Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Asserting Our Rights To the Land of Israel

Saying Shema on the Temple Mount (Jewish Press)
These are the kinds of stories that make my blood boil. One was in the Jewish Press and the other in Mishpacha Magazine last week  (not available online) .

The Jewish Press story is a short video of a Religious Zionist Jew going up to Har Habayis (the Temple Mount) and reciting the Shema. He is promptly arrested and hauled away by the police. The Mishpacha story is about a Shul demolition just outside the city of Kiryat Arba near Chevron. Chevron is currently a city populated by Arabs. In both instances these people are made out to be heroes, while the government is portrayed as Reshaim- evil people. And both stories could not be further from the truth.

In both cases, the police were doing their job. And the so-called heroes were breaking the law. But that is not how the authors of those 2 articles portrayed it.

The Jewish Press story that accompanied the video is very short.  Above the video it says:
This is what happens to a Jew if he dares pray “Shema Yisrael”, one of the Jewish People’s oldest and most central prayers, if he is on the Temple Mount… 
Below the video it says:
If I were an Israeli policeman, I would be so embarrassed. 
The Mishpacha story portrays the illegal structure as merely a Shul where Jews wanted to pray. They even talk of an Arab Sheik from Chevron that supported them. (Needless to say, he was a minority view in that area.)

But in both cases we have people whose disregard for the law is based on their Religious Zionist fervor. So fervent are they that they believe  their actions in service to those beliefs supersede the law. Even if it means inciting Arabs in that area to even greater hatred and violence than they already have. This does not concern them because their beliefs inspire them to do it. They are doing it for God.

Before I continue, let me be clear. The land of Israel is ours. All of it. It was titled deeded to us by God Himself. Rashi in Bereishis tells us that this is the reason why the Torah begins with the creation story instead of with the first Halacha. The point being that God created and therefore owns the universe and he can give it to whomever He chooses. He chose us.

This is a true statement. If you are a believer in God and the bible, you have no alternative but to admit that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.

So what’s the difference between me and those Religious Zionists that do these kinds of things? Religious Zionists belief that the return of Israel into Jewish hands is the first flowering of our redemption and that Moshaich is at hand. I do not. If one believes as they do, it is a small step from there to taking matters into your own hands and breaking the law in pursuit of the messianic goal of retaking all of the land God gave to us. And caring little about the consequences.  In that context, they see themselves as heroes and martyrs. Anyone that thwarts them is seen as a Rasha - thwarting God’s will.

They try and elicit sympathy from the reader by implying that a Jew was arrested simply for saying Shema – as did the Jewish Press article. Or as Mishpacha did - saying that the police destroyed a Shul for no reason. Reading this without knowing the context, how can you NOT have sympathy for these Jews? How can you not paint the police as anti religious Reshaim?!

What they don’t tell you is the real reason they are doing these things. They are asserting their right to all of Israel. They want to make it clear to the Arabs and the entire world that they are simply reclaiming their own land. If the Arabs want to live there too, fine. As long as they acknowledge who's the boss.

Problem is - like it or not, those areas are solidly Arab. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, they don’t want us there. They want that piece of real estate for themselves without any Jewish presence. They feel threatened when settlers start asserting themselves in those areas making statements like building a Shul.

Or is the case of saying Shema on Har Habayis, they will say that this is the Makom HaMikdash and we have every right to pray here as you do. More, in fact!  While that is true as explained above, the Arabs are not about to give up the mosque was built centuries ago, nor their belief that that place is the 2nd holiest place in all of Islam and rightfully theirs. 

They believe that we have no business there. They see any attempt to pray as an assault on their rights and the beginning of a possible takeover by force. Especially when they see Religious Zionist militants that have on various occasions promised to do so. So of course they get upset when they see a Jew praying up there.

Even if there is no Issur in ascending to the Temple Mount (which is far from clear), what these Jews accomplish is nothing except inciting the Arabs to more violence. The State of Israel has wisely forbidden them to do things like that. Now is not the time to assert those rights because we are not in the era of the first flowering of our redemption.

I know that my view is not a popular one with many religious Zionists that agree or at least sympathize with what these people do. But in my very humble opinion, these people are misguided. They may be sincere and believe that they are doing God’s will. But the price for allowing them to act on those beliefs is too high. They are exacerbating Arab anger and inciting them to violence. Which increases the chances that more Jews will get hurt.  And it increases hostility from the international community.

They might answer that the Arabs hate us anyway and would harm us the same if they didn’t do it. They may also say that the hostility the international community would be there – with or without them. But incitement like theirs cannot be rationalized away. The more you poke at a hornet’s nest the more they will come out to sting you.

We have to wait for Moshiach to do those kinds of things. Then we will have God on our side. Until then, I’m glad that the Israeli government is doing what they can to stop them. We have a country now. And we ought to do whatever it takes to convince the world about the righteousness of our cause. Inciting Arabs and world opinion against us is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Basic Education Will Improve Their Lives

(Yiddish says 'Foy - English is impure!') Does't this say it all? (VIN)
One of the things that bothers me is when Emes is discounted because of its messenger. That is how many in the Charedi world that Yaffed addresses feel about it. Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education) is an organization founded by Naftuli Moster, a former Belzer Chosid. He is no longer observant. So his message is completely discounted. But it shouldn’t be. This is an organization that advocates for better education in communities like the one he is from.

That community sees him as a Rasha – an evil man that has left the fold. Someone that has no business telling them how to lead their lives and what they should teach their children. Those communities of course have the right to educate their children in any way they see fit. But that should not give them Carte Blanche avoidance of secular studies. Which is what they more or less do. 
Chasidim in communities like these spend little time in elementary school of secular studies and after the age of 13, they spend no time at all on it. While not all Chasidm are like this (some are actually quite educated and are in professions like medicine, law, and academia - the Twersky family comes to mind) they are the exception. Satmar and like minded Chasidim eschew secular education.

To say this is counterproductive to their own welfare is an understatement. The lack of a decent secular education forces most of  them to live on the meager incomes that meager educations allow. Meager incomes that cannot support one individual, let alone a family of 10 or more children, Which is not all that uncommon.

The irony of communities like these is that they do not advocate full time Kollel  study for life as the ideal. Their ideal is much the same as mine in this regard. Stay in Kollel for a year or two and then go out and get a job to support your family. Full time Kollel for life should be reserved for the elite of the generation that will become our future leaders and teachers.

The problem however is (as I have stated many times) that they do nothing to enhance their earning potential. They do the opposite  - denying them an education that would help them earn a better living.

I am not quite sure why they ignore secular studies so much. Perhaps they believe that one does not need to learn the typical subjects taught in a high school in order to make a decent living. How much geometry does one need in most typical jobs – even good ones? How does knowledge of American history or Shakespeare help one in his livelihood? 

While it is true that these subjects don’t help you earn more money in life, the overall educational experience does. It is not the individual subjects that help you. It is the discipline of secular study itself that does. Secular studies require a different set of skills than does Talmud study or the study of Chasidus or Halacha. Subjects that take up the entire day of a Chasidic Yeshiva or Kollel student.

And then there is the English language. Which is perhaps their biggest impediment. Only someone completely oblivious to the culture of the American workplace would think that competence in speaking the English language is not a factor in getting a decent job.

One of the things I have personally noticed about these kinds of Chasidim is that they have a very poor command of the English language. There are several reasons for that. One is that they learn English as a second language. Yiddish being the first and primary language spoken in the home and in school. Second they have no education in English. No grammar No spelling. No composition. Nothing. With this kind of culture they end up sounding like immigrants even if they are second or third generation Americans.

Why do they treat English that way? I was once explained the reason for this. They purposely do not want their English to be spoken well because that would make them identify too much with the   culture  . A Chasidic Rebbe said that he considered it a Chilul HaShem to speak English too well!

That was a mind boggling revelation to me, But it helped to explain why these types of  Chasidim don’t speak English that well and are practically ignorant of its basic spellings, grammar, and syntax. The idea of teaching it in their schools is therefore anathema to them! And yet I can’t think of a more basic reason for their not being hired  for decent jobs – even if they have then requisite skills.  

What this leads to is heavy reliance free loan societies set up by the few very wealthy philanthropists that somehow had the wherewithal  to become successful businessmen. Like the Satmar Chasdidm that own B&H, one of the most successful electronics stores in the world. They and others like them are very charitable and provide a lot of good jobs for their Chasidim and many other types of Jews religious and otherwise - and even non Jews. But it is a drop in the bucket for their needs. Their population exceeds what the owners of  B&H and other wealthy philanthropists can provide in jobs; and in money for those free loan societies.  I do not believe that relying on charity for sustenance  is the paradigm the Torah suggests for its people.

Then there is the problem of relying as well on government programs. Assuming that most Chasidim do not cheat the government for more money than they are entitled to there are enough who do cheat them for it to have become a Chilul HaShem more than once. How many stories about defrauding the government or misuse of government funds have been in the news already?

But even if every single Chasid of this type was 100% legal and aboveboard, I still have trouble with people using a welfare system as a basic means of support simply because of a Hashkafa that refuses to educate their Chasdim well enough to earn that money themselves. Welfare funds are not intended to be used as supplemental income for those refusing to get an education that would enable them to earn that money

It appears that many of these Chasidim are beginning to realize that they are being seriously short changed in their education.
So I’m very happy that this system is being challenged. From VIN
“Enough is enough!” That’s the basic message of a letter sent by concerned parents, former teachers, and former yeshiva students to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and seven district superintendents in Brooklyn and Queens expressing upset over the lack of a substantial secular education in at least 39 yeshivas. 
Fifty-two unidentified signatories added their names to the letter, noting that ultra-Orthodox schools, especially boys’ yeshivas, spend far less time on secular instruction compared to the time spent on religious education.
Organized by the nascent education advocacy group Yaffed, the letter asks officials to “investigate the quality of secular education and, in particular English instruction, at the listed yeshivas and to take steps to ensure that pupils at these yeshivas receive the essential and substantially equivalent education to which they are entitled.” 
They may see Yaffed’s call to investigate their schools as a form of Mesirah - informing on them to the authorities. But the desire to be left alone to teach what they want should not be at the expense of using the welfare system as a means of support. I see this as a favor that will hopefully force them to start teaching their people the basic skills necessary to support their families.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Schism Removing it from Orthodoxy

Ordaining ceremony for female rabbis (Ha'artetz)
An analysis of the state Orthodoxy in our world today has been attempted by Yair Ettinger. In his lengthy Ha’aretz article he questions whether there is a revolution that is causing a schism – a split in the Orthodox world. He is talking about the innovations by the left of which Open Orthodoxy here in the United States is the prime example.

Ettinger cites some of the current trends that indicate that that may actually be the case.  Chief among them is the increased number of women who have been ordained as rabbis – both in Israel and the United States. It can’t be denied that there has been such an increase. The question is whether that increased number means a new segment within Orthodoxy, or a segment outside of it. The question remains unsettled in this article. But it is a phenomenon that can nonetheless not be ignored.

I have argued that the phenomenon pushing the envelope of Orthodoxy to the furthest extremes of the left has zero chance of ever becoming mainstream. I still believe that despite the expanding numbers.

But what about those numbers? If that many Jews are pushing or joining this leftward move to the outer edges of Orthodoxy and beyond, doesn’t that give it momentum and doesn’t that mean that Orthodoxy will indeed have a new movement? Do numbers matter?

Numbers do matter. The question is whether numbers can make assertions about their identity when they are not accepted by mainstream members of that group or their leadership.  That is the crux of the issue. I do not believe a movement can define itself as members of a movement when its leadership rejects them.  In the case of Orthodoxy, the rabbinic leadership of both the right wing and Centrists have rejected them.

Why that is the case has been discussed here before. I am not going to re-hash it. I would just point out that the ‘slippery slope’ argument has been put forth by one of their own leading lights. Rabbi Daniel Sperber is quoted in the Ha’aretz article: 
“Slowly but surely, it turns out that the entire status of women in Judaism is changing. Within this process there are several things that seem drastic, quasi-Conservative or neo-Reform. You have to remember: Sometimes it’s enough that the questions arise, and we also have to be aware of the dangers. I spoke in the United States a few weeks ago, and there I said that we’ve reached a point where the boundaries are expanding, and the more you advance the wider the horizons. Until now everything we’ve done was within legitimate halakhic parameters. We have to be careful not to cross the boundary, and the boundary is vague.” 
Obviously I am in profound disagreement with his innovations. But even he realizes that a slippery slope exists.

Suffice it to say that there is a schism, but it is a schism that is taking large numbers of seriously observant Jews out of Orthodoxy, despite their protestations to the contrary.  And protest they do. They insist on calling themselves Orthodox despite being rejected by virtually all the rabbinic leadership to their right. The question is why? Why insist that you are Orthodox if you are clearly so rejected by the peers to your right?

The answer in my view is obvious. They want to be accepted as an Orthodox – since they claim to be following Halacha in all of their innovations. Some of their brighter and more scholarly rabbis have written Teshuvos - responsa for these innovations. The most controversial of which was written by Rabbi Herzl Hefter justifying the ordination of women. The problem is it is that his Halachic justification is weak and written by a comparative lightweight whose opinions are motivated more by ideas that are foreign to Judaism than they are by strict interpretation of Halacha - sincere though he may be.  A rabbi with the heft of Rav Soloveitchik is needed for that kind of change. And Rav Soloveitchik would never have agreed with these innovations or his reasoning for them.

Rabbi Hefter’s ideas and those of his fellow travelers will find a more welcome home in Conservative Judaism. It is there where ideas like his are already being honored. Lest he say that the Conservative Movement is not Halachic, I would argue that they consider themselves no less Halachic than Orthodoxy. They have their rabbis and Teshuvos too. Although there has been some dissent about that in recent years among the Conservative rabbinate, they still maintain a Halacha committee and consider themselves to be Halachic.

What then is the difference between them? Every innovation the Conservative movement had  – certainly in their early days - had Halachic reasoning and responsa behind it. Let them join the Conservative Movement which is way ahead of them on the scale of the feminist revolution. They may have a difference of opinion about what is an isn’t Halachic. But they certainly fit into their paradigm more than Orthodoxy’s paradigm. Besides they are bending over backwards to be inclusive. What better way to be inclusive than to join them? Perhaps they will have even more influence on them that way.  They can be the right wing of Conservative Judaism.

Their answer to that is probably the same as the right wing and Centrists would give. They do not accept their responsa as valid. They not consider the Conservative movement to be Halachic despite their written responsa justifying themselves. Well, in my view, it is just a matter of degree.

But what about all the increasing numbers of sincere observant Jews that truly believe in these new innovations? Most are people that believe in Orthodoxy; were raised in Orthodoxy; and want to remain in Orthodoxy - albeit serving God in their own unique way. Here is the way Rabba Rachel Berkowitz expresses this idea: 
“Real rabbis are crying.” “I feel a tremendous privilege, which I probably don’t deserve, of being part of a significant moment in the history of the Jewish people, and I hope that this will influence this ongoing revolutionary process. I am grateful to God for enabling me to reach this moment.” In tears, Berkowitz then recited the Shehecheyanu, a Jewish blessing recited on special occasions: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”  
I am absolutely convinced that Rabba Berkowitz believes that she is among the most sincere Jews in Judaism. And her tears of joy were real. She truly believes that she can serve Judaism best in her capacity as a rabbi.

Nevertheless, I consider her to be a victim. She is a victim of the times  seeing egalitarianism as the justification to change the traditional role of women in Judaism. She has taken a legitimate goal outside of Judaism and applied it to Judaism. And she has the blessing of her rabbinc mentors to do just that.

As I have said countess times. Judaism is not a egalitarian religion. It is a religion about serving God in ways He has mandated for us. Which in many cases require different roles for men and women. The goal of every Jew is to fulfill God’s mandate in the best way he or she can. It is not the goal of Judaism to serve God the way we feel like serving Him. It is the goal of Judaism to serve God the way He wants us to. Which is defined in the Torah as interpreted by the sages.

It may be permissible and even laudable for women to do things mandated only for men. But tradition has set parameters for that. Generations of non mandated but permitted practices by women have been in many cases codified into law. But in no case was a practice traditionally not accepted changed for reasons that were not existential.

A true egalitarian cannot countenance roles. A true egalitarian wants to eliminate roles. They see the sexes as completely equal in every respect. And if your religion denies that - it is deemed wrong and to be discarded. 

Traditional Jewish roles should certainly not be undermined by movements that do not respect it.

But Rabba Berkowitz and other sincere women like her have been convinced by their leaders that they can pursue egalitarian goals despite all of that. They have been given assurances that their desire to serve God in the way they chose is perfectly fine.

That said, there has been a tolerance of some of these innovations by the right – even where there was disagreement with them. Things like Women’s Teffilah Groups though frowned upon did not de-legitimize them from Orthodoxy. But they have long since moved way beyond that with things like ordaining women.  And this does not even touch the highly problematic tolerance of Apikursus within their midst. (Which was the deal breaker for me.)

So even while this movement seems to be expanding, It is not expanding as a part of Orthodoxy. Without the imprimatur of a Rav Soloveitchik, a Rav Lichtenstein or a Rav Hershel Shachter, they are on their own.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sudden Destruction of Jerusalem

Khameni: "Israel must be annihilated" 
It happened so suddenly. That is what Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik points out in his interpretation of one of the Kinos Tisha B’Av that we said this morning. (Commentary to Kina 6 in the Kinos Mesores HaRav).

He was talking about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Sometimes a tragedy is  expected intuitively and when it happens the shock is somewhat buffered by the expectation of it. But in the case of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash no one really expected it to happen. People were going about their business as usual. The Kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash were doing their daily Avodah – offering sacrifices to God.

Even the prophet Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu) to whom God revealed that the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed was shocked by it when it happened so suddenly.  Yirmiyahu was told by God to leave Jerusalem to go buy a field from his uncle (32:6-17). When he left he expected to return to a city intact with the Bies HaMikdash still running full steam. That is what he saw when he left. When he returned, the Beis Hamikdash was gone.

This is what the word Shovas – ceased - in that Kina means to tell us. Shovas Suru Mani. Our joy ceased. That the word Shovas means a sudden ceasing is indicated by how it is used in another context. U’VaYom HaShiviyi Shovas VaYenofash -  On the seventh day He ceased from work and rested (Shemos 31;17). Chazal tell us that God worked up until the very last second of the sixth day creating the world. An in that very same second (the latter half of it) he came to a sudden full stop.  From there we see that the word Shovas means suddenly ceasing. The Beis HaMikdash suddenly ceased to exist. When tragedy happens suddenly the impact and shock is far greater. It is emotionally and psychologically much greater. That is how it was for our ancestors in the Temple era.

I am reminded of the Holocaust. No one there expected what eventually happened. There was disbelief even as people who witnessed the horrors came back to their families to report it. Can’t be! Life went on until they were all rounded up and eventually sent to the gas chambers.  Those few who had the prescience to see what was coming, and got out of Europe lived to see the end of Nazi Germany.They lived to see their children and grandchildren live and prosper.

Most Jews in Germany during the 30s just didn’t believe their beloved Germany would do this to them. Jews were after all loyal and productive citizens, many of whom fought gallantly for Germany in the first world war. No way could a little antisemitic rhetoric by a German leader be anything more than that. Rhetoric.

Well we all know what happened.  Another Churban happened. A Churban better known as the Holocaust. The shock must have been immense to those whose lives one day was as normal as could be – and the next day they were rounded up and sent to Ghettos eventually to be killed.

Is history repeating itself? Are we not seeing the signals being sent from Iran? The antisemitic rhetoric coming out of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, in Iran is no less frightening that the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Nazi Germany’s supreme leader in the 30s.  Hitler killed 6 million Jews. There are 6 million Jews in Israel.

People who are living the good life here in America seem to just be writing Khameni’s rhetoric off as – rhetoric. Just as American Jews in the 30s felt about the Hitler‘s rhetoric. Even German Jews living in Germany felt that way.

Will we not learn anything from history? If the leader of a powerful nation says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, should we not believe him? Should we not believe that given the means and  the opportunity, Iran will do exactly that?  And isn’t this nuclear deal increasing Iran’s ability to do it? Do we really think that giving Iran what it wants will bring them into the family of peaceful nations… that Iran will stop seeing the US as the Great Satan and Israel as the Little Satan?

I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to be figure out that Iran will carry out it’s threat when they think they are capable of doing so. A capability they may have in very short order once they are able to buy and develop the most sophisticated weaponry available on earth.  This deal guarantees them that. What do you suppose they will use those weapons for?

I am not saying it is 1939 all over again. Conditions today are entirely different than they were then. Jews are not being rounded up and placed in Ghettos by anti-Semitic governments. We have a strong Israel now. And a US government that has guaranteed that it has Israel’s back. Governments of the world are combating antisemitism instead of fomenting it.  So, no – it isn’t 1939 all over again. Not even close. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the clear threat of an Iran that in the not too distant future will be well equipped to destroy Israel. If not directly, then by proxy (Hezbollah and Hamas).

I don’t know that we can change the inevitable. This deal, bad as it is, will probably go through. But we should at least recognize just how bad it is. It is a deal that should have never been made. Not until Iran was more desperate than it is now.  A deal that was made with an Iran knowing that all options were NOT really on the table. They knew that this President would never go to war. That made it too easy for Iran to get exactly what they wanted – giving up little in exchange.

We should be aware of the dangers of a hostile country in Israel’s neighborhood - a country bent on its destruction now getting the money and the means to do it.  We cannot afford to be complacent. I don’t want to see Jerusalem destroyed yet again!  God forbid. And it could happen suddenly.

Friday, July 24, 2015

When Piety becomes Worthless in the Eyes of God

Guest Post by Netanel Gertner

Prominent Jews caught in a money laundering scheme in 2009 (NYT)
It is commonly taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Less talked about is the First Temple, which is surprising. Surprising, because the precursor to its destruction is well documented; because the First Temple was still the era of prophecy. Prophecies in which God speaks in His own words about the problems of the day that had ruined society.

We are told that each generation that does not see the Temple rebuilt has participated in it’s destruction. This is harsh, but logical. It means that were such a generation to have a Temple, its deeds would eventually lead to its destruction. We are part of the problem if we cannot develop and maintain a society that is morally and ethically upright. 

The Shabbos before Tisha b’Av is Parshas Dvarim, known as Shabbos Chazon – named for the opening words of the Haftora, Chazon Yishaya, extracted here:

שִׁמְעוּ דְבַר-ה קְצִינֵי סְדֹם הַאֲזִינוּ תּוֹרַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַם עֲמֹרָה. לָמָּה-לִּי רֹב-זִבְחֵיכֶם יֹאמַר ה שָׂבַעְתִּי עֹלוֹת אֵילִים וְחֵלֶב מְרִיאִים וְדַם פָּרִים וּכְבָשִׂים וְעַתּוּדִים לֹא חָפָצְתִּי. כִּי תָבֹאוּ לֵרָאוֹת פָּנָי מִי-בִקֵּשׁ זֹאת מִיֶּדְכֶם רְמֹס חֲצֵרָי. לֹא תוֹסִיפוּ הָבִיא מִנְחַת-שָׁוְא קְטֹרֶת תּוֹעֵבָה הִיא לִי חֹדֶשׁ וְשַׁבָּת קְרֹא מִקְרָא לֹא-אוּכַל אָוֶן וַעֲצָרָה. חָדְשֵׁיכֶם וּמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם שָׂנְאָה נַפְשִׁי הָיוּ עָלַי לָטֹרַח נִלְאֵיתִי נְשֹׂא. וּבְפָרִשְׂכֶם כַּפֵּיכֶם אַעְלִים עֵינַי מִכֶּם גַּם כִּי-תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ. רַחֲצוּ הִזַּכּוּ הָסִירוּ רֹעַ מַעַלְלֵיכֶם מִנֶּגֶד עֵינָי חִדְלוּ הָרֵעַ. לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט אַשְּׁרוּ חָמוֹץ שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה

“Listen to Hashem, you leaders of Sodom. Listen to the law of our God, people of Gomorrah!”

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”, says Hashem. “I am stuffed from your burnt offerings and sacrifices of rams and the fat of cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

“Your celebrations of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos and your fast days, are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings! I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you raise your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you might offer many prayers, I will not listen, because your hands are covered with the blood of innocents!

“Wash yourselves and become clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways; learn to do good. Seek justice! Help the oppressed and vulnerable! Defend the cause of orphans! Fight for the rights of widows!” – (1:10-17)

There were many prophets whose stories did not make the canon of Tanach; the ones that were included were selected because of their resonance beyond their time.

The prophet goes on to mention corrupt leadership and bribery. It is impossible to rid society of evil completely; even in the most ideal world, there would still be a justice system. This is a recognition of human choice and error. But this is when a society is challenged; when evil rears it’s ugly head, how do we respond? It ought to be forcefully and definitively dealt with. 

This is why perversion of justice may be the ultimate crime. If a society is too corrupt and broken to protect it’s citizens, people are trodden on without ramification. That society, in a subtle, but substantial way, endorses and protects criminals and predators. If only lone individuals care, the society as a whole is morally bankrupt. Where is the compassion?

How many of our vulnerable people are unprotected? Every year there is another scandal, another cover up, another aguna, another molester, another abuser. When our institutions and leaders fail to remove criminals or call them out for what they are, it is a betrayal, at your expense. We are not a community if we do not protect and ease the burdens of our brothers and sisters. There is grave injustice when individuals proven dangerous beyond reasonable doubt are allowed to retain influence. That this could be a veiled reference to any one of numerous incidents says a lot about where we are.

A generation that does not see the Temple rebuilt has participated in it’s destruction. The prophet’s words echo, and it is chilling. 

Don’t misunderstand this. This is not a polemic against our leaders. This is a call to action directly to you. Don’t rely on other people for a job you could and should be taking on. We need you.

We have much to be proud of today, but make no mistake; we cannot launder or buy off mediocrity in one area with excellence in another. The people of that time were diligent and meticulous in their prayer and sacrifice, yet so awful at other things. The amount and scale of Torah study and charity in the world today is phenomenal, and unprecedented in history. But how much is it really worth if we do not act like God’s ambassadors on this world? In the words of Chazon:

לָמָּה-לִּי רֹב-זִבְחֵיכֶם יֹאמַר ה שָׂבַעְתִּי עֹלוֹת אֵילִים וְחֵלֶב מְרִיאִים וְדַם פָּרִים וּכְבָשִׂים וְעַתּוּדִים לֹא חָפָצְתִּי – “I am stuffed from your burnt offerings and sacrifices of rams and the fat of cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats!” (1:11)

The lessons we ought to learn from history knock on our door, repeatedly, louder and louder. In Moshe’s parting address to the people he spent his life trying to save, he says to them:

אֲדַבֵּר אֲלֵיכֶם וְלֹא שְׁמַעְתֶּם – “I spoke; yet you would not listen!” (1:43)

We see problems around us, and we do not fix enough of them. Praying more, with greater intensity, is not the solution that these problems require. We just need to fix them! If we had a Temple today, we would lose it; otherwise it would be here. How can we fast, weep, and pray when there are so many poor, hungry, abused, and other vulnerable people around us? Is it something to be proud of that we are in dire need of so many excellent charities and outstanding individuals? Such individuals and organisations lead the way for the rest of – but they do not remove our own obligations.

It is so easy to make that difference; resolve to be better, in a real, substantial, accountable way. 

Volunteer more. Give more charity. Give food and clothes away. Make sure no child is left without a school. Participate in your community. Use any influence you have, talk to influential people, and make that difference. Even if it’s just you alone. Take responsibility for the people around you, who don’t yet know that you are someone they can rely on to help them.

Our enemies label us as cruel; but they could not call us cruel, unless on some level, we are also cruel to our own. In 2014, several rogue Jews killed an innocent teen; something unheard of. While there was a unanimous and loud global outcry from our communities, something about the way we educate and raise young people generated that grotesque tragedy. They killed a person, another human being, who was so “other” in their minds that it did not matter that he was innocent. And we all think that way to some extent.

So read Chazon. Because it reads like it was written especially for us. If it’s too hard to motivate yourself to cry for what happened long ago, then cry for now; for how far we are from where we are meant to be, for the agony in our communities. Cry for the all the injustice around you that you can’t seem to do anything about; tears that burn. I know I will. 

צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה – “Zion will be redeemed through justice; it’s restoration will be through righteousness.” (1:27)

Netanel Gertner sends out a weekly email with Divrei Torah. He can be reached at

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Doing What’s Right for the Rebellious Child

Faigy Mayer
After my recent posts on Open Orthodoxy, one may find this a bit strange, but I actually admire Rabbi Ysoscher Katz despite my profound disagreement with the ultimate path he’s taken. Rabbi Katz was a Satmar Chasid that was ordained by a Satmar Dayan. But Rabbi Katz is no longer a Satmar Chasid. He is now a self described Modern Orthodox rabbi and his Hashkafos are in line with those of Open Orthodoxy, a movement that has divested itself from traditional Orthodoxy. A movement that many of his rabbinic peers in Charedi and Centrist Orthodox world considers to be a neoconservative one.

And yet I admire his journey if not its conclusion. Rabbi Katz is a thinking, intellectually honest Jew who sought the essence of Judaism - and didn’t find it in Satmar. He found it in Open Orthodoxy. It took a lot of courage for him to follow his religious convictions and leave the community where his parents raised and nurtured him. It took even more courage to move  into one that his community rejects. But his views on Emes compelled him to make that choice so that he could live his life in an intellectually honest way. That is something to admire even if we disagree with where he ended up.

There is one area where he and I agree: How to treat people that did what he did, only instead of finding a different Hashkafa ended up rejecting religious observance entirely.  Rabbi Katz has written a very insightful article on this subject in the Forward. It was in response to yet another suicide of a woman that left the ultra religious world. In her case it was Belzer Chasidus. Feigy Mayer became entirely secular and embarked on a new lifestyle and successful career. Last week at age 30, she jumped to her death from 20 stories above ground.

She did what Rabbi  Katz did, but the results were dramatically different. Rabbi Katz’s changed his Hashkafa.  But not only did he remain observant he committed his life to a new cause. Feigy’s change ended up in death. The question is why. Why the personal success story in one case and the tragedy in another?

First, I do not want to minimize the role clinical depression may have played here. That appears to have been a possible factor. In severe cases of clinical depression one will find many a suicide attempt. The emotional pain of such people is so unbearable… and seems so unfixable, that suicide seems to be the only way out. It is possible that this was what happened to her.

But that doesn’t mean that her circumstances didn’t play a part. External factors can precipitate a clinical depression.  It is possible that Feigy’s sense of rejection by her old Belzer community and anxiety over fitting into her new secular one was the trigger. Once a person gets into that mode, they tend to see no end. Especially if they take anti-depressants that don’t work. They get a feeling of hopelessness. And that’s when they start thinking about taking their own lives.

I don’t know if this is what happened to Faigy. But it easily could have. I am not asserting blame here. What I am saying is that if indeed this was the case, then as Rabbi Katz says, a ‘beautiful soul died this past weekend, prematurely and unnecessarily’.

There has been a lot of discussion of the phenomenon of Jews raised in observant families that dropped observance. This is a growing phenomenon. Although there are organizations that are trying to deal with it, there are certainly not enough. Suicides like Faigy’s are far more common among those who have dropped observance than one might think. And it can be prevented if people like her are not rejected. There ought to be unconditional love and acceptance from parents, family, peers and friends. One does not need to approve of the choices their children make in order to still love them. We must love our children. We must fully accept them into our lives – as long as they do not disrupt family harmony and cause family dysfunction.  Acceptance of a child that has these issues may make the difference between life and death to that child.

Although the phenomenon of dropping observance crosses all Hashkafic lines, in the Charedi world it takes on an extra dimension. Those communities are not known for tolerating a rebellious child that drops observance. When a child rebels like that and the parents can’t convince them to stop, a common response is to throw the child out. Bnei Brak has a serious problem of young Charedi adolescent girls that have been thrown out of their homes.

Not all Charedi parents react that way… although too many do. There are some who are willing to be flexible about a child rejecting the Hashkafos of the parent and allow them to adopt a more modern lifestyle. I have mentioned this before. I know Charedi parents whose children were very troubled by the strictures of their Charedi schools. Instead of those parents forcing them to stay, they switched them to coed elementary school or high school.

Even though I am generally opposed to coed high schools that was a wise decision. The troubled young people that were rebelling in the Charedi schools flourished in the coed schools. Today they are happily married and part of the greater Orthodox community. There are no guarantees, of course, that this will work in every case. But I’m pretty sure that had the parents not shown some flexibility in these cases, their children would no longer be observant today.

For Faigy, that was never an option. Modern Orthodoxy is considered an illegitimate lifestyle in Chasidic communities like Belz. Going all the way out was seen by her as the only option. Although it satisfied their sense of living their lives honestly and openly, it remained a source of great pain to them that their families rejected them. And if one has a propensity for depression, the results of such rejection can lead to suicide.

We must somehow try and convince communities like Belz and Satmar to be more open to a child’s needs by way of allowing them a bit more freedom. Freedom that they can find in the Hashkafos of a Modern Orthodox school. We must try and convince them not to demonize all of Modern Orthodoxy. There is a lot more we can do. And should do. Here is how Rabbi Katz puts it: 
Our efforts towards addressing this problem have so far been haphazard and piecemeal. We are, for the moment, too distracted to notice the tragic proportions of the problem, a phenomenon that impacts all segments of Orthodoxy. Attrition is not unique to the ultra-Orthodox community…
We need to shift our energies from the hypothetical to the practical and start providing support to the young souls who are struggling and flailing.
Our efforts should be two-pronged. We need to develop a robust support system for those beautiful souls who are imprisoned by existential loneliness. They should know that our acceptance of them is absolute and unconditional…
We also have to support their families and loved ones who are rightfully pained by the rejection implicit in this pursuit of self-discovery. We can legitimate their pain but at the same time help them appreciate the difference between product and process. They can be made to understand that while they might not approve of the final outcome of their relative’s journey, they can still support the process and be there to provide the unconditional love that the relative craves and deserves. 
Although I have some minor quibbles with certain parts of his article, I completely agree with the above. And I applaud him for saying it out loud.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Lesser of Two Evils –is Still Evil

An Islamic State execution, Imagine nuclear weapons in their hands!
There are some people that hate Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu so much, they are blinded to the truths he articulates. Truths that the more reasoned of his critics understand. 

I happen to be a fan of the current Prime Minister – even as I know that he is flawed… as all human beings are. But for argument’s sake let us concede that his statements and actions of late were all terrible mistakes. 

That instead of flattering the President with soothing language, he alienated him with his abrasive and strident rhetoric. Especially of late in opposition to the Iran deal. That his acceptance of a congressional invitation to speak to Congress without even informing the President was a slap in the President’s face. Especially since his entire purpose was to thwart the President’s goal in crafting a nuclear deal with Iran. That his support of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and other major West Bank cities like Maale Adumim flies in the face of the President’s wishes. That he used inflammatory and racist rhetoric to get elected in the last election. That he never really supported a two-state solution – something that came out during the last election campaign.

Even if all that were to be true, one cannot question his assessment of the Middle East realities. Which includes an understanding of Iran’s nature and true intentions. And their ability to carry them out. Which they are now doing and will continue to do more vigorously once the sanctions are removed and they receive an immediate $100 billion windfall.

His view of the nuclear deal made with Iran is clearly the right one. It is a historically bad one. No one disputes that Iran is the chief exporter of terror in the region. No one disputes Iran’s aims of spreading its version of Islam around the world. No one disputes Iran’s declared goal of destroying Israel. No one disputes that they have sent military arms to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas and has sent support to Assad in Syria and to the Houthi (Shia) rebels in Yemen. 

Netanyahu’s historical analysis is a very good one. Don’t believe me? Then believe one of Netanyahu’s strongest critics, Ha’aretz senior correspondent and New York Times best selling author. Ari Shavit. Those are the exact words he used about the Prime Minister in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose (which can be seen below). In fact Shavit has the same view that Netanyahu and the majority of congress has. That the sanctions should have remained in place - and even increased. It was the sanctions regime inflicted upon Iran that brought the America hating Iranian government to the table. Their economy was crippled. Shavit said that continuing and increasing those sanctions would have produced a better deal.

Instead of eliminating their nuclear weapons infrastructure entirely (which was the originally stated goal of the American and P 5 plus 1 negotiators) they have only delayed production by 10 years. And that is assuming they won’t cheat at some point when the world’s attention shifts elsewhere. And if cheating is suspected in one of their military installations, they will have 24 days  to hide it before inspectors are allowed to go in! After 10 years, this deal allows Iran to openly go ahead full steam towards production of nuclear weapons. 10 years! And they will have plenty of money to do it with.

True this deal requires Iran’s nuclear production facilities to be reduced. And so too their current stockpiles of enriched uranium. But the infrastructure remains… ready in 10 years  to continue right where they left off. Enriching uranium to nuclear grade level. They will then - in very short order have a nuclear bomb.

Imagine this pariah state having a nuclear weapon. Their Arab neighbors will no doubt proceed to getting their own. The increase in nuclear weaponry in that part of the world will make it a lot easier for rogue terrorist states like Islamic State (IS …or ISIS …or ISIL) to get their hands on one. Is the world ready for a nuclear armed Islamic State in 10 years?!

The problems increase even before that. In five years this deal allows Iran to produce and buy sophisticated military weapons for use in any way they choose. They will immediately have $100 billion to do it with. They will be able to generate a lot more money once the sanctions are lifted. There should not be a scintilla of doubt in any rational person’s mind that many of those weapons will be sent to Hezbollah and Hamas; the Assad regime in Syria; and the Houthi (Shia) rebels in Yemen. Even now Iranian missiles are so precise that if passed on to Hamas and Hezbollah the Iron Dome is not sufficient protection !

The hope for regime change was best while the Iran sanctions were extant. They were working. The Iranian people ultimately love western culture and would love to rid itself of this extremist regime. They haven’t yet because of that regime’s iron fist. There just may have come a point that the sanctions became too hard to bear and the populace would have risen up. But we will never know. Lifting sanctions assures that the Iranian people will get a some relief and have improved their lives enough to not challenge their current regime.

The administration is banking on the fact that things can change in 10 years. Iran may be persuaded by this gesture to join the family of nations and start behaving.  But the 35 year history of this regime has shown that change is highly unlikely. Anyone that thinks this entrenched Islamist theocracy will now somehow change because of this deal has not been paying attention.

It isn’t only Netanyahu that feels this way. It is Netanyahu’s political opposition. It is most of the Arab nations that live in that area. Maybe the people that live in that area know something that nonresident negotiators desperate for a deal - don’t.

This deal now gives us the worst of all worlds. It lifts sanctions. Increases their wealth, allows them to operate freely in their terrorist supporting activities, doesn’t free a single American hostage, and paves the way for them to build the bomb in 10 years. Delaying the inevitable is not an achievement in my view. It is a historic mistake.

What makes America’s push for a deal so grievous is that there seems to be little we can do to change it, now that the P5 plus 1 has accepted it. The President does have a point when he says that if Congress votes down the deal in a veto proof manner, the sanctions will go away a (since the Europeans will not continue them even if the US will). Iran will have succeeded in removing most of those sanctions and be able to keep working at breakneck speed to build a nuclear weapon.

Shavit points out, this deal is indeed the lesser of two evils. But he also says that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

What to do now, is a big question mark. But that we signed on to such a bad deal is the fault of a President and administration that was just too eager to get it done. And the world will no doubt pay a price. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Agendas Versus Historical Truths

Professor Marc B. Shapiro
Truth is the best defense. This expression refers to the best way for an innocent defendant to present his case in court. It is also a prescription for mankind. Which of course includes Orthodox Jews, too. And yet sometimes ideals or agendas get in the way of the truth. Especially when it comes to the truth of history. And the more rigid the ideals, the more the truth of history can get distorted, usually by omitting inconvenient truths from publications.

The phenomenon of putting ideals ahead of the truth is not a new one. It was articulated by Rav Shimon Schwab; accepted and perpetuated by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, publisher of Mesorah Publications (ArtScroll). Here is what R’ Schwab said - as quoted by Ezra Glinter in a  Forward review of Professor Marc Shapiro's new book, Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History :

Shimon Schwab, a prominent 20th-century German Jewish rabbi who argued that “a realistic historic picture” is good for “nothing but the satisfaction of curiosity.” Rather, he claimed, “every generation has to put a veil over the human failings of its elders and glorify all the rest which is great and beautiful.” If that means doing without factually accurate knowledge, he continued, “We can do without.” 
Rabbi Scherman put it this way. His biographical books are designed to inspire. If a negative fact of history is included in the biography of a religious Jewish hero, it will uninspire. That fact trumps the truth.

To the extent that it has ever been tried, even by Charedi authors like Rav Nosson Kamenetsky, it has been rejected.  Even if I would agree with Rabbi Scherman (which I don’t) - what a specific Hashkafa deems negative might be seen as positive to those of us with a different Hashkafa. 

For example that Rav Aharon Kotler once read secular literature or wrote letters to his fiancé before they were married is deemed derogatory by the Hashkafa of the right. How dare we say that a pure and holy man like R’ Aharon Kotler read secular books… or even worse, wrote letters to his finance?! To the Charedi mindset these things are beneath the Kavod of a man they consider to have been the Gadol HaDor. So when someone like R’ Kamenetsky published those things in his book, Making of a Gadol, it was banned. Apparently the Kotler family felt it was disparaging to say that about their patriarchal figure.

R’ Kamenetsky argued that even if these were negative things about him, that he overcame them makes him a far more inspirational figure than if he was born Kodesh Merechem – holy from the womb. But to no avail. His book was banned because it told a truth that was unacceptable to his family. A family that are adherents of the current Charedi Hashkafa. 

Honoring the family’s wishes is one thing. But the net result is perpetuating the falsehood that a Gadol would never do things like that - when in fact he did. God forbid one of their adherents decide to pick up a classic novel and read it, or worse write a letter to his fiancé.

Professor Marc Shapiro has gone to great lengths to uncover and publish these truths which have been omitted by the right for purposes of furthering their agenda.  He has in fact written a few books demonstrating how agendas have caused lies of omission to be promoted as truth. Even in a book as sacred as R’ Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch: 
In discussing the pre-Yom Kippur ritual of kaparot , in which one’s sins are symbolically transferred to a chicken, Karo refers to the practice as a “foolish custom.” (Other authorities went further, calling it a pagan practice.) Although that comment appeared in the first 18 printings of the work, it disappeared in the 18th century and is still generally omitted — a decision based on the fact that kaparot is now a normative Jewish observance.  
Lying by omission was clearly intended to forward an agenda. One that strives to defend a practice now observed by many –mostly Chasidic Jews. One which was clearly labeled by the Shulchan Aruch as foolish at the minimum. 
“If Karo is not safe from censorship,” Shapiro writes, ”I daresay that no text is safe.” 
Rewriting history to serve an agenda is just plain wrong. Even if one’s motives for doing so are pure. One cannot learn from history if it is hidden from them. One can then only learn from the history deemed beneficial for the cause. 

I understand that family sensitivity needs to be honored. But that has to be weighed against the effects of omitting truths that - though unflattering - can teach something about the real values of a religious hero instead of the values projected onto them by the current Charedi Zeitgeist.

Professor Shapiro said, such omissions calls into question other aspects of religious beliefs and traditions that may not have been historically the case.

Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran
This is where I part company with him. On this particular point I agree with Rabbi Avi Shafran. Even though traditions and even beliefs have changed over the course of Jewish history, once the fundamental belief system as articulated by the Rambam has been established by the great rabbinic minds of the past, it is the height of Chutzpah to say they were wrong and we are entitled to go back to the time before those beliefs were set. Proving as does Professor Shapiro that the some of Rambam’s 13 principles were not always accepted and thereby implying that we don’t have to accept them today either is to contradict the wisdom of those great rabbinic minds of the past who set them into stone.

However, when contemporary decisions are made based clearly on agendas, that is another story. Bans of books about history and science that contradict the Charedi worldview do not have the same force as the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith. Modern day bans are agenda laden. The 13 principles of faith are not. They are the carefully constructed wisdom of some of the greatest theological minds in Jewish history and should be honored accordingly. Which is why I firmly believe that those 13 principles are a requirement of faith and those that do not believe in all of them, may in fact be heretics.

That said, I would note that the most respected Charedi leader alive today, R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman has shockingly quibbled with part of one of those 13 principles. The one which says that 'even though he (Moshiach) tarries, we must wait for him'. Rav Shteinman says we do not have to wait for him. This is not to say that he won’t be coming. We must believe that. But to actively wait for him has historically been ignored by even observant Jews with few exceptions – like the Chafetz Chaim. Makes you kind of wonder…

Monday, July 20, 2015

Breaking Bad - Bill and Ezra

Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg (Arutz Sheva)
They were inspiring individuals. Icons, in fact. People of great achievement.  When they spoke, people listened. And now their reputations are in the trash where they belong. They are kindred spirits. One is named Bill and the other is named Ezra.

It’s hard to imagine good - even great - people breaking so bad. Men that have been honored by the society in which they live for their contributions to it. And yet secretly they have been the scum of the earth. This is who Bill Cosby and Ezra Sheinberg are. They are both guilty of rape. And they both used their positions of honor and prestige to do it. Many times. To many women.

We all know who Bill Cosby is. He was ‘America’s dad’. His TV program changed the way most Americans looked at black people.  The Cosby Show showed the world that mainstream black families are no different than mainstream white families. Same values; Same lifestyles and goals; same hopes and aspirations for their children; same problems; and same achievements.  

The Huxtables, Bill Cosby's fictional family on 'The Cosby Show
The patriarch of this black upper-middle class family was played by Cosby. He was a successful doctor and role model father. The family matriarch was played by Felicia Rashad. She was a successful lawyer and model  mother. The children all had the same problems that white children had and the youngest child was as cute and adorable as could be, stealing many a scene from the show’s star, Bill Cosby.  That show had one of the most successful runs in TV history.  

That is quite a contribution. And it was mostly all Cosby’s doing. That is why he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 by President George W. Bush. That all goes away now.  He might retain the award. But the honor that it would normally bestow is gone. It is now a meaningless artifact in his hands.

The same story can be written about Ezra Sheinberg. He was a brilliant Talmid Chacham, Kabbalist, and author of many Seforim (religious books). He founded a Yeshiva in Tzfat and together with Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. He also established a Kashrus organization of the highest standards modeling it on the standards of the Eida HaCharedis, the most trusted Kashrus certification agency in the Charedi world in Israel.

People went to him for counseling and advice. And he gave it freely. But that isn’t all he gave.  Just as did Bill Cosby he raped some the women who came to him and trusted him.  Here from Ha’aretz, is  a description from one of his victims (…of ten so far that have come forward). 
 S. was allegedly assaulted when she was 25 years old and she met the rabbi to ask for a blessing. 
She says that a few hours after the meeting he contacted her and said that “the gates of heaven have opened” and that he had to meet with her immediately. “I was stupid. There were a lot of warning signals,” she said. She says she met with the rabbi in the Biriya Forest in the Upper Galilee and he gave her “holy water” to drink.
She said the rabbi asked her to spread holy water all over her body. “Suddenly I found myself naked. I was scared. I was in the forest alone. I felt that he had bewitched me.” S. said that when she awoke, after she made him stop, he started to threaten her. 
This description of a rape is uncannily similar to the description given by Cosby’s rape victims. Two men of distinction taking advantage of their position for purposes of illicit sex. Except that in the rabbi’s case he also violated one of the cardinal sins of Judaism in that his victims were married women. (Both men denied it – although Cosby is now known to have admitted it in newly published court a deposition from a settled 2005 case.)

When I think about the accomplishment these two men had achieved, accomplishment that must have taken a great deal of time and determination.  Lifetime accomplishments that seemd to be entirely altruistic. People who spent the vast majority of their time doing good. And yet were as evil as could be.  Moments of weakness overcame them as opportunities to satisfy their base desires knocked.

These two people are no longer icons. They are now 2 of the most detested people on earth. Rightfully so.  And yet the good they did should not be wasted. In Cosby’s case the things he did to change the worlds attitude about black people are real and those changes should not be lost. Just because the messenger happened to be evil doesn’t mean we abandon his message.  However the medium that carried his message should be thrown in to the proverbial trashcan. The Cosby Show will forever have a rapist as its protagonist. That is something we cannot escape.

Unfortunately the same thing is true with the Yeshiva and Kashrus organization founded by Sheinberg.  No matter how great those two institutions are, they need to close. They will always have the name of a rapist associated with it. Here is what Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, Dean of the Zomet Institute said: 
There is talk of "rehabilitating the yeshiva" in order to continue the activities of the institution in terms of Torah learning and acts of charity under the leadership of another Torah figure, who will replace the former head. From my nonprofessional point of view, this is not a viable option. There is no way to rebuild this community in Tzefat and its institutions, which were all founded and controlled with an iron fist by this evil man. The only way open for the yeshiva, the kollel for married men, and the other institutions is to disband them all… 
(Sheinberg’s) "fingerprints" can be found in every corner, and it is not enough for somebody to declare, "We have destroyed the blemish!... We have removed the abscess!" When the foundation falls the building collapses, and the only way to make impure pottery vessels pure again is to shatter them. 
I do not know how to disband a community, but I can suggest to the students – single and married – to search for a place of true Torah, to quench their thirst and to heal their wounds by drinking the waters of other sweet and pure springs. 
I could not agree more.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Racist Attitudes Among Us

Chava Shervington (JTA)
There are 2 things that I have very strong feelings about which seem to elicit an opposite feeling from many of my Orthodox Jewish coreligionists. They are the concept of Ahavas HaGer - the commandment in the Torah of loving the convert - and racism. In the former there is really not a lot of love of the convert among my Orthodox peers. Oh, there may be lip service paid to it, but try setting up a Ger or Giyores with a Shidduch.

Not exactly the easiest task in the world. Mention to a Shadchan that boy or girl is a convert, and you may as well write them out of the Shidduch scene. They do not want to get involved with someone that came from a non Jewish world. They believe that converts bring with them baggage that will end up harming them and their children. And who wants to have Christians as in-laws, anyway? That is embarrassing to them, to say the least.  

But this attitude clearly ignores the Torah’s clear commandment to treat converts with love. They are Jewish in every respect and to be treated no differently than those of us born Jewish.  And yet too many of us don’t.

Another problem among Orthodox Jews is racism. It’s there, whether we like to admit it or not. And it a source of shame and embarrassment to me. When these 2 issues combine - the outrage I feel is apoplectic!  

It is hard enough for a people who look like us to convert and change their entire lifestyle. But when they don’t look like us it makes it doubly hard. And doubly admirable.

Imagine what it must be like for a black person to change their beliefs and their lifestyle so drastically and enter a community that has very few people that look like them.  Why would they subject themselves to that?  There is only one explanation for it. They have found the truth. And they are willing to sacrifice greatly to live their lives that way.

I have always looked up to the convert.  They have changed their lives drastically because they saw it as the right thing to do. They had to think about it… and wade through the pros and cons of conversion. And they had to study a system of laws that are numerous and  complex. They have to abandon a lifestyle of far more freedoms than they have now. Keeping Shabbos (and all its restrictions that are new to them) is extremely difficult to learn and get used to doing after you learn them. Especially after a lifetime of having no restrictions at all on that day. Keeping Kosher eliminates eating foods that in many cases they have come to enjoy and used to look forward to eating, like lobster.

Going out to a restaurant is limited to a handful of Kosher ones… and that’s only if you live in one of the big cities that have them. McDonald’s and Burger King are now off limits. I could go on but I think that illustrates the kind of changes a convert has to make.

And then there is the social aspect of not really being fully accepted in the Orthodox world. Add to this a convert whose skin color is different that that of the typical Jew and you are really fighting an uphill battle of acceptance. If you are black I can’t imagine what it like to be called ‘a Shvartze’. If you are a black convert, it must be doubly hard hearing that word! And please let’s not say that word Shvartze just means black. It has become a pejorative plain and simple.

There is absolutely no place for racism of any kind in Judaism.  Not even for non Jewish blacks. Let alone for Jewish ones. I cannot protest loudly enough at this unfortunately very real problem in our midst. Just put yourself in Chava Shervington’s  place. Ms. Shervington is a black convert  who has written a very poignant article about her experiences and what she believes ought to be done about them.  Here are some of the things she and other converts like her has had to endure. From JTA
“Why is the goy here?” one black Jewish parent overheard when taking her child to a Jewish children’s event.
At one yeshiva in Brooklyn, the mother of a biracial student was asked to stay away from the school because it made the other parents uncomfortable.
An African-American acquaintance told me he overheard a worshiper at morning minyan talk about how he didn’t want to daven with a “shvartze” – while my acquaintance was putting on his tefillin. 
And she adds: 
Orthodox Jews of color constantly have to demonstrate our authenticity and belonging. It’s frustrating, exhausting and, frankly, heartbreaking. 
It is heartbreaking for them, no doubt. But it makes me angry beyond words. I cannot tell you how many times I hear racist comments among some of my Orthodox Jewish friends. That has to stop. When it is said about a black convert it is hurtful to the very people that we should be standing in awe of. Those of us born into Judaism and raised to be observant  cannot even stand in the shadow of anyone that comes to Orthodox Judaism by choice. We can’t hold a candle to them in their sincerity and belief.

Many of us that were born Orthodox have become rote in our observances. And many of us don’t even think about matters of belief. For the convert nothing is rote. And belief is what motivated them to become observant and motivates them to continue despite the rejection they might feel.

After going through all the hoops and hurdles of the conversion process - their commitment to Judaism is generally far more sincere than those of us who have been raised in it. And if a convert is black, I can’t imagine what they must go through and yet ‘stick with the program’ .

The black convert is the most laudable convert of all. He is the role model of commitment for us all. He is the one we should be looking up to for inspiration. He is the one that should be teaching us what it means to be a Jew.  

I am proud to say that I know several Orthodox black Jews here in Chicago.  They are exemplary Jews in every respect. 3 of them are women and are happily married to white Orthodox Jewish men. I look up to these people with awe and admiration.  They are role models for me. That is the way they should be seen by all of us.  And the word “Shvartze’ and the attitude that goes along with it ought to be eradicated!  It is long past due time that we become truly colorblind and judge people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin!