Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Obstructing Mitzvah Observance

Typical look of a Mikvah (TOI)
I get it. But I don’t agree with it. At least the way the new law regarding Mikvah use in Israel is concerned. According to the Times ofIsrael
The Knesset on Monday passed into law a bill that permits regional religious authorities to turn away individuals from using the state-run ritual baths (Mikvahs). 
The reason for the law is to prevent conversions that are deemed invalid by Orthodox standards. Something that the Reform and Conservative Movements have been trying to get a right to perform in Israel.

(My how the Reform Movement has changed. They now want to be allowed to perform a ritual that would have been seen as archaic, backward and primitive to their principles back when they were founded. And frankly even now, they do not require a Mikvah as part of their conversion procedure. So why the need for them to insist on the right to use it? But I digress.)

The Chief Rabbinate doesn’t even want to allow conversions by some Orthodox rabbis… let alone Conservative and Reform rabbis. They have tightened the rules about what is and isn’t considered a legitimate conversion and have limited conversions to an approved list of Orthodox rabbis and conversion courts. 

Conversions done by those not on the list are not considered valid. This came to a head recently when in the city of Petach Tikva - one of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s converts was rejected by a satellite court of the Chief Rabbinate. That issue was resolved in Rabbi Lookstein’s favor. I mention it only to show how stringent conversions standards have become. And why the new Mikvah law was passed. 

Like I said, I understand it but I don’t agree with it. Yes, conversions do need to be standardized in order to stop the abuse of that law which was so common even among some Orthodox rabbis in the past and seemed to be increasing. How far to go with that – is a legitimate question, but beyond the scope of this post. What concerns me here is the following.

Hilchos Niddah (commonly referred to as Family Purity Laws or Taharas HaMishpacha) are some of the most important Halachos in Judaism. A Jewish man may not intentionally have sexual relations with a menstruant Jewish woman (a Niddah) - even long after her period has subsided if she has not immersed in a Mikvah. The Torah tells us that both the man and woman that intentionally have sexual relations while she is a Niddah they will be subject to penalty of Kares. Which is death by heavenly means. And their souls will also cut off from the world to come. The only permissible way for Jewish man to have sexual relations with a Jewish woman after her period is if she has immersed in a Mikvah. (Details of this are also beyond the scope of this post.) 

This is why Hilchos Niddah is considered so vital in Judaism. Right up there with Shabbos and Kashrus (which has a far less severe penalty in Halacha than violating Hilchos Niddah). The problem is that in most of the non Orthodox Jewish world Hilchos Niddah is not observed. Which makes sexual relations between a Jewish man and woman sinful albeit unintentionally so in most cases.

This brings me to the problem I have with this new law. If women that identify as Reform or Conservative want to use a Mikvah, there should be no law to stop them. Even if they are not generally observant at all by Orthodox standards. Because if they use it properly they will no longer be Niddos when having sexual reations. Which makes this law is an obstacle to following Halacha.

It’s one thing to want to prevent illegitimate conversions. It’s another to take this law so far that it ends up causing Jewish men and women to sin.  By making a blanket law forbidding any Conservative or Reform woman for using a Mikvah, The Keneset is complicit in sinful acts it could have prevented in those women that might have otherwise used it.

There is also this. Back in the 70s no less a Posek than Rav Moshe Feinstein actually permitted the Chicago Mikvah Association (CMA) to allow Conservative conversions to take place in their Mikvahs. What about the problem of aiding a illegitimate conversion? R’ Moshe said that looking the other way when they used the Mikvah to convert someone, was not considered aiding them.

The reason that was an issue back then is because the Chicago Jewish Federation was asked to help finance the construction of a New Mikvah. The primary old one had become irreparable.  Their condition was that the CMA had to allow Conservative conversions. Since without federation help the new Mikvah would never have been built, R’ Moshe gave his Heter (Halachic permit).

Now it’s true that this Psak was unique to the circumstances at the time. R’Moshe surely would not have permitted it otherwise. But it shows that allowing Conservative and Reform Rabbis to use a Mikvah even for their conversions has no inherent Issur involved. At least according to R’ Moshe.

In the case at hand, I nevertheless understand why the Charedi parties in the Kenesset want to prevent Reform and Conservative rabbis from using their Mikvahs to perform illegitimate conversions – even if it might be technically permitted. They believe it to be an existential issue.

I agree with Yesh Atid Kenesset member Aliza Lavie who said: 
“This law is not Jewish, not legal, not democratic...”  
To issue a blanket prohibition from using a Mikvah against any women identifying as Reform or Conservative is in my mind a violation of another Torah prohibition: Lifnei Iver Lo Sitain Michshol – Do not put obstacles in front of the blind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Unleashing a Storm

Rabbi Herzl Hefter
Once again, I am saddened by what a brilliant Torah scholar is doing. I am saddened that his innovation – if expanded – will surely contribute to the rift in Orthodoxy that is taking place right now. A rift that is being caused by a Hashkafa that has departed from tradition.

I am not going to make my usual argument about why I have issues with Open Orthodoxy. Especially in its pursuit of women’s ordinations which is the main subject of this post. This is strictly about the rift that Rabbi Herzl Hefter is contributing to. It is a rift not only between Charedim and Modern Orthodox Jews. It is a rift even from the majority segment of Modern Orthodoxy that I call Centrists.

I have said it before. Regardless of how one feels about the religious justification or propriety of this, there is not a doubt in my mind that that ordaining women will never be accepted by the right wing. Nor will it be accepted even by the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy (also known as Centrists) This was made clear by the RCA’s statement about it.

In a sense, Rabbi Hefter actually acknowledges this. When asked about whether he thought his mentors, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would have approved of what he is doing, he clearly answered, ‘No. I don’t think so.’ He added that he thinks about that a lot. 

Unfortunately I don’t think he thinks about it enough. For if he did, he would come to the same conclusion I have. That ordaining women for the rabbinate – no matter how justified he feels it is – will never be accepted by mainstream Orthodoxy. Which means that there will be a break. On the one side between the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry that is comprised of Charedim (of all stripes) and Centrists (which is how the majority of RCA members would define themselves)... and on the other side those that support and accept a female rabbinate. The chasm will (or perhaps already has) become so wide that it will be unbridgeable! Much the like what happened to the Conservative Movement.

I understand where Rabbi Hefter is coming from. I even agree with him when he said, ‘I know men who have ordination and are not worthy of serving as rabbis, and women who are...’ 

I know more than a few Orthodox male ordainees that can barely read Hebrew. And I also know some very bright women whose knowledge of Torah on a variety of Torah subjects is so superior to mine, that I am embarrassed by it. .

So it is not too hard to understand why Rabbi Hefter feels that the time has come to recognize such such women with an ordination. But the price too high. His heart may be in the right place. But he could not be more mistaken in undertaking and perpetuating this enterprise. It is simply not worth the break in Orthodoxy this is causing. A break knowing that his own rabbinic mentors would not approve.

That he has gotten a few other knowledgeable rabbis – like Rabbi Daniel Sperber on board with this will not help getting it accepted by the mainstream. It will not be. Despite his high level of Torah knowledge, Rabbi Sperber is not a mainstream Posek and not accepted outside of his own left wing constituency.

One of the arguments I keep hearing is that things are different in Israel. That a vibrant Orthodox community already exists that  accepts these kinds of innovations. That unlike America these innovations have been widely accepted and will grow. Whereas in America they are accepted by an almost insignificant minority that will ‘whither on the vine’ (to borrow Newt Gingrich’s comments about Medicare many years ago.)   

It may very well be true that Israel has enough of a critical mass to perpetuate these innovations as a viable community. But the simple fact remains that the mainstream will not be part of it. That should be clear from the many statements that have come out by a variety of mainstream spokesmen from right to center - clearly condemning it. I don’t see that changing any more than mainstream Orthodoxy's rejection of the Traditional Movement. Who had an even greater Posek allowing their innovation of removing the Mechitza from their Shuls. They were rejected by all other mainstream Poskim. And although they were once a powerful force here in Chicago - they have since withered on the vine.


To be clear, the point I am making here has nothing to do with my own Hashkafic opposition to what Rabbi Hefter is doing. It is simply my analysis based on how mainstream Orthodoxy is reacting to it and how such reactions in the past caused there to be a split, and/or a demise of the movement based on it. Either way, I see nothing positive coming out of this. 

One has to consider the practical consequences of one’s actions. Sometimes the price of one's convictions, when weighed against the massive opposition to them by those who reject them is too high. In my view - even leaving out the Hashkafic and Halachic arguments - causing yet another split in Judaism just isn’t worth it.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaufman, ZTL

Rabbi Kaufman at his Sheva Brachos in Beth Yehudah
Last Wednesday evening, a beloved Rebbe of mine passed away. Rabbi Shmuel Kaufman was my 5th and 6th grade Rebbe at Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Detroit. Which was one of Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz’s pioneering day schools outside of New York. It was established and led by three of his top Talmidim, Rabbi Joseph Elias, (principal) and 2 vice principals: Rabbis Avraham Abba Friedman and Sholom Goldstein. They in turn recruited some really top talent as Rebbeim. One of whom was Rabbi Kaufman. A pioneering Mechanech!

Rabbi Kaufman had a profound influence on me. I was one lonely outsider that was constantly homesick. Living in Toledo, I commuted to Detroit every week beginning in 4th grade at age 8. Before that, my father saw the handwriting on the wall as I was slowly rejecting my Judaism. By attending public school I was influenced by my many non Jewish friends. For example I hated wearing a Kipa since I was the only one doing it. And I hated things like not being able to eat the birthday cake at a friend's birthday party. So my father made a hard decision to send me to the closest Jewish day school. Which was in Detroit 60 miles away from Toledo. This way my influences would change and lead me in the right direction.

That was a wise decision. Had it not been for that, I would probably not be religious today. But it was a difficult time for me since I was always homesick – going home only for weekends. I stayed by some very nice families over the 5 years I was there.  But I was not happy. Except when I was around my 5th grade Rebbe, Rabbi Kaufman. He made me forget my homesickness by making learning interesting. I used to love his ‘Jewish history’ lessons from Tanach. He was a master storyteller.  Hearing him tell the stories of Tanach was better than watching a good movie. It stoked my imagination. Tanach became alive for me.

He was not one for following the strict protocols of teaching. He was kind of a rebel that way. Which helped endear him to us. But he was a rebel with an eye toward serving God. And his goal was to get us on that same page.

His unorthodox teaching methods inspired his students to work hard towards achieving their potential. He was a real motivator by being ‘one of us’. One of the things he did was encourage his students to attend a Thursday night Mishmor. That was a weekly night time Torah study session with a Chavrusa (study partner) in the Yeshiva Beis HaMedrash. The reward for that was a free game (or 2) of bowling at the local bowling alley after the Mishmar. For 9 and 10 year olds, that was quite the treat back then. (Detroit was a big bowling town back then. I don’t know if it still is.)

He used to pick us up in his old car… packing 6, 7, or 8 of us into a six passenger vehicle. We had a blast during that ride. (This was in the 1950s pre seat belt era. He would never get away with that today.)

He was a fun Rebbe but also a tough disciplinarian. That did not, however, diminish our love for him. It only increased our respect for him. If we were disciplined by him, we knew we deserved it. I attribute my own parenting style to this. He was tough but loving. I told my children that I learned my disciplinary methods from him. And they turned out pretty good.

When I was informed of his death, I felt like a part of me died. He will forever be a lasting role model of Chincuh for me. What a loss to the world of Torah. They just don’t make ‘em like Shmuel Kaufman any more. How I loved that man. Baruch Dayan HaEmes.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Is Tim Kaine Jewy?

Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Senator, Tim Kaine
I hate to keep talking politics. But I can’t let this one go without comment. It seems that Forward columnist Ari Feldman has decided that Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine would be the Jewiest of Vice Presidents.

I’m not sure exactly what it means to be ‘Jewy’. Maybe what he means that Kaine is an exceptionally pro Jewish and pro Israel candidate. So much so that he should be considered an honorary Jew.

I don’t really know much about Tim Kaine. He seems like a nice guy. But to claim that he is especially pro Israel is ridiculous. Especially since he boycotted Netanyhu’s speech to congress last year.

The explanation Kaine gave is that he ‘did not agree with the timing of the talk, and Netanyahu’s perceived political motivations for delivering it before the Israeli elections’.

OK. I can understand his objection even if I didn’t agree with it. But does that mean you dishonor the sitting head of state of America’s closest ally? Do you boycott a leader that was invited by the sitting Speaker of the House to address both houses of congress? Kaine was one of the few senators that did that. There were many Democrats that had similar misgivings about  the timing of the speech. But only 8 senators out of 100 boycotted it. He was one of them.

This is not the behavior of someone that is exceptionally pro Israel. It may not make him an antisemite. But I can’t see calling such behavior Jewy. He could have done what other Democratic senators did and expressed those same reservations about Netanyahu without boycotting him. To the best of my knowledge Kaine has never boycotted any other head of state, let alone one that is such a close ally of the United States.

What about the other reasons that Feldman gave that make him Jewy? Let me answer one of them -reason number 3 - with a question: Hummus? Really?  That Kaine wanted an Israeli Hummus company to set up shop in his state that would provide create jobs is not what I would call being Jewy. I would call it wooing an industry that would help boost his state’s economy.

That he supports a two state solution for Israel and the Palestians (reason number 1) makes him no more pro Jewish than it does pro Palestinian. I’m not saying that he’s wrong about that. But that does not make him Jewy either.

That Kaine is a religious Catholic is cited as reason number 2. I agree that this is a plus. Religious values have increasingly been challenged in recent years. I think we could use a little more of those values these days – as more people than ever are rejecting them on the alter of instant personal gratification, humanism, and political correctness.

But I don’t see those values being translated into policy. Catholicism opposes abortion even more than Judaism does. And yet Kaine is pro choice. I am pro choice too. But that’s because my religious views require me to leave that medical option open to women who would be permitted – and even required by Halacha to have an abortion.  For Kaine, however, what is the point of having religious values if they don’t inform you policies? If you believe in the righteousness of your values, then you ought to be promoting them.

But even if he did, being a devout Catholic does not him any more Jewy than the Pope.

Another thing that is cited is that as Virginia’s Governor he hosted a Passover Seder (reason number 4). OK. That’s a nice gesture. But not enough to make him Jewy if you factor in the other stuff.

All of that said - I am still supporting the Democratic ticket this year because of who is running against them. Even though I do not see Kaine as particularly Jewy, he is not an antisemite. I just can’t stand it when the secular Jewish media needs to go to ridiculous lengths to show how pro Jewish a candidate is. The truth matters and it ought not to be stretched in order to get more Jews to vote for a favored Presidential ticket.

Both Clinton and Kaine will continue the current status quo. Their policies with respect to Israel will be a carryover from the current administration. Which is by far not the end of the world. But it isn’t the best of all possible worlds either. Not even close. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Israel, Republicans, and Democrats

Donald Trump accepting the nomination last night
One of the more lamentable things that disturb me about  my inability to support Donald Trump’s candidacy is the tremendous show of support his party now has for the State of Israel. Although support for Israel is bipartisan, the current administration has somewhat cooled its support for the State because of the President’s antipathy for Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reason for that is petty in my view.  The President did not like being lectured in public by Netanyahu early into his Presidency. And then the relationship got worse when Netanyahu’s strong opposition the nuclear deal with Iran moved him to address a joint session of congress expressing dismay over - and being highly critical of - the President’s decision. Far too many Democrats agree with the President’s antipathy for Netanyahu and see him as a fear monger whose sole purpose is to hang on to power for as long as he can by any and all means he can.

This is not the case with the Republican Party. They seem to have an unabashed love affair with the Jewish State and with Netanyahu. Which is why there were so many standing ovations for Netanayahu when he addressed congress. They love him and see in him the strength lacking in their own President. The love they have for Netanyahu is synonymous with their love for Israel.

That love was again evident several times during the Republican National convention. To say that this convention was not unified is an understatement. It was one of the most contentions conventions since 1972 - the year the Democratic Party nominated George McGovern for President.  But the one thing that seemed to unify everyone, was support for the State of Israel. Whenever Israel was mentioned, the crowd cheered. Both Cruz (who can’t stand Trump and refused to endorse him) and Trump mentioned their support in the strongest of ways. Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence said it best (to similar cheers) when he said
If the world does nothing else, it will notice: America stands with Israel. 
In other words that is what the world will notice most about America if the Republican Party wins the White House in November. Which probably means that there will be little if any daylight between Netanyahu and a Republican President.

I do not see that kind of support being expressed at the Democratic National Convention, next week. Which if they win the election will be carried over to the White House. Of course Clinton will continue to support Israel. I do not question that at all. Both she and the current administration will continue to give it financial aid, have joint military exercises, and share intelligence. But Democrats are far more critical of Israel than Republicans. 

That was evident when Netnayahu last spoke to congress. The reactions to his speech could not have been more different. Democrats realize they need Israel as an ally. It is the most reliable one and the only true democracy in the region.  So they will continue that support. But if current attitudes are transferred to the next administration – it will be a cold support. Not the warm one we saw at the RNC this past week.

So, I lament the fact that I will not be voting for the Republican candidate. There is no doubt in my mind that he supports Israel a lot more warmly than Obama and Clinton… despite some controversial statements he made about being even-handed in a peace making process. One can see that his heart lies with Israel in countless other statements he made about it. Like his warm embrace of Netanyahu.

Much as I would love to see a White House that considers America’s interests to be in line with Israel’s - I can’t vote for a man that is so in love with himself that he doesn’t know too many other words besides the word I. He has no core values that anyone is aware of (beside his children – if there are any values).

He tends to tell people what he thinks they want to hear. More so than what he actually believes - it seems. He reacts to criticism with a type of road rage. And has no problem insulting his rivals (including personal insults) - or anyone else that may make a negative comment about him. Including world leaders.  

He makes promises that everyone knows he cannot keep. And he says he will do it all by himself without the aid of congress. He is erratic and unpredictable.  Which in my view makes him – not only unqualified but very dangerous as a world leader with his finger on the button.  

He envisions himself as a virtual dictator that will stop at nothing to get his way. That’s the way he apparently ran his business and that’s the way he thinks he is going to run the country. Not even having the slightest clue that the Executive branch of government does not have that kind of power. So that even if his intentions were good. I do not trust him.

Not that I trust his Democratic opponent. She is no better than Trump in the ‘trust’ department. And her polices will just be a carryover of Obama’s.  Or worse. I am not enthusiastic about a Clinton Presidency to say the least. But as bad as she is, she is gold compared to Trump. She is not erratic and will deliberate long and hard about the tough decisions she will have to make. Many of which I’m sure I will disagree with. But she is more knowledgeable and not as reactionary as Trump. She will not react to crises the way I am afraid Trump will.

If Trump is so obviously bad (which I don’t think there is too much doubt about in the minds of most rational people) how could he have won the nomination so handily? …and with the largest number of voters in the history of Republican primaries?

I think it’s because those voters see Trump the agent of change they believe this country so desperately needs. That he is an agent of change could not be more true. If change from the status quo is what you want, then Trump is your man. But be careful for what you wish. The change you seek may not be the change you get. Trump might bring the kind of change that is disastrous to the country and to the world. I would prefer avoiding that kind of change. I prefer a government that is stable even if it means furthering the status quo.

So, there you have it. A party that I would love to endorse but can’t. And a party that I am loathe to endorse but will. At least as things stand now. Because as I’ve said in the past it is the lesser of two evils.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fomenting Hatred Instead of Understanding

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein speaking at the 'Zion & Jerusalem' convention (TOI)
I have no clue what he expects to accomplish with his hurtful words. Even if I might agree with the underlying thoughts.

I do not know – and have never met nor heard of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, He is apparently a Religious Zionist head a prestigious army preparatory academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli. And he seems to have gone off the reservation with his remarks about the Reform Movement, and even more so with his remarks about homosexuals.

Just to reiterate my own views on these two subjects. I do not believe that the Reform Movement in any way represents authentic Judaism. They completely discarded all Bein Adam L’Makom (ritual) Halacha – at first to such an extent that they castigated those who practiced it calling it anathema to their definition of Judaism (A kind of ethical humanism). I recall back in the late 50s when I was a young boy in Toledo passing by a Reform Temple on the way to my father’s Shul on Shabbos. My father once told me that the Temple’s rabbi refused to allow anyone into his Temple wearing a  Kipa, calling it a sign of disrespect for the customs of this country.

Of course now 60 years later – realizing that without performing any ritual at all, there was no real Jewish identity to a Refrom Jew, they actually encourage ritual observance. But only if you feel like it. This is not Judaism. This is anti Judaism. Because Judaism without ritual law is nothing more than ethical humanism.

I have expressed my views on homosexuality many times. In short I believe in respecting my fellow man no matter who he or she is attracted to – members of the opposite sex or members of the same sex. People cannot help who they are attracted to. That said I am opposed to sinful behavior – whether performed in a heterosexual or homosexual manner. The Torah point of view is to hate the sin, not the sinner.

Rabbi Yigal Levenstein will not have any of this. With respect to the Reform Judaism - he called them a Christian Movement. He justified this by saying that Christianity began as a branch of Judaism – just like Reform did.  Christianity left to become their own religion and so too will Reform.

I have no clue where Refrom Judaism will end up. In my view they will probably end up in the the way many Jewish sects of the past ended up. There are (for example) not too many Sadducees (Tzedukim) left in the world today. By redefining who is and isn’t a Jew, Reform Judaism will be including so many non Halachic Jews into their  community that a couple of generations hence - it will be impossible to know if a person identifying themselves as a Reform Jew – is actually Jewish!

But to call them a Christian Movement is simply false. They do not believe in the Divinity of Jesus and certainly do not believe in a second coming as the messiah! They do not believe in the Trinity. Most of them believe in one God. The same God Orthodox Jews believe in – with no other god beside Him.

Furthermore, the current Reform rabbinate are victims of generations of distorted teachings by their Reform progenitors. They have been indoctrinated to see their distortions as ‘Truth’. I would call them all Tinokos Shenishbu – children that were ‘captured’. Meaning they never had a chance to study the Truth of Torah as it has been transmitted throughout the generations since the days of Moses. They only know what their ‘breakaway’ founders have taught them.

The anger and hurt that Rabbi Levenstein generated with his remarks served no purpose except to alienate, not only all Reform Jews, but all Jews that seek to reach out to our no observant brothers. So that even though I agree that Reform Judaism is not an authentic expression of Judaism, I condemn the hateful way in which he expressed that view. I prefer treating them without the rancor. And with dignity. We need to befriend them as Rabbi Yosef Reinman did with a Reform rabbi with whom he co-wrote a book.

And then there is what Rabbi Levenstein said about homosexuals. That could not have been more hurtful to people with same sex attractions. He called them deviants and perverts! From Israel Hayom
"There's a crazy movement of people who have lost sense of what's normal in life. This group has whipped the entire country into a frenzy, they force their way into the IDF, and no one dares say anything. There are perverts giving lectures in [the officers' training school] Bahad 1." 
This is inexcusable! He has - in one brief moment - thrown an entire group of people under the bus. Just because someone is a homosexual, doesn’t necessarily mean he preaches it as a lifestyle. Nor does it necessarily mean that he violates Halacha anymore than a heterosexual. No one should be peeking into  - or even speculating about what goes on in - someone else’s bedroom. This applies not only to homosexuals, but  even heterosexuals. If for example we would suspect that an officer violates Hilchos Niddah (family purity laws) do we say he has no right to give military lectures to the IDF?! Unless they flaunt it, it’s nobody’s business.  I therefore join those who condemned his remarks.

While we’re on the subject, what I will say is that flaunting sinful behavior or a sinful lifestyle should be condemned. Whether it is promoting ‘open marriages’ (mutually consensual sleeping with other people’s spouses) or sleeping with members of the same sex. Which is why I oppose things like Gay Pride Parades. There should be no pride in wanting to commit sinful behavior or promoting a sinful lifestyle.

Many well intentioned defenders of Gay Pride Parades claim that their purpose is not to flaunt behavior. It is to instill self confidence in gay people so that they will be proud of who they are instead of being prone to depression because of how they see society looking at them.

I don’t buy that. The parades I’ve seen (mostly in news reports on television) show people flaunting their homosexuality in highly inappropriate ways. That is not pride. It’s exhibitionism!

Furthermore, if pride is the point of these parades, why have black people or other minorities that have experienced disdain and disrespect never had a pride parade? Surely the black community deserves that kind of validation. But the black community does not have pride parades. They have protests and demonstrations about the injustices members of their community have been victims of. That is a legitimate enterprise. 

But a Gay Pride Parade does not demonstrate about injustices. They celebrate their lifestyles. They are not asking to be accepted for who they are, but for what they do. Which in many cases is a grave sin.  And that is an entirely different enterprise. It equates the sinful with the permitted. And that too should be condemned.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Charedim Win – and Lose!

Charedim in a classroom (Jerusalem Post)
In practical terms it really doesn’t matter much. Because the law wasn’t being enforced anyway. But it should matter and it should be enforced.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, it appears that the current coalition government in Israel is about to repeal the law requiring reduced government funding to schools that do not provide a core secular studies curriculum. Which they defined as teaching at least 11 hours per week in the subjects of English, math, and science. As the Charedi poster child for evil incarnate -  Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said, 
“How will the ultra-Orthodox youth support themselves without mathematics and English and without a basic toolbox for the labor market? 
I have been a vocal supporter of requiring a core curriculum. Primarily because I see the poverty that has resulted in a growing community that refuses to get a basic education in those subjects. Their devotion to studying Torah is so strong that it precludes them studying anything else.

What about making a living? They have claimed that if and when the time comes for an Avreich to leave the halls of the Beis Hamedrash they will ‘find a way’ to make a decent living without it. How often, they might for example ask, does Euclidean Geometry come into play when earning a living? They consider it a waste of time. And they will point to the many among them who have made a successful transition from the Beis HaMedrash to the work place.

Granted there are a lot of Avreichim that do ‘find a way’. There are a growing number of training programs just for that purpose. The only question is what percentage of them are able to do it without having received the basic study tools one gains in elementary school and high school. I have to wonder how many Avreichim left the Beis HaMedrash and couldn’t quite ‘make the grade’. And were then forced by that circumstance into menial low paying jobs.

In a related note, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein pointed out a fascinating statistic in a recent Cross Currents article. It appears that the highest pass rate for those taking CPA exam for the first time for all universities in the state of New Jersey, is for students at BMG - better known as Lakewood Yeshiva! Rabbi Adlerstein wonders if:
...it might pay to rethink educational strategy altogether, at least for some students. If motivated people in their 20’s with practically no secular education at all can compete effectively with products of conventional educational systems, what can we learn about all the drill and reinforcement that is part of elementary education? 
I am not at all surprised that there are some very bright students in Lakewood. Nor am I surprised that very bright students that are motivated to succeed will do what it takes to get there. Like study for a CPA exam.

I am reminded of Frank Abagnale, the infamous fraudster who – until  he got caught - impersonated a variety of professionals without ever having been trained in those professions. In his guise as an attorney, he successfully passed the Louisiana Bar exam without ever attending law school! If you are smart enough and motivated enough, I guess you can do things like that.

But I am not sure I agree that we need to rethink our entire educational strategy. These are the exceptions – exceptional people that do not reflect the needs of the majority.

Which brings me back to the state of Charedi education in Israel. That they will ‘find their own way’ without any preparation may be true in some cases. Just as it is in Lakewood.

But even in Lakewood there is a significant difference between Avreichim there - and those in Israel. Lakewood Avreichim have in most cases had a secular education to one degree or another through high school. Israeli Avreichim for the most part, have not. Those that have are frowned upon as having taken away precious time where they could have been studying Torah. They fall behind their peers that have been studying Torah full time. So it isn’t only the Charedi leadership that opposes it. It affects their social standing among their peers. Secular studies is therefore a ‘hard sell’ at almost every level. Which means it will never voluntarily change from what it is now.

So I am disappointed that these core curriculum requirements are about to be rescinded instead of being enforced.  It will hurt them. And it will hurt the Israeli economy. They will continue to be denied getting the tools they need until – it may be too late for far too many!

What about the detractors - those who argue against requiring a core curriculum?

I have heard arguments accusing the government of requiring more than just the basics. And requiring a curriculum to have subjects that are taboo. But I don’t see how 11 hours per week in basics like English Math and science is ‘overdoing it’. As for taboo subjects like the theory of evolution – that can be taught in ways that are compatible with Torah. But even if it is not taught at all, that doesn’t mean that everything else should be eliminated. The important thing here is to eventually get them into the workplace with decent jobs.

What about the principle that no one - not even a well intentioned government - has a right to tell people how to educate their children. I have never disputed that basic right. But only if it does not negatively impact on society as a whole. Furthermore - this has never been about the government forcing Charedim to teach a core curriculum. It was about not funding those that don’t. No one was forced to do anything.

Why should the Israeli taxpayer pay for a system they see producing a growing number of people that will rely on financial aid well into adulthood? Why shouldn’t they demand a curriculum that will help them be less dependent? So many of them end up illiterate while they are in Kollel indefinitely - because they can’t get decent jobs! And then demand to be supported!

So, yes. I am with that ‘evil Rasha’, Yair Lapid on this one. It is only right that Yeshivos get government support if they teach English, math, and science for at least 11 hours a week. I don’t think it is asking too much. And for those that refuse to do that? Well, God bless them. Let them teach – or not teach – whatever they want. But the Israeli taxpayer should not have to pay for it.

It’s too bad that the political system in Israel depends so heavily coalition partners in order to function. I would love to see direct elections for Prime Minister – same as we have for President of the United States. I know it’s been tried and failed. But I’m not sure why. They should try it again. That would give their government far more stability. And they would not be able to be blackmailed into doing things which I believe are detrimental to entire population of religious Jews.  And to the Israeli taxpayer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Truth about the Growth of Orthodoxy – A Clarification

By Professor Chaim Waxman – Guest Contributor

Professor Chaim I Waxman (YWN)
Professor Chaim Waxman was recently featured in a Yeshiva World News story about the growth of Orthodox Jewry and where Orthodoxy of the future will get their leaders. I wrote a follow-up piece discussing the future of Orthodoxy - projecting what I believe its nature and makeup will be.  That projection is based on my own observations and on the YWN article that quoted Professor Waxman. Whose implied projections seemed to match my own.

Many of those that read the two articles objected to the numbers cited about the size and growth of various segments of Orthodoxy. In short they were incredulous about those numbers – saying that they could not possibly be anywhere near accurate! And they blamed YWN for sloppy reporting. Apparently, that is not the case.

Professor Waxman was kind enough to respond to those accusations – clarifying them for me. He agreed to allow me to post his remarks on my blog. His words follow, intact and in their entirety.

Someone sent me your blog,(link)

Actually, I came neither to praise nor bury American Orthodoxy. The piece in the yeshiva world.com was based on a talk I gave where, as requested, I analyzed data from the 2013 Pew Report. 

I spoke on a range of issues showing significant differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.  I also analyzed differences between Modern Orthodox and Haredi/Ultra-Orthodox.  I did not support or favor either.  Rather, I pointed out some of what I saw as their strengths and weaknesses. 

I did indicate that American Orthodoxy as a whole is growing.  Much of the talk was based on part of a chapter in my forthcoming book, Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy (Oxford and  Portland:Littman, 2017).

For your readers who dismissed the figure on the much higher Haredi/Ultra-Orthodox birth rate, that information comes from Steven M. Cohen, Jacob B. Ukeles, Ron Miller, “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011: Comprehensive Report,” UJA-Federation of New York, June 2012.  They found that, in New York, “the Modern Orthodox are now a minority, comprising only 43 percent of the city’s Orthodox population. The majority, 57 percent, are “Hasidic &: Yeshivish.”  As for family size, 
“[b]y any measure, Hasidic households are the largest in the New York-area Jewish population. In terms of number of Jews, Hasidic homes are far more than twice as large as non-Orthodox households (4.8 for Hasidic versus 1.8 for non-Orthodox), while Yeshivish households, with 4.1 Jews, are nearly as large as Hasidic families.
 Modern Orthodox homes are somewhat smaller (2.8), but still much larger than non-Orthodox households.  . . .  Hasidic households are home to 12 times the number of children as non-Orthodox homes. Even Modern Orthodox households are home to four times the number of children as the non-Orthodox.” (Pp. 213-14)
 
All previous surveys showed a very high rate of defection from Orthodoxy but, as I have written previously, it is possible that many of those who said they were raised Orthodox meant their parents belonged to an Orthodox synagogue and defined themselves as Orthodox though they were actually part of what Marshall Sklare and Charles Liebman termed the “non-observant Orthodox.”

Perhaps among those who were, and especially among those who had 12+ years of yeshiva education, the rate has gone up. Perhaps.  There is an “otd” population but, nevertheless, the Orthodox, and especially the Haredi/Ultra/Orthodox sector, is growing.  The latter, btw, has a much lower “otd” rate than is found among the Modern Orthodox. 

Prof. Chaim I. Waxman is the Department Head of Behavioral Sciences at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem and Prof. Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey


Monday, July 18, 2016

A Rebuke to the Rebukers

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (VIN)
Let me first state the obvious disclaimer. I do not support Donald Trump’s candidacy for President. That said, I have no issue with any of the attendees to the Republican National Convention. Nor do I have an issue with those scheduled to speak and even support his nomination. Many of them are fine public servants that I could have easily supported for President, had they run.

This year’s election campaign is so complex it defies explanation. Because it isn’t only the candidate of one political party that is abhorrent. The candidates of both political parties are.

But I have made that abundantly clear many times. I only repeat it here to explain why it should be not be any greater sin to address the delegates at the RNC than it would be to address the delegates at the DNC.

Which brings me to a disgusting event surrounding it. It appears that 84 year old Rabbi Haskel Lookstein has been chastised for accepting an invitation to do exactly that. It was in the form of a petition signed by 750  his former students of Ramaz, the Modern Orthodox school he headed for decades.

There are few people that have the integrity, grace, and humility that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein has. I have never met the man. But his reputation precedes him. I have heard him described that way from people I know that have had long term association with him.

Rabbi Lookstein was asked by one of his congregants to give the opening convocation at the Republican National Convention. That congregant was Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka,  the woman he converted to Judaism.  A convert along with many others Rabbi Lookstein converted over his long illustrious career that has been accepted by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.  A rabbinate that is not prone to grant legitimacy to converts outside of its own jurisdiction.

I deference to his friendship with the family, he accepted. This is quite an honor, and a tribute to the Republican Party for choosing an Orthodox rabbi over the Christian ministers that more closely reflect the religious demographics of Republican party.. Many of which are Evangelical Christians.

This is not the first time they did that. One may recall Rabbi Dr. Meir Yaakov Soloveichik doing the same thing last time around. One does not have to agree with the party’s nominee to give an opening convocation.

But none of this is good enough for some of his former students. Who wrote a very nasty letter to him castigating him for accepting this honor. Implying that his entire legacy will be damaged by this one act.  From VIN
“Donald Trump openly spouts racist, misogynistic rhetoric; he advocates torture, the expulsion of millions of families, some long settled in America, and insinuates that some citizens of this great country are somehow less than others,” the petition said.
“To embrace Trump and Trumpism goes against all we’ve been taught. As graduates of Ramaz, and as current or former members of the modern-Orthodox community, this is a shanda [disgrace] beyond the pale.”
“Rabbi Lookstein, all the good work you’ve done in your life – everything you’ve done for your community, for the plight of Soviet Jews – will be flushed down the toilet for 10 minutes on stage in Cleveland,” the graduates wrote. “This is the single action history will remember you by, and history will not be kind.”
They also told their former principal that “Jews are never far behind” on Trump’s list of scapegoats and that supporting the candidate, whom they called a “dangerous man,” is equivalent to “embracing and politicizing hate.”
“Not in our name. Today we are ashamed to be Ramaz graduates,” 
He accepted their ‘rebuke’ and withdrew his name. How sad that a  good man was so severely rebuked by former students that confuse giving a convocation with endorsing a candidate. What they did was shameful.

They say they are ashamed to be Ramaz graduates. Well, I am ashamed to see Jews that identify as Orthodox shaming a man like Rabbi Lookstein. How do they know what he would have said? Isn’t it possible that he would have rebuked Donald Trump in a manner consistent with their own views?  

As Rabbi Lookstein himself indicated in accepting their rebuke and withdrawing for the sake of ‘bringing the community together’: 
“Unfortunately, when my name appeared on a list of speakers at the convention, without the context of the invocation I had been invited to present, the whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended.” 
I hope that makes them happy.

I wonder if these same people would have written a similar letter or rebuke if he had accepted an invitation to speak at the DNC whose candidate is almost as unfit for high office as the Republican candidate – albeit for different reasons. My guess is that they would not only have not rebuked him, they would have praised him.

What these 750 people have done sickens me. I have no respect for any of the signers of that petition. None whatsoever! It will be their legacy that will now be tainted (if they even have one to taint). Not Rabbi Lookstein’s. Shame on them!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Spiritual Leaders of the Future

Prof. Waxman (left) addressing a group of possible future leaders at CKG (YWN)
It seems that I am not the only one that has predicted the future of Orthodoxy lies in the Charedi world. Based on data he saw, Rutgers Professor Emeritus, Dr. Chaim Waxman made the same prediction recently. It was made during a presentation at the Center for Kehillah Development (CKD). He claimed that studies now show that the rate of growth in Orthodoxy now exceeds the dropout rate. “Increasingly, Orthodox Jews are choosing to remain Orthodox” says Professor Waxman.

Not that any of this surprises me. I never believed that the dropout rate outpaced the growth rate - if only by virtue of the exponentially higher birth rate in the Orthodox world than in the rest of world Jewry. And as you go up o the ‘Charedi’ ladder so too does the birth rate. From Yeshiva World News (YWN)
(Professor Waxman’s) research indicates that Chassidishe Jew have 12 times as many children as the non-Orthodox, and even the Modern Orthodox have 4 times the number of children as the non-Orthodox. 
This is not an insignificant difference to say the least. The implications of which are profound. It will surely change the way Jews will be seen by the rest of the world. We will go from being seen as liberal humanists seeking social justice as our primary role in society to being seen more like Evangelical Christians that focus more on the fundamental precepts of the bible.

Not making judgments here. Just observations. As a Modern Orthodox Jew I will however say that the two are not mutually exclusive. One can and should focus on what the bible says – which includes pursuing social justice… Or as Rav Ahron Soloviechik put it, ‘the building up of the world’.

This exponential growth of Orthodoxy will obviously effect the way Israel operates. Once the Orthodox demographic exceeds the non Orthodox demographic, Halacha will become more of a factor in governance. The repercussions of which are unclear. For example, how will a Charedi Prime Minister – (should it happen) deal with populating an army?

My focus here, however, will be how it will affect those of us living here.

While the reproductive rate of Modern Orthodox Jews outpaces that of the non Orthodox world, the Charedi reproductive rate seems to be four times greater than that. I therefore do not see any other scenario. Charedim will rule the Orthodox World. They will produce the religious leaders of the future who will serve all of us. Which is why the CKD was formed. To provide those leaders. Which is troubling.  On the one hand I am very glad to see an affirmation of my beliefs by virtue of Orthodoxy’s growth.  On the other hand I am dismayed at the kind of leadership this may provide. From YWN:
According to Rabbi Leib Kelemen, founder of the CKD, this sudden growth in Orthodoxy requires urgent action... (T)he responsible strategy would be to help the biggest talmidei chochomim get the background and skills they need to assume communal leadership.  “We have giants in Torah who have tremendous maalos and beautiful middos,” Rabbi Kelemen said, “and many would be excited to take responsibility for the Klal.”  This is precisely the mission CKD has accepted – in Rabbi Kelemen’s words: “To give chashuve avreichim the time and training they need to become quality leaders.” 
Rabbi Keleman said nothing about defining Orthodoxy in the full dimension of all of its Hashkafos. The impression  I get is that Modern Orthodox rabbis need not apply.  Recruits will be coming entirely out of the Charedi world – whose Hashkafos increasingly reject secular education in their curricula - placing little if any value on it. And they denigrate the general culture which they say should be avoided as much as possible! This Hashkafa is the opposite of Modern Orthodoxy. Which places a high value on secular education. And looks favorably on those aspects of the general culture that do not contradict Halacha.

Will the fact that Charedim will by far be the largest segment of the Orthodox population... and the fact that Charedim are far more likely to go into all manner rabbinic positions mean that Modern Orthodoxy will not have a voice? Not that this suggests that Modern Orthodoxy will die. It just asks how it will be looked at by the future leadership. Will it be marginalized? Or even tolerated?

I should add that the non Orthodox will not be ignored. Outreach will still exist and will probably increase. There is no legitimate Orthodox Hashkafa that rejects any Jew – not matter how far they are removed from Torah. But their outreach will focus on a Charedi Hashkafa as the most legitimate form of Judaism and will likely discourage a Modern Orhtodox outlook.

So I go back to my original prediction. The Orthodoxy of the future will consist mostly of what I call Moderate Charedim. These are the Jews that accept the Charedi doctrine with respect to secular studies and the general culture, but have nonetheless utilized the former to enable them to earn decent incomes for their families - and participate in the culture albeit from a position of guilt. Their lifestyle will therefore not differ significantly from the right wing Modern Orthodox Jewry. They will do the same things but will see them from a different perspective.  Hopefully the leaders that come out of the Charedi world will at least appreciate that fact and learn to be more tolerant of a Modern Orthodox Hashkafa since their own people involve themselves with it.

What about the extreme right and extreme left? What about the secular Jew? They will still be around. But in my view they will not be a significant influence on the overall Jewish population of the future. I believe the dominant moderate Orthodox culture of the future - and the real world will combine to impose its will and prevent extremism from taking root... all while the secular Jew will increasingly reject their Judaism altogether if we don't succeed in reaching out to them.