Thursday, October 23, 2014

Taking Charity for a Living

Students at Beth Medrash Gavoha better known as Lakewood (NYT)
On my fight back from Israel to Chicago I was surprised to see a feature article in the international edition of the New York Times. It was entitled The Beggars of Lakewood. I found it to be e sympathetic portrait of the community’s generosity towards what we call ‘Meshulachim’. That is the Hebrew word for ‘sent ones’. Those who are ‘sent’ by various charitable institutions as their agents to raise funds. 

But just as many, if not more, come for themselves. There are the poor and the sick …or those that have sick relatives requiring massive amounts of money for medical procedures not always covered by Israel’s national health care system. They need funds just to survive and support their families.

In the vast majority of cases, they are truly people in need. The fraudulent ones have been weeded out by a process know as an Ishur  (permit).  It is usually  issued by a respected organization (Agudah does this in Chicago) after verifying that their stories are true to be. (That was not always the case in the past.)

Lakewood has an organization that does the same thing. What was nice to see is how altruistic the community of Lakewood is.  Despite their lower incomes they tend to be more generous in their charitable contributions. They observe better than most of us the Mitzvah of Maaser Kesafim that requires us to give 10% of our income to charity. The bottom line for me about that article is that the community of Lakewood came out looking very good.  At least that’s the way I read it.

But it seems not everyone had my take. Matzav – republishing an article from Arutz Sheva – thought it was terrible.

What they saw was an article about the Meshulachim - most of whom come from Israel - that made them look bad. It was stereotypical description of Jews as money-grubbing beggars. 

I can’t say that the description of Elimelech Ehrlich, the Meshulach described at the beginning of the article is inaccurate. I have seen versions of this fellow many times in Chicago. And the truth is it bothers me.  Yes, giving them charity is legitimate. They do need to feed their families. 

But I have to ask, why so many Meshulachim come from Israel? Is it because there are no jobs? Is it the case that every Meshulach that comes from Israel has tried to find work and just hasn’t been able to? I’m sure that is true in some cases. 

As I said, it is also true that many of them collect for legitimate institutions that are concerned with feeding the indigent, or forYeshivos and Kollelim. In some cases Meshulcahim are collecting for medical reasons. 

I always ask myself why the vast majority of Meshulachim from Israel are Chasidic or Charedi? There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are Meshulachim. But I can’t help but think that a lot of it comes from the fact that Charedim in Israel do not have the education or training for good jobs.

This does not of course mean that we shouldn’t help them. But I think it does mean that as the population of Charedim and Chasidim in Israel increases, the number of Meshulchim will too. It is not unusual to find 5 or more Meshulachim coming into Shul every morning with their Ishur (green cards) asking for charity. 

Wouldn’t the greatest charitable act to these people be to change the way they are educated? If there are no secular studies in elementary or high school curricula in Israel, then the only jobs they can get are menial. And even those are limited. There are probably a lot more people applying for even a menial job that there are jobs – by a lot! It may not eliminate poverty to give them better educations. But I have to believe it would reduce their numbers considerably.

I realize that there are schools cropping up to help Charedim get better jobs. There is the Charedi College of Adina Bar Shalom, and various other schools and training facilities that are beginning to educate Charedim for the workplace once they've left Kollel. But I don't believe that the vast majority of Charedim are doing that. Which leaves a lot of them impoverished.

There is another aspect of this that is even more troubling to me. It is the fact that many of these Meshulachim treat taking chariry as a living - the way most people see a job. And they actually make a decent living doing this.  One may think that they do not make much asking for charity. But I recall an interview with a paraplegic beggar who made a career panhandling on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile – a very posh and upscale shopping area. He was asked how much money he made annually doing this. His answer: in excess of $100,000 a year!

I don’t know how much Meshulachim  that come to Chicago make. It is probably a lot more than people think.  But look at the price they have to pay. They have lost all their dignity by making a living asking for charity. This is not the way a Jew should support himself.

Now as I said, many of these Meshulchim are not like that. They are ‘one timers’ in desperate need of help and it should be given with a full heart. And many are legitimately collecting for institutions and not for themselves (other than a percentage of what they collect as a fee). But there are many who do what Elimelech Ehrlich does. From the New York Times
Once a year, Elimelech Ehrlich travels from Jerusalem to Lakewood, N.J., with a cash box and a wireless credit-card machine… Ehrlich is a full-time beggar. 
So yes, in the end Matzav and Arutz Sheva are right. The New York Times painted an unflattering picture of a Meshulach. But it is an accurate picture.  Elimelech Ehrlich is a  man who makes a living by asking for charity. And he is not the only one.

But it also painted an accurate picture of Lakewood’s generosity. I didn’t like the title either. But other than that why not focus on the positive side of the article instead of the negative side. Because the positive side is a real Kiddush Hashem.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Women in the Israeli Defense Forces

Tamar Ariel, OBM (family photo via Ha'aretz)
Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. One must die and not violate. That is the Halacha about 3 particular Miztvos that are deemed so important, that one must give up their life  if necessary in order to observe them.  The 3 Mitzvos are Avodah Zara (idolatry), Shefichas Damaim (murder), and Giluy Arayos (biblical level adultery). So that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to murder someone, or worship an idol, or to have sexual intercourse with another man’s wife, Halacha requires one to give up his life and not violate any of those laws.

The term Yehorag V’Al Ya’avor has been used by various contemporary Gedolim for other purposes. Mostly in the context of Arayos (sexual matters). Which is understandable since idol worship today is rare among even the most secular of Jews, and murder is self understood. 

Most famously the Chazon Ish, Rav Avrohom Yeshayhu Karelitz ZTL, declared that a Jewish woman may not serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) adding that it was a Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. He made that staement in response to the Israeli policy of drafting all able bodied citizens – male or female – into the army. The Chazon Ish fought for an exemption to the draft for all religious women and he got it. Any woman who declares that she is observant receives an exemption.

Religious Zionist rabbis encourage their women to do Sherut Leumi (national service) in lieu of direct army service – which they also oppose. Sherut Leumi (if I understand correctly) entails various types of social work and Chesed. As a separate all female entity they do not generally interact with male soldiers. Most religious Zionist women opt for that.

The Chazon Ish opposed Sherut Leumi too because he held that since it meant subservience to the military chain of command, women were therefore still subjected to rigid male military authority and they would have the same problems as direct army service would..

So how has all that worked out in our day? Charedi woman do not serve in any capacity. Most Religious Zionist women serve in Sherut Leumi. But this is not 100% the case. What happens when a religious woman joins the army directly? 

There was a story in Jewish Action Magazine a couple of years ago about a Charedi woman who did exactly that. She had always wanted to be a soldier. And she became one. The article described what it was like for her. And although there were challenges along the way, she was able to maintain her Charedi principles and not violate their stringencies and customs. I do not recall her being ostracized even by Charedim. But she was an anomaly.

There are however religious women now that do join the IDF. I assume they are mostly from the Religious Zionist community. What about Yehoreg V’Al  Ya’avor? Don’t Religious Zionist women understand the severity of that Halacha?

I believe that the truth about the  Charedi ‘Yehoreg V’Al  Ya’avor’ attitude here is that it is just a bit of an exaggeration. It is hyperbole to impress upon people just how strong the opposition.

To say that a woman should die before joining the IDF - it would seem to me - is counter to the actual Halacha. It is after all possible (as was demonstrated by that female Charedi IDF soldier) to maintain one’s religious standards - difficult though that may be. No one is putting a gun to a female recruit’s head and telling her that she must violate a Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor when she joins the IDF.

Although it is prohibited to put oneself into a situation that can lead to Aryaos, the severity of Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor is not attached.  Besides, I believe that most even secular women in the IDF are quite moral people and do not sleep around. Although I’m sure it happens. My guess is that the IDF reputation for that is exaggerated. To therefore consider it Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor for a woman to join the army makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

This is not to say that I advocate that all women serve. The fact is that I do not. I oppose army service for women in general for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done right in some cases. The fact is that more than a few religious women have joined  the IDF despite the severity that Charedi leaders have attached to it. And they have joined in a big way.

This was the case with Tamar Ariel. Unfortunately her story does not have a happy ending. She was killed by an avalanche while trekking in Nepal. It is in that context that I have learned that there are some religious women who do in fact join and are competitive with men in some of the most skilled areas of military service. From Ha’aretz:  
Ariel… was Israel’s first female Orthodox navigator. While that is an extraordinary title, held only by her, it is no longer alien to a culture of young Orthodox women who are filling the ranks of the army like never before. From one year to the next, more and more religious girls are choosing to don a uniform. In 2013, for example, their number was 1,616. And it’s not just a change in quantity, but also quality, as the best of them opt for the army. 
Women representing Aluma, which works together with the army and the Defense Ministry to advise and direct Orthodox girls considering joining the army, are barred from girls’ religious high schools, including state religious schools. But despite the opposition of spiritual and educational leaders in the community, this grassroots trend continues.
Once it was easy to label an Orthodox woman soldier as one who had strayed from the right path. But over the years this has become almost impossible. There is nothing more ordinary today than the many young Orthodox soldiers at Ariel’s funeral at Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak, wearing their long skirts, speaking the language of Torah they learned in a religious girls college(and) Commitment to halakha, Jewish religious law.
Times sure seem to have changed. 

While (as I said) I oppose women serving in the army, I can’t help but admire what Tamar Ariel had done. I am saddened by her sudden tragic death. She seems to have been a great role model for those religious women who might opt for real army service in spite of rabbinic opposition to it. She showed us in her own unassuming way that there is no limit to what anyone - male or female - can do and do right if they have the talent, will, commitment, and moral integrity of a Tamar Ariel. May her memory be for a blessing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Day Yoeli Deutch Died

Joey Diangello (formerly Yoeli Deutch)
Maybe it wasn’t suicide. On the other hand maybe it was. Yoeli Deutch – age 34 - died Monday via an overdose of drugs. That was how his death was listed.  Did he do it on purpose or was it an accidental overdose? Who knows.

His friends say it couldn’t have been suicide. He was recently in a much better place psychologically than he had been ever since his traumatic childhood. A childhood that saw him being raped by an unidentified man at the Mikvah his father had taken him to. He was 7 years old. But as a poignant essay by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman notes, suicide was on his mind just before the holidays.  This was the final e-mail sent to Rabbi Eisenman just before Rosh Hashanah:
I just wanna say "Leshana tovah" to you and your family. May this upcoming year b a suicide death free year is all I ask.  Luv, me.
Best, Joey
This  wouldn’t be the first time that a survivor of sexual abuse committed suicide – even after many years and even after displaying a more positive attitude in life.  I am told by survivors that the pain of sexual abuse never fully goes away.

Yoeli Deutch actually died long ago. His rapist murdered his Jewish soul. Or so Yoeli thought. Judaism for Joel was Satmar Chasidus. He was violated in one of its most utilized venues – a Mikvah where many Jews go for ablutions to ‘spiritually cleanse the soul’.  Although not mandatory for men in our day, most Chasidim and many other Orthodox men use it and consider it a pious act.

Yoeli  probably wanted to get as far away from his Jewish identity and the painful association he had with it as possible. His fate was sealed after that event. 10 years later at age 17 he left the only Judaism he knew, Satmar, and became Joey Diangello. And then he rebelled big time. From Rabbi Eisenman’s Short Vort:
When I met Joey, his arms were covered with tattoos depicting scenes I did not want to stare at.
His fingernails were painted with black nail polish and he was drinking large glasses of non-Kosher wine at a rate which made me wonder how a human being could ingest so much alcohol.
I never met Joey. But from Rabbi Eisenman’s words I can see that he was a good man that got a bad deal in life. One that might have been avoided if he were treated differently by his former community. He was completely rejected by them after he rebelled. I’m sure they were disgusted by his ‘look’… and what he had become. Form the pix11 website:
Diangello’s family rejected his new lifestyle…

Diangello paid a price for leaving the community, often getting hissed at on the streets of Williamsburg, if he was seen anywhere near his old neighborhood.
Contrast that with what Rabbi Yakov Horowitz wrote just before the holidays (which I posted and commented upon). It included the following:
Many of the kids my colleagues and I work with all year long return to their own Shul for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – even though they may no longer be observant. Often, their dress and overall appearance are at odds with the standards of the community and they may be tentatively standing at the outer edge of our Shuls – literally and figuratively. 
On their behalf, I humbly appeal to you to reach out to them warmly and welcome them back.
Please don’t comment on their appearance or how long they have been away…
Don’t misread their discomfort as disrespect, or their tentativeness as a lack of commitment. Just walk over to them and say, “It’s so nice to see you.” Give them a warm, welcoming and genuine smile. Invite them to sit next to you – and permit them the space to turn down your invitation. I assure you that whether or not they accept it; they will be grateful to you for your unconditional acceptance.  
Imagine the difference such an attitude might have made to Joey. Had they done this, who knows… maybe they could have gotten their Yoeli back. But even if they wouldn’t have gotten him back, acting kind instead of cruel might just have saved his life. I can’t imagine the unbearable pain Joey must have felt when the community he was once a part of  turned their back on him - shunning him in such a disgusting way.

The following pix11 video has more details about Joey’s life – and unfortunately his death. Watch it and weep.

Final Thoughts

Barry Freundel
When a prominent figure so recognizably Modern Orthodox and so highly respected by even the secular world - is found out to be a devious person whose prurient interests supersede any sense of morality and integrity, the Chilul HaShem is massive. I can just hear the laughter by his peers at Georgetown University and the NIH...

Freundel had to know the repercussions of being caught... and what kind of Chilul HaShem that would create. But in his infinite arrogance he thought he could get away with it.

This isn't some teenager who peeps into his next door neighbor's window and sees the lady of the house getting undressed. This was premeditated, planned, and executed.  He used every opportunity to peep at the women that used his Shul's Mikvah - even inviting non Jews to try it out... so that he could get his jollies.

The repercussions of what he did are still reverberating. He violated the privacy and the trust of all the women who used that Mikvah, many of whom were probably traumatized by this revelation. He violated the trust all that knew him - put in him. He embarrassed his family; embarrassed his Shul; and embarrassed his people. 

His deceit casts here casts a pall on every communal activity he participated in. His Eruvin are now suspect. His conversions are too. (...although Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz issued a ruling that they are to be considered valid). And his actions casts a shadow on Mikvah use. No one in his Shul will ever see Mikvah use the same as they did before. Every time you will mention the Mikvah, you will think of him and what he did. I can just imagine a woman who might be on the fence about using the Mikvah being totally turned off by it now.

I am truly disgusted by this man... whom I once considered one of the bright lights of Modern Orthodoxy. 

I wonder how two of his more prominent congregants - former Senator Joseph Lieberman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew - feel about this.

I have been told that all of Freundel's religious involvements prior to these revelations that were deemed Kosher - remain so.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clarifying My Views

Picture of me taken at the Kotel a few years ago
First let me say that Barry Freundel is a bad man. I could not agree more with those people who criticized my post yesterday on the subject. They were right. I was wrong. Now that I have seen just ‘who and what’ he is, he deserves spending some time in jail if he is convicted. And he probably will be.

To put it the way a woman who goes by the name ‘kweansmom’ did it in a comment yesterday: 
(Rabbi Barry Freundel) allegedly committed his crime during an especially emotionally vulnerable time for his victims and abused his position of trust as a clergyman. This is very different from a storeowner who places a camera in his dressing room. These circumstances should absolutely be taken into consideration by the court. 
I completely agree with her.

What makes his sin even worse and a greater Chilul HaShem than it might otherwise be is that he was such a respected Orthodox figure in the modern world. He commanded the respect of not only his coreligionists, but of the wider public. He besmirched the very Hashkafos that both he and I stand for. When a prominent Centrist figure like Barry Freundel  behaves as he did, it makes my version of Yiddishkeit look bad. I cannot find it in my heart to have compassion for people in positions of power who do things like that.

But all this is not the purpose of this post. I just wanted to be clear about my utter contempt for this man.

The purpose of this post is something that saddens me. Which is the complete misunderstanding of my attitude towards Charedim. Even by some of those that have similar Hashkafos. Which was made known to me by the following comment from kweansmom: 
I was really hoping you wouldn't (again) try to sweep the wrondoings of a beloved Modern Orthodox rabbi under the rug and call for second chances that you would never afford to an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi in a scandal. Sadly, I am disappointed. 
This statement is not true. I did not  try to sweep the wrongdoings of a beloved Modern Orthodox rabbi under the rug. But obviously kweansmom thinks it is true. As do some in the Charedi world that think I am overly generous to MO rabbinic miscreants while bashing Charedi rabbinic miscreants. So let me try once again to explain my views; explain why I wrote the original post; and try to examine why so many people think I am so biased.

First let me state unequivocally that I am not anti Charedi at all. I completely reject the accusation by anyone that I am. Those Charedim that understand what I do here (and there are many) already know that. I respect Charedi Hashkafos in the sense of Elu V’Elu. I only wish Charedim would do the same for my views (But again – that is off topic).

I have often said that there is little difference in lifestyle or values between moderate Charedim (which comprise the majority of all Charedim) and Centrists (RWMO) like myself. The Hashkafic differences are real. But they do not impact the relationship we have with each other nor should they. Which is why I believe that mainstream Orthodoxy of the future will be (and to some extent already is) a homogeneous entity comprised of these 2 groups - with moderate Charedim in the majority.

I have also expressed many times my admiration for the truly great Charedi Gedolim. The list is long but includes such luminaries as R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky (a particular hero of mine), R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ Aharon Kotler, R’ Yitzchak Hutner, R’Avrohom Pam… and a many others. In light these two specific points I am always surprised when I get accused of having an anti Charedi pro MO bias. Especially when it comes from my own Hashkafic peers.

Perhaps it is because so many of my posts deal with Charedi wrongdoing. But that’s because that is what is out there in the public square. Much of what this blog is about is my reaction to stories reported in the media about Jews and Jewish subjects. Furthermore I have only been critical when there was a massive Chilul HaShem involved.
That I have suggested that some of that wrongdoing might have been generated by Charedi Hashkafos taken to an extreme is not the same thing as bashing the Hashkafa itself. That I have been critical of one or more aspects of that Hashkafa which I believe might result in something harmful to the fabric of Judaism (e.g. the Israeli Charedi policy of no secular studies in their high schools) is not a criticism of the Hashkafa. It is a criticism of what I believe is an extreme position taken by Israeli Charedim on the subject of studying Limudei Chol. Charedi Hashkafos are not inherently opposed to Limudei Chol.  

I will admit that I have used some… let us say colorful language in expressing these views in the past. Like using the phrase ‘head in the sand’ with respect to their insular approach to the outside world. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used that phrase as it can easily be taken as pejorative. But it was not intended as such. It is just the way I write – which is done to get people’s attention. I will try and do better in this regard in the future.

Finally I want to specifically address the issue of seeming to be kinder and gentler to MO wrongdoers than I am to Charedi wrongdoers. This was suggested in the above comment made by ‘kweansmom’ as well as others in private e-mails.

I do not believe that I am kinder to MO wrongdoers. I respond to the acts - not Hashkafos. There are differences between crimes. There is a difference between spying on women in a shower unbeknownst to them - and rape, sexual abuse, or sexual molestation. You cannot compare voyeurism to forcing a teenage girl to have sex with you and claiming it is therapy. Or taking advantage of seminary girls that have a crush on you, end up offering you sexual favors, and you taking them up on it. There is a difference between sodomizing young boys as a ‘Frum psychologist’ and watching one get undressed from afar. There is a difference between a rabbinic Kiruv leader fondling his young charges and watching them get undressed through a peephole.

Elon, Lanner, Meisels, Weberman, and Mondrowitz, (among far too many others) are all guilty of direct and unwanted sexual contact of varying degrees which ruined the lives of their victims. To my knowledge Freundel has not been charged with anything like that. At least not yet. If on the other hand he is also guilty of that too, then he is just as condemn-able as those other rabbis.

Those differences are why my post was initially more sympathetic to Freundel than I have been to the other above-mentioned rabbis. However, as I have already said, I have since come to realize that my sympathy was misplaced.  But to say that I would never go as easy on a Charedi rabbi as I did on an MO rabbi is absolutely not true. 

Had Mondrowitz for example only been accused of spying on young children while they were in a state of undress, I would have had the same sympathy for him that I did for Freundel.  I would have said he is sick and needs therapy. But Mondrowitz turned out to be a monster of major proportions that deserved a much harsher fate than he has living freely in Israel. Something along the lines of Mida K’neged Mida…. Or at least as long a prison term as Weberman got if not longer.

Freundel cannot be compared to Mondrowitz or to any of the others. So I while I apologize for my compassionate treatment of Freundel knowing what I know… my misplaced compassion was coming from those differences.  Not from any special treatment toward Modern Orthodox rabbis.

But as I also said, even that compassion was misplaced. What Freundel did was a complete abuse of power. He has caused psychological damage to his victims. He harmed the reputation of his Shul. He has very likely discouraged Mikvah usage causing some women to fear ‘being watched’ by their rabbi. He embarrassed Modern Orthodoxy. And he has caused a huge Chilul HaShem.  

I hope that makes my position abundantly clear.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Another Bright Light Dims

Rabbi Barry Freundel
It seems to never end. Once again we have a case where a respected rabbi has been arrested and charged with a sex crime. This time it’s voyeurism. What a sight it must have been to see a prominent rabbi being led out of his house by the police. A rabbi whose synagogue members include such high profile public servants as former Senator Joseph Lieberman and current Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew.

As is always the case Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel should be considered innocent until proven guilty. I truly hope he is innocent and his reputation is restored to its pristine pre arrest level.  On the other hand I highly doubt that a highly respected rabbi like Rabbi Freundel would have been arrested and charged if the suspicions of guilt were not well founded. I hope I am wrong.

Barry Freundel was one of the bright lights of Modern Orthodoxy. He is the Rav of Kesher Israel Congregation. Among other accomplishments - he is also an adjunct professor at both Georgetown Law School and the University of Maryland; and an ethics adviser for the NIH.

His Hashkafos closely match those of my own. As recently as a couple of months ago he published an essay in Mosaic Magazine that clearly spelled out his strong opposition to Open Orthodoxy… a position with which I agree.

What exactly is he accused of? From the Forward
A police report, obtained by local D.C. news channel Fox 5, alleges that Freundel was seen installing a camera hidden in a clock radio above a shower at the mikvah. Freundel allegedly told the person who caught him that he was fixing the shower ventilation. The TV station reported that he would be held overnight. 
So here we have yet again another Chilul Hashem. How is it possible that so many of our finest seem to be overcome by their own Taavos – sexual impulses? What makes a man of such stature risk his reputation and the welfare of his family and do such things?!

He violated the privacy of the very people he serves. Here was the reaction of one of the female members of his Shul that uses the Mikvah: 
The allegations left one woman who had used the mikvah in shock. “I feel incredibly uncomfortable and my privacy violated,” said the woman, who asked not to be named to protect her privacy. “It’s just really sad that such a beautiful thing is now kind of tainted and turned into something that’s quite ugly.” 
I cannot imagine the feelings of embarrassment of a woman who now knows that she was being watched in secret taking a shower  (for who knows how long) by her rabbi. And who knows how many other women he watched?!

Rabbi Freundel’s behavior bespeaks a Jekyll and Hyde personality. There is the public persona of a man with high morals and integrity - a spiritual leader that holds many respected positions in both the Jewish and the secular worlds… and the secret voyeuristic persona that seems to have no ethics or morals at all.

Does that make Barry Freundel a bad man? Does it mean that his ethical and moral persona was just an act? I don’t think so. I believe that he has a mental disorder that until now has gone undetected. A disorder that he most likely battled with.  And lost. Acting on it the way he did makes him a terribly flawed person. But not necessarily an evil one. I’m sure he intended to hurt no one. He rationalized. He probably thought he would never get caught and no one – including his victims – would ever be the wiser.

We all have sexual desires and fantasies. Sometimes they are illicit. But most of us control ourselves and do not act upon them when they are illicit. Barry Freundel acted upon them. That’s the difference. That is what makes him in need of therapy… but perhaps compassion too.

He is of course not the only prominent rabbi or religious Jewish personality that has fallen (if the charges prove to be true).  Nor are Modern Orthodox Jews of which he is a prominent one - the only ones guilty of sex crimes. This is a problem that crosses all Hashkafic lines. No one segment is immune to it. We know about these cases all too well.

To say I am disappointed is an understatement. But I am also saddened for him and for his family. In one brief and tragic moment, his reputation came tumbling down and is now ruined. His family must be suffering untold emotional pain and embarrassment. I wish this could have all been handled without the publicity. But it is now out in the open for all of us to see, and be embarrassed by. But we cannot afford to ignore it. There are lessons to be learned. As Jonathan Sarna was quoted saying: 
“One can only hope that the lesson from this will be that Orthodox rabbinical institutions should do more to deal with rabbis who have these demons before these demons get them in trouble…”
What we can do to prevent anything like this in the future is beyond me. I have no answers.  I don’t know who does. But that does not free me or anyone else from seeking them.

My heart goes out to his family for what they must now be going through. If these accusations prove to be true, it is my sincere hope that Rabbi Freundel gets the therapy he needs and once again has his reputation restored.  I don’t think he will ever get his job back. He was suspended without pay by the Shul’s board of directors. Rightly so, in my view.

But all is not lost. With therapy and Teshuva -which should include a public as well as private apology to all his victims, the Shul, and all of the Jewish people  - he can still contribute To Klal Yisroel in a major way. A fine mind like his is a terrible thing to waste.

This post was written last Wednesday, just prior to the 3 day Yom Tov and auto-posted today. At the time not much was known (at least by me) beyond what I wrote in the post. Obviously from the many comments - the wrong doing goes far beyond what was known at the time I wrote this.

I have also reconsidered my thoughts about him even without the additional information. Fine mind or not - I agree with those who say that he should never be given a position of public trust again. He deserves no mercy from me or anyone else. I also think he should get some serious jail time. But I would not deny him therapy.

My feelings of compassion for his family remain in place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah

My visit to the holy land is coming to a close. In three days I will be boarding a plane back to Chicago (at about 1:00 AM local time on Sunday (Motzoi Shabbos). Not looking forward to that for many reasons. Not the least of which is that I hate flying.

Yom Tov in Isrsael has thus far been all I expected it be and more. The weather has been great. It's truly a pleasure spending time with your children and grandchildren in a warm climate for Sukkos.

This will be my last post until Sunday. Until then I want to once again wish everyone a Chag Sameach.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Giving Pledge and the Tuition Crisis

Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz pledges a million dollars to Mir Avreichim (Matzav)
There are a lot of billionaires in the world. Some of them are Jewish. And it seems that Orthodox Jewry may have a few of those billionaires counted among them too.

I consider myself fortunate to know some very wealthy Orthodox Jews. I don’t really know if they are billionaires. But considering the amount of money they each give to various Jewish causes – in the many millions annually, it would not surprise me if they were. I am happy for them and am pleased that that they are able to enjoy their wealth and at the same time use that wealth for good. 

One particular very wealthy friend of mine told me many years ago that he gives approximately half of his income away every year to Orthodox Jewish institutions – mostly religious day schools, high schools, and Yeshivos.

This was all brought to mind yesterday when Orthodox Jewish philanthropist Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz pledged what amounts to half of next month’s income to the Avreichim of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem. It will be in the form of matching their monthly stipend – doubling their income for the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. After making this pledge  - he added: 
“An avreich gives tzedakah at the expense of bread and milk, and his child’s shoes. If I make a million dollars in two weeks, how can I observe something like this and sit by quietly?” 
What a truly generous man Mr. Rechnitz is. This is not the first time he has been generous with his money. Nor is his alma mater, Yeshivas Mir,  the only place he has been generous to.

Another thought that came to mind is what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing along with their ‘partner in crime’ Warren Buffet. They have created a very special club for billionaires. Joining that club requires only one thing: A pledge to give away half of their fortune to the charity of their choice. They call it ‘The Giving Pledge’.  Among billionaires who joined are some very prominent political, business, media, and entertainment people whose names most people will surely recognize. Names like Michael Bloomberg, George Lucas, and Ted Turner.  As of 2010, over forty billionaire have signed up pledging to give away half of their fortune.

Now we Orthodox Jews do not have such a club. At least not that I am aware of. But it would not surprise me if many of the multi millionaires that I know already do that anyway. Which is of course to their credit. But this got me to thinking about the tuition crisis again. There is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind that most Orthodox religious schools struggle to meet their budgets. Many do not and run deficits every year. And in all cases that I am aware of it is the parents that are asked to shoulder the lion’s share of that burden. 

Most parents in ‘the sytem’ are not millionaires. Even some of the more affluent among them making well into six figure incomes can often not pay full tuition. They too receive tuition assistance in the form of partial scholarships. Especially when they have a large family that very often consists of 5 or more children. In such cases the actual tuition fee can run into six figures itself in some of the pricier schools. And most people make less than six figure incomes.

There have been many suggestions about how to solve this crisis. Some of them practical, some of them not. Some implemented in some schools. Some not. Some involve cost cutting. Others involve novel ways to raise money. But as of now, none of these solutions even if they are all implemented in every school will solve this crisis. 

The biggest ‘budget buster’ is of course the salaries of the teachers and administration. And that is as it should be. Gone are the days (for most schools) of starvation wages for Rebbeim and Moros, who had to seek second jobs just to make ends meet. They are now paid a relatively decent wage, although certainly not what a good teacher should make. 

In my view good teachers are still underpaid and deserve a lot more for all their hard work and dedication. So we have this conundrum of wanting teachers to get paid what they deserve; pushing parents (as the beneficiaries of their  schools via the education of their children) to the max; and still falling way short of meeting a budget where teacher are still not paid what they deserve. 

I think everyone knows where I am going with this by now. What about a billionaires club for Orthodox Jewish billionaires. Or even a multi-millionaires. club  But instead of pledging half of their considerable fortunes to the charity of their choice, pledge it to the Yeshivas, high schools, or day schools of their choice in the cities where they live. 

If that were done, I think it would go a long way to solving the tuition crisis. This does not mean that parents shouldn’t pay what they can afford. Of course they should. But it might lighten their load just a bit and it would certainly ease the pressure they constantly feel. 

I happen to believe (and I have no real way of knowing this… it’s just a hunch) that the money is there. If all of Orthodox Jewish billionaires and multi millionaires were to pledge half of their fortunes to the schools in their own cities - I think it might just solve the problem. And I do not think it would hurt their lifestyles - which they have rightfully earned and are certainly entitled to enjoy.

What about the other worthy institutions? I’m sure that there might even be some only left over in the other half of their fortunes for that too. Or in lieu of that - perhaps 10% of that pledge can be designated to those other worthy causes.

So to all you fabulously wealthy Orthodox Jews out there…  how about it, guys? You game? You willing to ‘take the pledge’?

Of course I could be way off base on all of this. It might already be happening in a practical sense. I don't know. Its just a thought. But if I'm right. it's a darn good one.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Tikun Olam of High Caliber

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg and some of his Kids Kicking Cancer students
There are some Orthodox Jews that balk at the term Tikun Olam. As if to say that this concept is not a Torah concept. They will point derisively to other Jewish denominations that use that term as the near total definition what Judaism truly is. But Tikun Olam is in fact a very Jewish concept. And it is not nor should it be the sole province of non Orthodox denominations. It belongs to all of us. And there is one man who has taken up the call in ways that should humble most of us. His name is Elimelech Goldberg.

What an inspiring individual this man is! There are very few Jews like him in any denomination or Hashkafa. Rabbi Goldberg has by sheer determination to serve his fellow man in distress created one gigantic Kiddush HeShem. A Kiddush HaShem of the type few people can lay claim to.

With all of the sordid stories about religious Jews in the media who have done wrong and made one Chilul HaShem after another – giving observant Judiasm a bad name, it is so refreshing to see a story like this. I believe Rabbi Goldberg is Charedi. Which gives lie to the canard that Charedim are only interested  in building up their own world. 

I first saw his name mentioned in a brief post on Cross Currents. Curious about why this man warranted such effusive praise from Rabbi Adlerstein, I did some quick research and now I completely understand.

Rabbi Goldberg was the Rav of the Young Israel of Southfield, Michigan. His 2 year old daughter died of a type of cancer of the blood called Leukemia. I can certainly relate to that as my young grandson Reuven died of cancer too.  The pain of losing a child can bring down the best of us. But in some cases it does the opposite. It emboldens people to turn that negative energy into something positive. This is what Rabbi Goldstein did in spades.

Elimelech Goldstein is not only a Rabbi. He is an expert in the martial arts holding a black belt in Choi Kwang Do. And he used that talent to create something  huge. Working at Camp Simcha a religiously based camp for children with cancer he managed to help a 5 year old patients suffering from treatments ease his pain via techniques used in the martial arts. That incident inspired Rabbi Goldstein to bring this success story to other children suffering from cancer. He calls his program Kids Kicking Cancer. From the Forward:
“We use martial arts as a platform for meditation,” Goldberg explained, “and to allow children to gain these tools so that much of the fear, the anger and trauma that accompanies pain is tolerable.”
The breathing exercises, specifically, are to teach the kids to hold on to happy memories and let go of negative feelings, nine-year-old Haley Wallace, a member of Kids Kick Cancer, explained in CNN’s video documentary. “When the children demonstrate that they can bring in the light and let out the darkness through a series of breathing exercises, it changes people,” Goldberg said.
Rabbi Goldberg has thus far brought his program to New York, Los Angeles and Florida and internationally to Italy, Israel and Canada - and helped more than 5000 kids.

It is amazing what one man can do if the will is there. How widely is he considered a hero? Well as Rabbi Adlerstein notes:
In a large mosque in Detroit hangs a plaque honoring Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg. 
That an Orthodox Rabbi is honored by religious Musilms in Detroit speaks volumes.  But the Kiddush Hashem does not end in a mosque. Rabbi Goldberg is up for the ‘Hero of the Year’ award given by CNN. He is already in their top 10 category. I urge everyone to vote for him at their website as I just did. If he wins - Kids Kicking Cancer will be awarded a  $125,000 prize. If you want to get an inkling of what this man does, watch the video below:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is Divorce the Only Option?

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf and his wife Rabbi Batya Steinlauf (Times of Israel)
There has been a lot written about a letter made public by Conservative Rabbi Gil Steinlauf. Most of it has been very supportive of his decision to divorce his wife of 20 years.

In a heartbreaking letter, Rabbi Steinlauf describes his life-long struggles over his sexuality. At the same time he tells us of his beautiful marriage to Batya, a loving and supportive wife - and of the upheaval this decision will have on their lives and those of their three children.

Columnist Jeffery Goldberg, who is a member of Rabbi Steinlauf’s synagogue, wrote a poignant article about his decision which in part said the following: 
There is sadness here, of course, because Gil and Batya have had, in many ways, a good, even model, marriage (their three children are testament to this), but there is also relief, and anxiety, and most of all a leap into the unknown. I am posting his letter in full below (with his permission) because it is beautiful and thoughtful and heartbreaking and deeply religious… (Rabbi Steinlauf’s letter can be read there is full.) 
I too have a sadness here. Why after a 20 year model marriage could he not keep his family intact? Why the need to divorce? He clearly loves his wife and children. And they love him. His wife, Batya was supportive and understood his struggles. Why leave now? What is gained? 

Personal freedom?! What does that even mean in this context? Freedom from the responsibilities of marriage? …a marriage that he was faithful to for 20 years? Is his personal freedom worth the price of destroying their marriage? ...and the price of the difficult road his children will now have to travel without him there as he was before?

Rabbi Avi Shafran expresses his views rather succinctly in a Forward article  - and I pretty much agree with him: 
I cannot judge him; I cannot presume to appreciate another human being’s challenge (and have failed enough, if different ones, of my own). But pain, in the end, is part of life, and each of us is challenged by any of a variety of temptations to pursue paths we know, or are taught by the Torah, we shouldn’t follow… 
The Orthodox world still hews to that foundational concept, given voice in our ancestors’ declaration at Sinai “We will do and we will hear” (Na’aseh V’Nishmah) — which the Talmud understands as accepting the Torah’s laws even in the absence of our own understanding or our abilities to personally relate to them. 
Just to be clear (and as many people who read this blog with any frequency already know) I do not believe in condemning same sex attractions. The Torah does not condemn them either. It is only acting upon them in specific ways in which the Torah condemns them. Furthermore - what people do in the privacy of their own homes is for God to judge, not for me to speculate about.

Nor do I believe that changing one’s sexual orientation is in any way a practical solution – if it is even possible. Which I tend to doubt (except in cases where people aren’t sure about their sexual identity or are bi-sexual). I do not expect Rabbi Steinlauf to change. And I applaud him for his honesty and integrity in coming out as gay. As he correctly points out - the Talmud in Yuma 72a states: 
 “Rabbah said, any scholar whose inside does not match his outside (Tocho K’Baro) is no scholar. Abaye, and some say Ravah bar Ulah, said [one whose inside does not match his outside] is called an abomination.” 
No one should have to live a lie. Least of all someone who is looked at as a role model by his congregation and honored for his integrity and leadership.  But integrity on this issue does not require him to get divorced.

That said I would never recommend that a gay man marry a woman in denial of his sexuality or even worse – hiding that fact from her prior to marriage. I would strongly recommend against it and even condemn it. There are however some rare exceptions where it can and does work. Rabbi Steinlauf is one such exception. But he is not the only one.

A few years ago when discussing this subject here in another context, an Orthodox gay man commented about his own experience. He too was married with children. He described the relationship with his wife in superlative terms. She too knew of his sexual orientation and gave him unconditional love and support. And like Rabbi Steinlauf he too described the struggles he had to live with every day of his life. He even consulted with his rabbi how to deal with his struggles while staying married to his wife.  But unlike Rabbi Steinlauf, he did not get divorced. Because to him the relationship he had with his wife, whom he loved dearly was too valuable to give up.

At the end of the day, no two situations are alike. I therefore admit that I have no right to judge Rabbi Steinlauf’s decision. I do not wear his shoes. But at the same time, I can’t help but believe that a marriage like his is worth saving. Is it not possible to ‘come out of the closet’ and at the same time stay married?