naaseh V’Nishma’ – ‘We will do (the Mitzvos) and we will listen to them’ - could sink to the moral abyss of Avodah Zara - idol worship?
Rav Ahron’s answer was discussed in that post. But I think history is repeating itself for the reasons - at least in part - I mentioned here. And could be remedied accordingly.