Thursday, January 19, 2017

Marrying Out in the 21st Century

Marc Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton
One of the current by-products associated with leaving observance (going OTD) is intermarriage. This should not come as too much of a surprise. Once a Jew abandons Halacha, there is really no reason not to marry out.

Historically parents of a child that wants to marry out have been traumatized by it, even if they were not themselves observant. It was as if the desire by Jewish parents for their children to marry within the faith was their DNA. No Jewish parent, no matter how removed they were from observant Judaism approved of a child doing that. I know a few non observant Jewish parents like that. They did not raise their children with much of a Jewish identity and yet were in virtual fear that the non Jew their child was dating might end up as a marriage.

Unfortunately this reaction seems to have become more of an exception that a rule. There is certainly more tolerance about it these days – if not full acceptance.

While this may be true to Jews as a whole, with respect to Orthodoxy there is still no tolerance of it. No Orthodox Jew would ever accept a non Jewish spouse for their child. The Torah clearly forbids intermarriage. That’s a game ender as far as intermarriage is concerned.

Unfortunately it seems like there has been an increase of intermarriage in Orthodoxy these days. While I have no statistical evidence of it, my guess is that it probably matches the increase of young people going OTD.

A Modern Orthodox parent who identifies himself a Ruvie has written a very thoughtful article about his own experiences along these lines. One of his children went OTD and eventually married a non Jew.  Ruvie attempts explain the reasons for the increase in this phenomenon. He lists and describes a number of very plausible explanations. 

It is interesting that he speaks only of the Modern Orthodox world. I am sure this happens in the Charedi world too. But I am pretty convinced that the forces acting upon the Modern Orthodox world that might push a young person this direction are not as prevalent in the Charedi world. Which makes it reasonable to conclude that it happens more frequently in the modern Orthodox world.

If I had to sum up Ruvie’s reasons for the greater incidence I would say it is the greater acceptance of Jews in this country. It is at a point where Judaism has become the most admired religion in America. To illustrate this one need look no further than by the very high profile intermarriage of Chelsea Clinton to Marc Mezvinsky that the entire country seemed to celebrate. This kind of acceptance has fostered unprecedented assimilation. The forces of which can at times overcome even committed Jews raised in normal functional Orthodox homes. When society warms up to us, we warm up to them. Its only natural.

When a young person leaves an environment that constantly reinforces their religious practices and finds himself in a world filled with people who do not look at religion at all for any guidance – it should be no surprise that the continued reinforcement of that new environment which is not guided by Judaism will take its toll. In some cases even in a family where one’s commitment to the Torah and the transmission of it’s values are deep. Being immersed in a culture void of any religious Jewish content can eventually lead a young person to believe that they found their match in the person they met without regard to their religion. 

This is especially true in a college where one’s religious beliefs are often challenged by the professors they encounter or the material they are required to study for a particular course. Add to that the draw of the anti establishment and hedonistic lifestyle one finds on college campuses and you have the perfect storm for an intermarriage. If one contrasts these modern Orthodox experiences with those of their Charedi counterparts it is understandable why this phenomenon seems to occur more in Modern Orthodox circles.

That being said, I realize that there are many reasons why someone will go OTD and then possibly intermarry. Even for those that never leave their religious environment. But there is no a doubt in my mind that the circumstances I just described contribute highly to intermarriage in the Modern Orthodox world whereas these circumstances hardly exists at all in the Charedi world.

Whatever the reason the fact that it happens more frequently these days begs for a response. What does a parent do, asks Ruvie, when it happens to them? Remember we are talking about normal functional observant families where the parents did all the right things. They follow Halacha and send their children to day schools and Yeshiva high schools. They even send their  children to study in Yeshivos or seminaries in Israel post high school. When a child from a family like this ends up marrying a non Jew what do they do? Do they accept it? Reject it? Sit Shiva? What is the best way to handle this if it happens to you?

The traditional response had always been cutting yourself off from that child.  That may still be the response in more right wing circles. In my view, however, one should never give up hope that a child will be convinced to return to his roots even after they marry out. There is always the possibility that the non Jewish spouse will convert in a serious way according to Halalcha and re-marry your child according to Halacha. And if there are children, they too can convert.

The question still remains, what to do at the outset? One thing you should not do is sit Shiva. R’ Aharon Licthtenstein was quoted by Ruvie on the subject of what a parent should do about a child that goes OTD: 
“The days of sitting shiva for those that leave are long over – it is a failed policy.” He believed the door must remain open with a willingness for conversation. 
I believe the same thing is true for intermarried child. Only it’s a much more complicated and tougher situation to deal with since there is another human being to consider beside your child: the non Jewish spouse.

Certainly you cannot possibly condone it. Nor should you participate in any kind of marriage ceremony to a non Jew. I realize that is asking a lot. There are good people that are strongly committed to their Judaism and yet will participate. Even if only to show that they value their child’s happiness above all - as any good parent would. I completely understand it and am certainly not in a position to judge. Nor should anyone else. I am speaking in the ideal.

Not attending the intermarriage of a child does not mean you no longer love them. That love can be shown after the marriage in a variety of ways. In my view one should never give up on their children. Even if it seems like they will never return to observance and stay intermarried. You never know.
  
Marriage and contemplating parenthood matures people and they start thinking about the values they want to teach their children. In the case of a formerly observant Jew that was taught the values of the Torah - this can begin a process that will bring them back. In the case of Ruvie, his son started caring about Halacha again despite his intermarriage. From the article: 
Prior to the wedding my son requested me to affix a mezuzah on his apartment door (he had rejected my offer when he originally moved in to his apartment).Post wedding my son texted my wife asking where he can tovel his new dishes. 
This topic has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way. That’s probably because intermarriage was so taboo, it was relatively rare. But now that it has become more common, we have to find ways that can satisfy Halacha without sacrificing your children. 

It takes a lot of courage for the parent of an intermarried child to talk about it so frankly and so openly. Profound thanks is therefore due to Ruvie for being among the first to bring it up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Viewing Judaism through the Lens of Feminism

Scene from the JOFA conference last Sunday (Jewish Week)
I’m told that back in the late 70s Ner Israel Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg once commented that the biggest danger to Judaism in our time was feminism. I remember thinking that surely there other more pressing problems we faced than a movement to give equal rights to women. Something that I supported and something that has borne much positive fruit. I thought, ‘What could possibly be wrong with the ideal of equality of the sexes?’

Well I still feel that way in most cases. But clearly Rabbi Weinberg was right. I have also been told that Rabbi Weinberg felt that way because it was a much more difficult task to convince people seeking equality that Judaism is one area where it could not be universally applied. That has proven to be the case.

What was once a movement to give women equal pay for equal work and equal dignity with men, has in the case of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) turned into a movement to change the face of Judaism into something unrecognizable. We are way past equal pay for equal work as feminism’s originally stated purpose. Even though we still have a long way to go in that department. We are also way past the idea of treating each other with equal dignity. 

The agenda being set now may have begun with Rabbi Avi Weiss’s innovation of ordaining women for the rabbinate. That has picked up steam in the form of Yeshivat Maharat, a rabbinical school for women. More recently Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has done the same - celebrating the ordination of two women. He is now suggesting that women be considered for positions as religious court judges!

I refer you to an article in the Jewish Week about a recent JOFA  conference. If one reads the issues addressed at this conference one would be hard pressed to find any real Jewish content. Had this conference been held by Christians or even secular humanists for that matter, it would have sounded the same. While it might be true that a lot of the rhetoric there might have included phrases like ‘Judaism aligns with…’ or ‘It is a tenet of Judaism that…’ you could probably substitute the name of any other movement for the word Judaism and say the same things. That all or most of the attendees were observant Jews does not make this a Jewish event anymore that a group of Orthodox Jews attending a conference on climate change. Climate change is a concern for all of us. But it is not a particularly Jewish agenda item.

This is not to say that Judaism does not address the issues raised. Of course it does. Judaism has something to say about all human endeavors. But that was not what JOFA seemed to be saying about these issues. The speakers addressing them had already decided on the validity of their own ‘Progressive’ approach to all the issues raised. An approach virtually identical to the prevailing view of ‘Progressives’. There was nothing in that article about objective rabbinic opinion. No mention about the possibility that their views might have some rabbinic detractors. No religious authority of any stature was cited in the 2 articles I read. JOFA speakers just assumed their ‘Progressive’ approach was the correct approach.

Now I am not saying that the ‘Progressive’ view is wrong in every way. There may be some ‘Progressive’ approaches that are supported by Halacha. But JOFA apparently didn’t bother finding out. If they did - that information is missing from both articles.

But even if they did seek rabbinic guidance - I have to believe that they sought it from ‘Progressive’ rabbis that are not of sufficient stature. And whose views are hardly objective. I am reminded of Rabbi Asher Lopatin’s endorsement of gay marriage by using Torah passage in Bereishis (2:18) of ‘Lo Tov Hayos HaAdam Levado’ (It is not good for man to live alone). This is a tortured explanation of those words if I ever heard one! The Torah is clearly talking about a man and a woman – Adam and Eve. 

This is not to say that there were not some legitimate items on their agenda. Like the plight of the Agunah. Or the recent practice in more right wing circles of erasing women from the public sphere. Unfortunately there are even some mainstream right wing periodicals that have decided to move in that direction by never publishing a picture of a woman in order to satisfy some of their readers that have more extreme views on the subject. And as you go further to the right, this kind of thing becomes more egregious to the point of endangering the health of women. Like never publishing the word ‘breast’ even in an article discussing breast cancer. Or in removing the word  ‘woman’ on a sign in Bet Shemesh indicating that a building was a woman’s health clinic!

If this was what JOFA was about, I’d become a member. But these issues seem to be relatively minor compared to the more important goal of breaking as many glass ceilings as possible – and eliminating any but the most basic physical differences between a man and a woman. No matter what obstacle gets in their way. This is not Judaism. This is militant feminism.

What about a statement attributed to JOFA founder Blu Greenberg which says, ‘If there is a rabbinic will, there is a Halachic way’? That simply is not true. A rabbi cannot change Halacha, no matter how much of a rabbinic will there is to do that.

JOFA will claim that this is meant to apply in areas where there is no clear prohibition against such a ‘will’. Perhaps. But if that means changing the entire character of Judaism into something unrecognizable, is it worth doing just because you want to be equal to men in all things? Is it justifiable to advocate the kinds of things whose legitimacy has been rejected by all the major Poskim of our generation? Is wanting something badly enough worth breaking with tradition and thereby causing yet another rift if Judaism? Are hundreds of years of traditional Judaism to be tossed out at the behest of modern day feminism just so that a religious glass ceiling can be broken?

There are many that will answer yes to these questions. The freedom of personal choice – they will say - trumps everything! They are happy to be part of a movement where “Feminism, and particularly Orthodox feminism, is being used as a lens to view everything…”   They have the right to see it that way. But the consequences of blindly following this path need to be considered.The following excerpt from the Jewish Week illustrates what Judaism might look like if we view everything through that lens: 
Avigayil Halpern, a 20-year-old college sophomore at Yale University and a panelist at the conference, said that though her roots are in Orthodox feminism, she now identifies as “halachic egalitarian.” Halpern attended Orthodox day schools through high school and discovered a “passion for Talmud” in an all-girls Talmud class during her freshman year. Today, the Judaic studies major and West Hartford, Conn., native puts on tefillin, the ritual prayer boxes traditionally worn by Orthodox men, and wears tzitzit, the ritual traditionally-male worn garment. 
This was clearly not the Judaism of the past. Nor is it the Judaism of the future. JOFA members and supporters of their cause are welcome to do as they choose. But please don’t call it Orthodox feminism. Because all it really is - is feminism!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Is Objectivity a Thing of the Past?

One of the more disappointing things I have experienced of late is the inability of far too many people of my own people (i.e. Orthodox Jews) to see ‘the other side’.  It is almost as if they have a blind spot to it. Refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that a point of view different from their own has even the slightest validity. 

This is certainly true in the realm of religiosity. The more right wing one is, the more likely they will be to reject anyone to their left. This is also true in reverse. The more left wing one is, the more likely they will be to reject anyone to their right. I have always taken a middle course. This should be no surprise about a Centrist like me. I look to my right and my left and as long as we leave out the extremes at both ends I see legitimate points of view even as I don’t believe them to be the ideal.

I have always been able to do that. To look at views that are different than my own and recognize the validity of many of the points they make. As it applies to political views, the same thing is true. I can see both the left and the right and not call either of them evil. I try and assess the values each side will bring to the table without my own prejudice interfering.

Unfortunately of late - I do not see enough of that among far too many of my own Orthodox community that tend to be politically conservative. Nor do I see it among non Orthodox that tend to be liberal left Jews (…many of whom have adopted the term progressive instead of liberal left. I guess a word that implies progress sounds better to them. Although I reject the notion that being liberal is necessarily indicative of progress.)

'And a new king arose'  - quote from this week's Parsha - Indeed!
This has become ever more apparent during and since the last Presidential election. I was actually shocked at how many of my friends from across the Orthodox Hashkafic spectrum supported Donald Trump. It seemed so irrational to me. Just like their hatred of the current President.

A poll taken after the election substantiated what I knew intuitively. The votes cast in Orthodox Jewish sections of Chicago and New York – 2 states that Mrs. Clinton won handily - showed that an overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews voted for Donald Trump!

The explanation of this kind of support for a man whose speech and general manner is anathema to Jewish values would be puzzling if not for the fact that his opponent was so hated by them.  Perhaps they saw Mrs. Clinton as an extension of Obama. That would explain the vote somewhat. But I don’t see how a man that is such an embarrassment to this country and even more so to Orthodox Jews - could garner so many Orthodox Jewish votes.

What is it exactly that makes their hate for Obama and Clinton so visceral; so extreme that they are willing to support the most embarrassing and unqualified candidate for President in American history? When I asked some of my Trump supporting friends that question, the response was almost incoherent in its level of hatred for these two. The usual explanations about the lack of support for Israel, or the lack of  values observant Jews seek in a candidate - did not match their hatred toward them. When I pointed out some of the obvious embarrassing things Trump had said – they seemed to just shrug them off with the claim that it was just too important to keep Mrs. Clinton out of office looking only at her failings and ignoring Trump’s.

I never quite understood that kind of hatred… and still don’t. But it’s there in spades. Furthermore I don’t think any of those who voted for Trump regret it – even as Mr. Trump seems to be digging himself into an even deeper and more embarrassing  hole on a daily basis than I would have ever imagined - just by his daily tweets.

He managed to get the entire world upset with his comments of late – including some pretty high profile conservative public servants that should have been his natural allies.  Both in domestic and foreign policy.  We are just 3 days away from Trump taking over the reins of government! And still no regrets about electing him. Only relief that Obama will soon be history and that his natural successor, Hillary Clinton, won’t be taking his place.

They might argue that their vote was justified after all - now that Obama has ‘shown his true colors’ as anti Israel by allowing the UN to condemn Israel.  A policy they can say with some justification would be continued by Clinton (although that is far from certain). But this was not the case when they voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

There is no reasoning with my fellow Orthodox Jewish Trump voters. Their hatred for Obama is so irrational, they refuse to acknowledge even the remotest possibility that he might actually not be anti Israel at all. Even after the allowing the UN to condemn it. They are in a complete state of denial about anything he ever did for the Jewish State.

No one was more upset than I was at Obama for allowing a one sided condemnation to pass at the UN.  He was wrong. In my eyes this has done more harm than good. But at the same time, I am absolutely convinced that he believes what he did was in the best interests of both Israel and the United States. He believes that Israel needs to be nudged a little more forcibly than it has in the past about giving up settlement construction. That he has also specifically said that settlements are not the only impediment - is ignored. Obama knows and has said that Israel deserves to have security before any peace treaty can be executed. And that is on the Palestinians. It’s just too bad that he didn’t follow his own past precedent of vetoing one-sided UN condemnations that didn’t address that issue.

That he was so clearly wrong on this does not negate what he has been so clearly right about. He actually did something about Israeli security. He has given Israel more financial, intelligence, military, and defense aid than any other President in history. But it doesn’t seem to matter to the Obama haters. He is not given an iota of credit for that. He is seen only as anti Israel.

There are other issues that they have with the outgoing President. Many of which I agree.  I do not accept his views on a variety of social issues. Just to name one, his support of gay marriage. Nor do I accept many of his foreign policy decisions. Like allowing Syria’s Assad to cross his own red line with respect to using chemical weapons!

Mrs. Clinton is in the same category with respect to many of those issues. Especially the social ones. So it might be understandable that Orthodox Jews would vote for an individual whose policies on social issues reflect more of their own. And Trump has certainly said the right things along those lines. His stated views on things like abortion more closely align with the Pro-Life position that most Orthodox Jews favor. The problem is that his behavior and gutter like comments – especially those spoken in unguarded moments - are the exact opposite of those values.

It is as if all the Orthodox Trump voters have closed their eyes and ears to what he has said and done and only heard him mouth conservative values. Are they still so sure that what he says he will do in these areas, he will actually do? I’m not, much as I would like them to be in those areas where it would match my religious views.

It is because of all these issues taken into account that I voted for Mrs. Clinton. I do not see things in as black and white terms that so many of my coreligionists of the Orthodox persuasion do. Obama is not all bad. Clinton is not all bad. And even though I voted against him, Trump is not all bad either. There seems to be an inability of the Trump haters to acknowledge that too. So visceral is their hatred for this man that even his accomplishments are spun in negative ways. Trump can do no good in their eyes. I guess objectivity is a thing of the past.

Of the three, Trump worries me the most. He is going to be the next President and it seems that my Orthodox friends who voted for him - and seem to still support him are quite happy about that. I just don’t get it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Looking at the Negatives and the Positives

It’s been quite a ride so far. The upcoming inauguration for President has fostered the most divisive partisan debate in my memory. Considering that my memory includes the Viet Nam War, that is saying lot.

This is not to say that I don’t have issues with the results of the election.  As I’ve made clear numerous times, I do. I was just as upset as more than half of America was when it became clear that Donald Trump was going to be our next President.

I’ve since calmed down and realized that what we saw is not necessarily what we are going to get. Most of his outrageous rhetoric about how he was going to make America great again will not happen. (Surely not to the extent of his ridiculous exaggerations.)

But my fears are not entirely allayed. I am actually quite nervous about January 20th and am still in shock at how it is possible for a man who lacks the dignity required by an office as high as this to be elected to it.

It’s not like he was keeping it secret. His lack of dignity was apparent during the entire campaign. And yet the same America that elected Barak Obama elected Donald Trump. The difference is of course in the swing votes and the lack of turnout for Clinton by constituencies that came out for Obama. And Trump’s appeal to the American worker that lost his job.

One cannot lose sight of the fact that nearly half of America voted for this erratic man instead of a seasoned politician far more prepared, knowledgeable, and respectful of the office than Trump. It is overly simplistic to say that nearly half of the voting public is ignorant and stupid. It is simply not true and insulting to the people of this great nation.

My feelings about Trump as an embarrassment to this nation have not changed. Every time he opens his mouth, I cringe. Simply put -  this is not the way a President should act. And I don’t think anything will change in a few days after  the word ‘elect’ is removed from his current title.

That he is incompetent to be President should not be such a surprise since he never served in any government office. His interests and expertise lay in business and making lots of money. That is no way to prepare for leading the most powerful nation on earth.

That said, I do not think his Presidency will be as bad as all of this might indicate. Certainly his policies with respect to Israel are far more supportive of that nation and its current leader than the last one. Or even the one before that. That is borne out by his choices for people that will be involved with Israel. In my view, that is a good thing despite a lot of angst about it from the left - both here and in Israel. How this will pan out in policy remains to be seen. But I doubt - for example - there will be another abstention by the US in the UN on mostly one sided resolutions that condemn Israel on Trump’s watch.

What about all of his other policies? If there was ever any question about what a President’s policies would actually be before he took office, this is it. Just today he surprised many people by saying that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) he so vehemently opposed – calling it disastrous - will be replaced with a new health care act that will provide health care coverage to every single American. This sounds almost Clintonesque (Hillary Clinton promised to do exactly the same thing as First Lady early in her husband’s term - and failed big time).

So why am I not so worried? I actually addressed this question early in the campaign when I speculated that he might actually win. Ironically it is his lack of knowledge and expertise that encourages me. I am pretty sure that Trump knows how unprepared and lacking he is.  Which means he is going to rely heavily on the people he has chosen to advise him. Most of whom do have some expertise in the areas they are being asked to serve. That he has chosen people with the same political perspective he has - should not surprise anyone.

A liberal President will choose liberal advisers. A conservative President will choose conservative ones. Trump has chosen people that more or less align with his views. It should not be a surprise therefore that he has chosen people favorable to business and deregulation as his economic advisers. Trump will listen to their advice and govern accordingly.

It also seems pretty clear that his attitudes on social issues are more or less mainstream conservative. But despite that his choice for Attorney General has said that he will follow all settled law on any given issue. Which means that the guaranteed pro choice right to abortions settled by the Supreme Court decision on Roe-V-Wade is safe.  Despite his own convictions against it. As he will in any other issue that comes before him that has been settled by the Supreme Court.

Which brings me to all of the public boycotting of his inauguration. It is as though his Presidency was still unsettled. It is more than obvious to me that this is being driven by the left. The left refuses to let go of their hatred of this man. It isn’t about all of those issues I mentioned. It about the fear that their leftist agenda will be changed into a right wing agenda. That fear may be justified. But it is based on the same fear they have when any conservative President takes office. 

The reaction to it is unprecedented. Civil Rights Icon, Congressmen John Lewis has said he will boycott the inauguration – calling Trump’s Presidency illegitimate. Hollywood (which is filled with leftists) has made sure that few if any entertainers will perform at the inaugural. Rabbis have been intimated about their participation in it. (Although I didn’t see anyone protesting Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York for participating in it.)

In my view. The left is just taking advantage of the public angst over Trump as an opportunity to vent their rage at his Conservative policies more stridently than ever.

For me the most outrageous protest of is the one being held on Shabbos by Jewish feminists. For a group identifying themselves as Jews to protest an incoming President on Shabbos when there is no imminent danger to uproot any of the government’s policies favorable to them shows how shallow their fealty to Judaism is.

Let them protest. Free country. But there is nothing Jewish about it. No lives are at stake here. This isn’t the like the Holocaust era when a group of 100 Orthodox rabbis felt the need to protest on Shabbos. These are just people who fear losing their grip on the social fabric of this country.

I support Roe-V-Wade. I am pro choice. But I cannot be happier that the pendulum is swinging back to the center now. For me that is the best possible outcome of this election. If there was ever a time when lemonade could be made out of a lemon, this might be it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Concrete but Distant Hope

I have supported strong restrictions on allowing Syrian refugees into this country. As have many governors including my own, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Even though it is heart wrenching to watch what’s happening to innocent civilians in Syria, at the same time it is no secret that terrorist attacks have been perpetrated in some European countries by a terrorists disguised as a refugees entering those countries. Germany being the most recent example of that.

Those countries that have opened the flood gates to these refugees have paid a price. One that I don’t think America should pay. All it takes is one. I know there are a lot of well meaning people that will disagree with me and say that the fear of terrorism should not prevent us from our humanitarian mandate as a ‘Medinah Shel Chesed’ - the country of kindness. I understand that. But the first manifestation of Chesed belongs at home. This is reflected by the Talmudic dictum ‘Chayecha Kodmon’. Protecting America which is home to the largest population of Jews in the world (with the possible exception of Israel) comes first.

It is in this context that the Executive Editor of  the JUF news, Cindy Sher, reported about something quite remarkable in the latest issue of that magazine. 

Israel’s proximity to Syria has caused a dilemma for both Syrians and Israelis. Because Syrians, like most other Arabs in that region have been taught to see Israel as the devil. And yet they are in more need of Israel’s help than ever.

70% of the Syrian medical community has fled the country. Meanwhile the carnage continues and many Syrians have been left behind to suffer the consequences of war.  Which brings me to 6 year old Shaheed and 4 year old Inas, Syrian children that were severely injured when a tank destroyed their home. With no where to turn, their mother was urged by her neighbors to take her daughters 'West' - meaning across the border to Israel. She bit the bullet and did so. She took them to the devil. 

Once there she found a field hospital that took her daughters in and treated them. They were nursed back to health. Needless to say, her views about Israel being the devil have changed. Her daughters were given the same care any Israeli is  given. She now hopes for the day when she can return to her home in Syria and invite Israelis into her home in complete friendship.

This Syrian family is not the only one being medically treated by Israelis. They began treating Syrians back in 2013 when the first wave of 7 refugees arrived at the Israeli border – pleading for help! Israel had a choice to make. Should they close the borders to a country that has been an implacable enemy for decades? …whose citizens are taught to hate you?

No way. They were directed to the nearest facility in Tzfas -19 miles from the Syrian border and treated there.

The Jewish people are nothing if not known for their compassion to those suffering around the world. It is after all Israel that is the first among  nations to send medical help to countries that have suffered devastation at the hands of nature – no matter how far around the world they had to travel. This is rarely reported upon by the media. But it is a fact nonetheless. This compassion is no less true even to when it involves people that might ordinarily hate or fear you as did this Syrian mother.

To date, reports Ms. Sher, that hospital in Tzfas has treated 640 Syrian patient refugees including delivering 19 babies! This is now happening on a daily basis.

I only wish that this could be the beginning of a change in attitude by the Arab world toward the Jewish peope as represented by the State of Israel. While it is true that Israel’s stature has improved in they eyes of some Arab countries by dint of a common foe (Islamic terrorism) we have a long way to go to eliminate the kind of indoctrination that Syrian mother had. While stories like this are encouraging, they do not seem to be able to overcome the hatred against Israel that is so prevalent in the Arab world. Even the common foe of fundamentalism has not moved them to change their approach and forbid any further teaching of such hatred in their society.

I wish I could say I am hopeful that what happened on the border between Syria and Israel will change some hearts and minds. But alas, I just don’t see that happening. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Godwin, Goebbels, and Trump

Ex MI-6 spy, Christopher Steele - currently in hiding
Attorney Mike Godwin made an interesting observation a few years ago about conversations on the internet. He noted that if a conversation goes on long enough, eventually someone will at some point compare someone or something to Hitler. This has come to be known as Godwin’s Law.

Godwin correctly maintained that any comparison to Hitler made even as hyperbole is inappropriate and asked people to think about the Holocaust before using that word.

I mention this in light of the fact that many people on the left have used this kind of terminology when describing Donald Trump. No matter what anyone thinks of the man, that kind of terminology is inappropriate.

But the shoe has recently been placed on the other foot. President-elect Trump accused America’s intelligence agencies of Nazi-like tactics in leaking a damaging report that claimed Russia had compiled a dossier filled with embarrassing material that could be used to blackmail him during his Presidency. He was wrong in saying that. The CIA, FBI, NSA, and any other security agencies are never to be compared to Nazis. The people that work there are patriots that are only doing their jobs

So why the outrage by the President-elect? What brought him to make this comparison? In denying the events related in that dossier he compared it to what was done by  Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. He created scandalous lies about us and used the media to spread them – famously saying that if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start believing it. He used Julius Streicher’s antisemtic propaganda rag, ‘Der Sturmer’ to further that end.

While Trump was out of line in making that comparison, likening it to the tactics of Goebbels should not be over-looked. Who was actually behind that leak is unclear. But it did happen and someone somewhere with access to it is responsible.

A 35 page dossier was published by a sensationalist ‘news’ outlet containing would be damaging information about Trump’s relationship with Russia – as a spy no less! …and stories salacious stories about sex parties there in which he allegedly participated. As well as other disgusting things that dossier contained.

This list was compiled by a former British MI-6 spy by the name of Christopher Steele. He was hired to get ‘dirt’ on Trump but an unidentified individual. He found a Russian ‘source’ that told him about all of these things. None of which was substantiated. 

So that all of this was based on the report of one individual who admitted that it could not be proven. And actually had the gall to say that all witnesses to these events had been paid off. So none of them would talk. Nonetheless, Steele put it all down on 25 sheets of paper which eventually made is way over to American intelligences agencies. They proceeded to reduce it to a 2 page classified summary given to the President and the President-elect.

To say that all of this sounds a bit suspicious is to put it mildly. Not an iota of proof. Not a single witness. And yet US intelligence agencies thought it worthwhile to attach it to a legitimate file containing information about Russian hacking of the DNC. And someone else thought it would be a good idea to make it all public.

This story has been repeated so many times in so much of the media that it has the makings of ‘the Big Lie’. Although most of the mainstream media was responsible and did not report on it for lack of verification, some, like Buzzfeed and CNN did.

So quickly did the news spread, that in just a few hours it was all over the internet, including some of the people that comment here. Even though the subject under discussion that day had nothing to do with the President-elect.

What is even more troubling is how many people believed it. Their bias actually led them to beleive that if the CIA  thought it worthy of a 2 page summary, there might be some truth to it. I’m not surprised by the reaction. The Trump haters hate him so much that they will grasp at straws to try and discredit him. They choose to believe a report made in such a mysterious if not nefarious way just because they are blinded by hate. No matter how that story came about or unsustainable the facts of the story are. Anything to destroy this man so that he will not be left to govern. 

As I keep saying. I did not support the man and voted for his opponent. I was just as shocked and dismayed that he won as anyone else. I still believe he is a embarrassment to this country. His rhetoric is unacceptable as are some of his policies. Even to someone that leans conservative like me. But this does not mean that the American voter should be denied the man they selected to be their leader for the next 4 years. Because that would change our form of government from democracy into a dictatorship. 

Just because one does not agree with him on some dearly held principles does not give anyone the right to force him out of office by ‘any means necessary’. Those ends do not justify those means. Half the country (that voted for Trump) might actually agree with Trump and not them. Those on the left claim their liberal views to be the more moral and ethical ones. But those on the right would say that the morals of the left are immoral.

Objective morality is in the hands of the beholder, I guess. Making morality very subjective. But I digress.

Back to the leaked dossier. Of course anything is possible. But I do not believe that story for a moment. And whoever leaked it deserves the strongest of rebukes. I can’t imagine how any human being would feel if a false story like that came out about them that was so damning! Multiply that tenfold to someone in the middle of putting together a team that will help him govern in just a few short days as the leader of the free world. It is a grossly unfair distraction based on what is almost certainly a lie. One that was no doubt orchestrated  by someone who wants to destroy his Presidency before it even begins.

So I can’t blame Trump for reacting the way he did. His comparison to Nazi propaganda is way out of line. It goes too far. But one can certainly understand why he made it

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A House Divided

Rabbi Riskin and one of his recently ordained female rabbis (YWN)
One of the most troubling developments in recent years is the creation of yet another movement in Judaism. I wish we could all just be Jews. Some more observant. Some Less. Some not at all. Our beliefs formed mostly by our Jewish educators who have traditionally relied on what was handed down to them from their teachers and parents - going all the way back to Sinai. When the Torah was given at Sinai, it was given to the entire nation. All of us. We were all one standing there K’Ish Echad B’Lev Echad - as one person with one heart listening to the word of God as transmitted through His greatest servant - the ultimate Eved HaShem, Moshe.

There were no denominations or even Hashkafos. No Reform. No Conservative, No Orthodox. There were no Chasidim. No Sefardim. No Ashekenazim, No Modern Orthodox. No left. No right. We were one people, united. In short there was Achdus. Something that is becoming increasingly out of reach.

The truth is that there have been movements in ancient Israel in the past. Going as far back as Temple era times and continuing to arise throughout Jewish history. But it is also true that only those movements that followed the Torah as interpreted by the sages and rabbinic leaders throughout the generations has survived, and even thrived despite adversity.

Recent history has also give us not only denominational differences but Hashkafic ones. But there is a qualitative difference between a denomination and a Hashkafa. A denomination is a break from one group whose differences are so fundamental that they can not be accepted as legitimate by the parent group.  There can be no reconciliation between the two because their fundamental principles contradict each other.

A Hashkafa is simply a way of looking at Rabbinic Judaism while not departing from it. It is a world view of the same fundamentals that other Hashkafos have. So a Yeshiva, a Chasidic, and a modern Orthodox mentality are all part of the same Orthodox Judaism. Derived of the same traditional beliefs as their forefathers transmitted to them via their parents and teachers. Differing Hashkafos only mean that we have differing world views. But we still have the same basic traditions and follow the same basic Halacha that is Rabbinic Judaism.

That should not create divisions. Unfortunately it does. There are far too many Orthodox Jews on the right that want to separate from Orthodox Jews to their left. And there are far too many Orthodox Jews on the left that have the same feelings about anyone to their right. Thankfully there are also many Jews in both camps that do embrace each other. Which gives me hope that some form of Achdus still exists within Orthodoxy.

Rav Hershel Shachter and former British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks
To that end (in part) a new group has been created called TORA. It consists of a group of rabbis from both the right and the left (or more technically –the center) that have joined forces. It was formed to counter yet another new movements that call themselves Orthodox even though they have departed from the teachings of their forefathers by entering new territory against the rulings of today’s rabbinic leaders. They have been rejected on those grounds by rabbinic leaders across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. More about them later.

They might believe that their differences are only Hashkafic – since they do follow Halacha meticulously. But when they rebel without a single rabbinic leader supporting them, they have in essence created a new denomination. A group of lower tier rabbis cannot depart from the great traditions of the past without support of even their own rabbinic leaders.  No matter how learned they may be at their own level. And no matter how much sense those departures may make to them.

But this is what is increasingly happening – thus causing yet a further divisions in Klal Yisroel. They will of course argue that they still remain within the Orthodox fold because of their meticulous observance. But that isn’t enough if your all your mentors rejects them. You can’t define yourself belonging to a group it that group’s leadership  rejects you. 

One might ask, why get so exercised over this? Let them go. Who cares if there is yet another illegitimate movement in Israel? They will eventually go the way of all illegitimate movements. Besides they are minuscule in number. They are not big enough to impact Orthodoxy. Just ignore them!

I can’t. The people doing this are good people. I know and admire some of them. And I admire others among them I don’t know. Even though I might disagree with their Hashkafos - there is not a doubt in my mind that they have accomplished much for Judaism in the past. Even now they have the best of intentions. They are trying appeal to the broadest cross-section of Jewry they can. Something we should all be trying to do. By creating innovations to accommodate the spirit of the  times they are able to appeal to people that are strongly influenced by that.  

No one can argue with their motives. They are noble. But it is the steps they have taken to achieve it that is so problematic. One cannot rebel against all rabbinic opinion in order to reach a goal no matter how noble. Because that takes you out of the very goal of inclusion you are trying to accomplish.

Instead of making Judaism more inclusive, you have made it more divisive. It isn’t the rabbinic leadership  that is dividing Jewry in this instance. They are just ‘sticking to the rules’ as handed down by their own teachers. It is the innovators that are causing the divisions. Even though they have good intentions in doing so.

Which is why I agree with a recent statement that has come out by TORA. They have criticized the latest ordination of women by a man that I have truly admired in the past, (and still do in many ways) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. This phenomenon is increasing and it seems that Orthodox Shuls are increasingly hiring them. As much as I understand Rabbi Riskin’s motives I cannot agree with that kind of rebellion. Rabbi Riskin is a highly educated rabbi. But he is not in a category of rabbinic leader.

This is not a Charedi versus Modern Orthodox battle. While it is true that most rabbinic leaders are Charedi, there are some, like Rabbi Hershel Shachter that are not. They too have rejected the ordination of women. Which is why the RCA, a body that has thousands of Modern Orthodox rabbis as members has rejected it. Nor to the best of my knowledge have any of the elder religious Zionist rabbinic leaders in Israel accepted it. This cannot be ignored!

There are many people on the left who feel that this phenomenon will grow. That it is organic.  That it serves the greater good of creating a much bigger Halachic tent within Orthodoxy. But that is a mistake. Because while they may believe they are still under that tent, they are not. Whether they realize it or not their actions have removed them from it. As long as there is universal rejection, there will never be reconciliation. And yet another division in Judaism has been created at the hands of good people with good intentions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Threat to Modern Orthodoxy

Images like this feed the resistance to the Torah perspective on homosexuality
Rabbi Ari Segal is right. At least mostly. But so is Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. The issue is how the subject of homosexuality is viewed by our youth today in the modern orthodox world. They have difficulty reconciling the Torah’s perspective with what many people feel is a sexual orientation that is in direct opposition to it. An orientation homosexuals have through no fault of their own.  

Rabbi Segal, who is Head of School at Shalhevet, a modern Orthodox high school in Los Angeles, has written a heartfelt essay on the subject that addresses this issue. A conflict he says causes many students to abandon the Torah’s perspective in favor of what they believe to be a more compassionate modern attitude. Rabbi Segal believes this is the greatest challenge of our day and has asked that today’s rabbinic leaders address it lest the floodgates open completley to the abandonment of the Torah.

I agree that this is a huge challenge. Rabbi Segal is sounding the alarm and although not sure what the ultimate solution is, he suggests a number of ways to better deal with it. And proposes several suggestions along those lines. Rabbi Adlerstein has a different approach. But in my view this too does not do enough to solve the problem.

First let me re-iterate my views on this subject. Which in perhaps overly simplistic terms boils down to ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ The devil is of course in the details. We must accept the Torah’s directives and at the same time we must accept the reality of homosexuality in the Orthodox world. How should we  treat people with this orientation? To what extent does that acceptance go? This is where it gets dicey.

Briefly my view is that we must accept homosexual people completely as human beings and treat them with the same dignity we treat anyone else… judging all human beings on the content of their character and not on their sexual orientation. It is not the orientation that is forbidden. It is acting upon it in ways the Torah forbids that is. This should be a given to an observant Jew.

But  there are additional questions. What is a homosexual individual supposed to do if he is attracted only to members of the same sex? Do we have a right to expect him to be celibate? Is there some way he can deal with his orientation that would satisfy his desires - which is permitted and has a basis in Halacha? I am not qualified to answer these questions.

What if a homosexual does violate the Torah’s prohibitive act - and chooses not hide it? Do we shun him? Do we embrace him? Somewhere in-between?

My view is that as long as he does not promote a lifestyle filled with sin, then we treat him like anyone else who sins… as we all do. We are not God’s accountants. It is for Him to be the ultimate judge. Not us.

This does not mean we abandon the Torah’s prohibitions. We must still speak out forcefully about the Torah’s requirements of us - and not shy away from them because they are no longer politically correct. That said, if a homosexual does not flaunt what he does in the privacy of his bedroom we should treat him the same way we treat any other human being that  does not flaunt what he does in the privacy of his bedroom.

Which leads me to one of Rabbi Segal’s suggestions which I see as problemtic. I do not believe we should tolerate any organization or group that identifies as a gay rights organization. Like LGBT. That’s because I believe they have an agenda that goes beyond human rights. I support human rights. But I do not support an agenda to normalize what the Torah forbids. Which I believe is part of the LGBT community’s goal.

Advocacy groups like LGBT see the Torah’s prohibitions as archaic, unenlightened, irrelevant to the modern mind, and even unethical.

For an Orthodox Jew societal attitudes – no matter how enlightened they appear to be to the modern mind - cannot and  do not trump the Torah. One cannot look at what general society accepts and call it ethical and just while looking at the Torah and say that by default it is neither.

Rabbi Adlerstein frames the issue the following way:
Essentially, we’re asking why Torah chinuch in some parts of the community – certainly no stranger to their own problems – nonetheless is more successful in this area. What does it take to produce loyal Jews rather than emunah-challenged socially orthodox ones?
Rabbi Adlerstein then posits his own theory of the problem. He says that what is missing in the modern Orthodox world is something that is ever present in the world of the right: Kabolas Ole (accepting the ‘yoke’ of Halacha) and Avodas HaShem (serving God as our primary purpose in life). These terms are not heard in the lexicon of modern Orthodoxy.

I can see his point. If those terms are never heard then they are never used in defining an important part of our mission here on earth. I agree that there ought to be a lot more emphasis on this if there is even any at all. But that is not enough.

The constant barrage of societal ethicists of ersatz quality on the subject - one hears and sees in virtually every corner of American culture is the reason that so many young people lean away from the Torah’s point of view and toward the cultural one. The entertainment and news media in all of its forms have promoted the idea that every possible type of sexual behavior is to be celebrated. Gay – straight  it doesn’t matter.  As long as there are consenting adults, anything goes. This is the constant message in our culture reinforced in a plethora of ways.

How can a young person whose developing mind is flooded with this type of thinking on a daily basis – not believe it? Especially when there are so many respected or popular news and entertainment figures saying it? All the time. 

It is not hard to see why so many young people question a Torah that the the rest of the world sees as an obsolete man made object that is not in touch with the times. Those that give any reverence to the biblical directives are often ridiculed.

Add to this that some rabbis on the extreme left of Orthodoxy have twisted Halacha to such an extent, that for all practical purposes, the Torah’s prohibition against Homosexuality no longer exists. They have applied Talmudic rationales like ‘Oness Rachmana Patri’ (The Torah absolves us of any guilt when sinful acts are forced upon us.) The claim being that homosexuals are forced by their nature to act sinfully. Thus scrubbing the sin away from the act.

I find this untenable. This is not to say that a person’s psychological makeup is not a factor in ameliorating sin. But clearly the Torah’s serious prohibition against homosexuality cannot be so easily wiped away.

Is isolation from the culture which is the right wing approach the solution? No. As an advocate of participating in the culture, I am loathe to advocate that approach. It is also my firm belief that this does not always work.  The culture we live in is pervasive. But even though I am an advocate of cultural participation we must at the same time be aware of its negative influences in many cases. And this is clearly one of them.

So instead of trying to isolate ourselves from something which is nearly impossible to do in our day, we need instead to face it head on. I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein that modern Orthodox schools could do a better job of teaching their young about Kabolas Ole and Ovodas HaShem. But that is not enough. It is important for educators, and perhaps more importantly parents to know the kind of influences their children are involved with. And to make sure that they teach their young to evaluate everything in the light of Torah.

Children must be taught that the Torah is the ultimate ethical and moral document – and not the prevailing cultural attitudes. They must be taught to respect their fellow man no matter what their sexual orientation. But to reject the sin no matter how society looks at it. It would be a far better world for all if we did that. Both in the eyes of man and in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pride and Prejudice

Rabbi David Twersky; President and Mrs. Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton once commented that someone who looks like Rabbi David Twersky, the controversial Skverer Rebbe, seemed to him to be the most authentic type of Jew. This is one reason why he met with him about commuting the prison sentence of a few of his Chasidim that were convicted of defrauding the government. Which he did.

It is because of this type of thinking that I am so hard in my criticism of right when someone from that community does wrong. Because Clinton is not the only one who thinks like that. People who look like the Skvever Rebbe are clearly seen as the most religious, Torah observant Jews among us. Which is why the Chillul HaShem is so magnified when a Jew like that is involved. I think it is a truism to say that the more observant one is - or looks like - the greater the Chilul HaShem.

But that is not the reason I bring this up now. There is a logic to Bill Clinton’s type of thinking. If you are going to represent the ‘People of the Book’ you should know what that book requires of you and act like it. As I have said many times. It is Halacha – which is derived of that Book that defines who we are.

This may not sit well with non observant Jews who will say they are just as Jewish as Orthodox Jews. This is true. They are. It is also true that many non observant Jews are among the finest among us - people that do a lot of good things. 

But they mostly don’t follow the rules set forth in the Torah as interpreted by the sages and rabbinic leaders throughout the generations. And thus cannot possibly represent themselves in the definitive way the People of the Book must. I say this not a pejorative. Just as a fact. Observant Jews believe in following all the Laws of the Torah. Even though we fall short in many cases (some more – some less) we try to keep them all acknowledging their mandatory nature.

Jared Kushner, his wife, Ivanka, and Donald Trump
I believe that Donald Trump may very well feel the same way about  Jews as Bill Clinton does. Three of his top advisers will be observant Jews. The latest of which will be his son in law, Jared Kushner. This is unprecedented in US history. While there have been observant Jews in previous administrations, none of them (and certainly not as many) have been placed so high on an administration totem pole.

That Trump is a Judeophile – especially as it pertains to observant Jews should be obvious by now. Not only has his daughter converted to Judaism with his full approval, she is still one of his closest advisers and will no doubt be the 4th observant Jew to be placed in a position of power next to the President. The President-elect has also donated sizable sums from his charitable foundation to Orthodox institutions. Like Chabad.

Which kind of makes all of the accusations that the President-elect will be influenced by others of his advisers accused of antisemitism - ridiculous. One of those mentioned in that context is Steve Bannon. He has been accused of antisemitism because as former head of Brietbart News he allowed it to be used as a platform for the Alt-right. They have been accused of antisemitism.

I have no real clue how true that is. But it doesn’t matter. I am absolutely convinced that Trump would never choose an adviser that was an antisemite even in the slightest. He must therefore know that Bannon is not an antisemite at all. Not to mention the fact that one of Bannon’s high ranking employees at Brightbart was Joel Pollak, an observant Jew.

Even though I am still shocked and dismayed that Trump was elected President… (He was probably just as shocked himself) - I can’t help having a sense of pride in the fact that observant Jews will be having a major impact on the future of this nation; the future of Israel and even the world! Can Moshiach be far behind?

Meryl Streep
Which brings me to one of the more troubling aspects of the current news cycle. Like many of those that are disappointed at Trump’s election, I can’t help thinking about how all this came about. I am not going to go into details. They have been discussed to death – and still are by an all too eager media. Although I can’t really blame them. Trump has diarrhea of the brain and cannot seem to help himself from making foolish comments on twitter. On an almost daily basis. Which happened again when renowned actress Meryl Streep who was honored by the Foreign Press Association at their annual Golden Globe Awards event. She spoke from her heart about what many people are essentially still thinking: How can anyone be elected that ridiculed a disabled reporter as part of his campaign strategy?

And yet, I believe she was just as wrong to make these comments now as Trump was to respond to them. Let me address that last point first. If I were to give any advice to Mr. Trump now, it would be the following: ‘Stop tweeting!’ ‘Ignore what celebrities are saying about you no matter how negative.’ ‘Your responses only make things worse.’ Let him be a little more presidential. Let him stop talking; wait till he’s in office; and then start doing! Let his actions speak louder than his very loud and juvenile words. You never know. He may actually make America great again.

Why was it wrong for Ms. Streep to criticize him now? Because the election is over and she said nothing that hasn’t already been said. She is only making it worse. Surely she knew that Trump would respond. How does that improve things? Her comments do not change anything. 

Ms. Streep is of course not alone. The news and entertainment media are relentless in going after him. In some cases the ridicule and vitriol goes way too far. Here is my message to the Steven Colberts of the world:  Give the President-elect a chance. Like it or not - he is going to be the President. Of us all! Duly elected in a democratic fashion. Nearly half the people that voted - voted for Trump. You cannot ridicule the President-elect without ridiculing half the country.

Rabbi Haskell Lookstein
And yet there are still a lot of people that just can’t let go - blinded by antipathy to Trump that is so strong - they can only see a dire result for the country and the world once he takes office. They are so disappointed that their candidate lost that they are trying to undermine him at every turn. (Instead of giving him the same chance that every newly elected official deserves.)

Thankfully the outgoing President feels otherwise. As does his opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton. She will be at the inauguration and has advocated giving Trump the chance to fulfill his campaign promises.  Sure, it’s a free country.  But where is that quintessential American sense of respecting the will of the people?

And yet, there are some people so married to their political point of view that they cannot get themselves to do that. They therefore try and undermine the results of the election by literally boycotting him and asking others to join them.

Rabbi Marvin Hier
This was first done during the campaign. Foolishly in my view because there was no way of knowing for sure that Trump would lose. (Which of course he didn’t.) Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, Ivanka Trump’s Orthodox rabbi, had accepted an invitation to give an invocation and the Republican National Convention. But he later backed out at the insistence of some of his Shul’s membership  - and some of the graduates of  the day school he formerly headed before retiring. They said that speaking at the convention would be seen as endorsement of Trump’s ‘racist’  views.

And now, Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, was invited to offer his blessings at the President’s inauguration. He too is being pressured to back out!

Thankfully, this pioneer of fighting antisemitism and all forms of prejudice has not succumbed to this pressure. He rightly accepted it as an honor. This Orthodox rabbi will be giving his blessing to the President for a successful Presidency that will benefit Americans, Israelis, and the entire world. I think we should all just shut-up and do the same.

Monday, January 09, 2017

A Religious Community in Crisis

Typical Shabbos scene in Ramapo (Lohud)
I agree with Monsey resident, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. The Lohud article on the problems of Ramapo is balanced and fair – just as he said it is.

Ramapo is a town in Rockland County, New York that includes the hamlet of Monsey. Based on this article, it is about the last place I would ever want to live.

I have been to Monsey a few times and was impressed at the ‘country life’ flavor of that village which gave religious Jews an opportunity for the suburban lifestyle combined with the Orthodox amenities that make it possible for a religious Jew to live there. Those primarily being Shuls within walking distance, religious schools, Kosher food stores, and Kosher restaurants.

It was interesting to me that the Chasidim that first came there and were used to (and I thought preferred) the city life of Brooklyn actually chose to abandon it for life in suburbia. Brooklyn concrete was traded in for tree lined streets; sprawling front lawns and backyards; and homes with attached garages.

One of my close friends from Chicago that moved to New York back in the 80s sought to live in a place that would not be the stereotypical concrete jungle for which Brooklyn is famous (infamous?) He found Monsey to be ideal. He bought a home located at the time in a growing Modern Orthodox Community near Rabbi Moshe Tendler’s Shul. That is no longer the case, he tells me. The Modern Orthodox are being squeezed out by the rapidly growing Chasidic community.  It is that rapid growth that is causing some major problems and conflicts.

This is not news. The conflict came to a head a few years ago when the religious Jews who had been elected to the East Ramapo Board of Education were accused of biasing their decisions to favor their religious schools – thus short-changing the public schools whose student base was diminishing. I am not here to discuss that sad event. Suffice it to say that each side has its own version of what caused their particular problem. I mention it only in the context of the strife that now seems to exist in this part of the world.

The exponential and relatively rapid population growth (both internal and external) of Ramapo is a problem with many facets.

Growth requires housing. In many cases housing that can accommodate large families. So there has been an explosion of housing developments toward that goal that have ignored the needed infrastructure to make living in those communities anywhere near as pleasant as it once was. Far from it.

I recall this exact complaint being made by a Charedi individual who lives in a community like that and who published his thoughts in the Charedi media. This is more than corroborated by the Lohud article. Multi unit buildings are going up where existing streets cannot possibly accommodate the additional traffic that the increased numbers of residents present.

And as if that weren’t enough, there have been more than a few building permit violations where limitations imposed by those permits are completely ignored by developers – without sanction.

There are the houses that are purchased and converted to Yeshivos which are unsafe and against zoning laws.

These issues are not only upsetting to the non Jews of Monsey. They are upsetting to some of the religious Jews living there too. In one case a Modern Orthodox Jew who is a long time resident of Monsey is suing a Shul that is responsible for one such conversion.  And he has the support of his Orthodox rabbi!

And then there is the uncontrolled sprawl of growing populations that need to go beyond the borders of the pre-existing neighborhoods. They seek new areas to eventually become the new ‘Frum’ area. 

That causes the existing non Jewish residents to react – fearing their hamlets being turned into the chaos that now exists in places like Monsey. But even without the chaos, they don’t want to see their neighborhood shops closing or being converted into shops that serve only the religious community. Even of those shops that they might frequent - they would be closed on Shabbos – a big shopping day for non Jews or non religious Jews. They don’t want to see all of their restaurants disappearing and replaced by Kosher ones. They don’t want to see less churches and more Shuls.

She wants to preserve the secular nature of her neighborhood
Most of these people are not antisemites. They have had no particular animus to religious Jews. They are people who fear major changes to the character of their secular neighborhoods. They see religious Jews coming in converting their town into a Chasidic enclave whose culture is radically different from that which they are used to. And they don’t want to move out of a home they have been living in for decades.  Can anyone blame them for being upset?

What about the right of people to live wherever they choose regardless of their religion?  Don’t they have the right  and to buy a home in any neighborhood they choose and to build institutions in those neighborhoods designed to accommodate their needs?

Of course they do. And with their exponential growth that right is accompanied by need. Does that give them the right to take over a town even by legal means? Perhaps. But doing that does not win any friends.

When combining all these factors, you get a breaking point. Which the Lohud article says Ramapo is in.

This is not to impugn everyone. But there are a few guilty parties here that deserve to be highlighted. Even though it isn’t entirely their fault, they have in my view contributed the most to the problem.

There are the unscrupulous developers that skirt the law by violating the terms of their building permits.

There are those that buy homes for purposes of creating a yeshiva or other religious institution and violate the zoning laws.

There are those who build without considering the infrastructure requirements – like wider roads and more parking availability.

There are those that build structures adding on to homes that block access to emergency vehicles.

I believe that these individuals deserve the lion’s share of the blame. But even good people that do not do anything wrong - looking only to accommodate their legitimate housing needs contribute to the problem. We are talking about rights versus rights.

That is exacerbated by a perceptions of bias (whether true or not) on the part of a school board dominated by religious Jews elected by a town full of people that do not use the public school system that board is primarily designed for.

The problem is that when 2 sides are competing for their rights in way that will drastically affect their lives a lot of acrimony is built up. What to do about it – I don’t know.

I wonder how many people that live there agree with Yehuda Weissmandl. The following excerpt that gives his take on the issue – I think - sums things up pretty well: 
“I’ve watched (the Hamlet of) Monsey evolve into a little city,” lifelong resident Yehuda Weissmandl said during a recent speech to the national convention of Agudath Israel of America, a leadership and policy organization of ultra-religious Jews. 
“Explosive growth of these proportions triggers explosive backlash,” said Weissmandl, a Hasidic Jew who is president of the East Ramapo Board of Education, a developer and a landlord.
The tension sometimes erupts into acts of hatred. News stories on Ramapo and Rockland frequently attract thinly veiled anti-Semitic comments. Critics of developments for Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews are compared to Nazis. Ugly rhetoric about Jews in Rockland is common on social media. In some instances, street graffiti declaring “No Jews” or similar words have defaced property for-sale signs. Powerful fireworks have been exploded outside the homes of rabbis in New City. 
“Is it only hate? Absolutely not,” Weissmandl said in his speech to Jewish leaders. He said those who have lived in the area their entire lives are afraid of change. “They used the schools, used the shopping, and (now) the stores are closing down, neighbors are changing," he said. "They’re petrified, and they’re reacting to it.”