Thursday, February 22, 2018

First the Good News

Israeli Justice Minster, Ayelet Shaked (Arutz Sheva)
I am happy to report that Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked and her 9 member committee has just appointed Chavi Toker to head the Jerusalem Magistrate Court. Mrs. Toker is the first ever female Charedi judge in Israel.

Her Charedi credentials are impeccable. She attended Beis Yaakov in Bnei Brak, the center of the Charedi world in Israel. Her father was considered to be the right hand man of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, ZTL - a man many in the Charedi world considered to be the Gadol HaDor. She is married to the son of the late dean of the Chevron – a world famous first class Charedi Yeshiva. (Which also happens to be my grandson’s Yeshiva.) 

What makes this story even more amazing is that her oldest son is now in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He enlisted in the Givati Brigade's Charedi Tomer Company. According to Wikipedia, the Givati Brigade is an infantry unit serving as the IDF’s amphibious force.

Considering her very Charedi upbringing and environment it is amazing that this woman will now be a sitting Justice in Israel heading its magistrate court. So much for stereotypes.

Mrs. Toker did not just wake up one day and - with no secular studies background - decide to attend Hebrew University Law School . That assumption would probably be incorrect, despite the fact that there is no such thing as a secular studies program in the Israeli Charedi Yeshiva system. How is it possible that Mrs. Toker had such an education? The answer is quite simple. That’s because she probably did have one.

True, there are no secular studies programs in Israeli Charedi elementary schools and  high schools. But that is only true for half of the Charedi population. The male half. Most girls schools do have a secular studies program. Some better than others. But virtually all of them do. They all offer at least a basic secular studies program. Enough of which will give their students the study skills to enable university attendance. 

While there are an increasing number of Charedi men that attend universities, it is not because they learned those skills in their schools. It is because they are smart enough to catch up on their own and/or have attended special programs and classes designed for them to catch up.

Those who might say that a secular studies have no value towards a successful career and better income - might want to rethink that in light of what Mrs. Toker has accomplished and the increase in male Charedi university attendance.

As happy as I am to see a Charedi woman rise to such heights, I am not all that surprised by it. Nor am I surprised that her community didn’t object to it. (At least I haven’t heard about it if they did.)

That’s because it has become the norm in Charedi Israel for women to have broad based educations. However, the norm for men is that their education is limited to Limudei Kodesh. (Primarily the study of Talmud, its commentaries, and Halacha.) Their Yeshivos cater to this ideal to the extent that there not be any distraction from that study. Including the ‘distraction’ of a secular education.

Women, on the other hand are encouraged to get a broad based education. Their schools are facilitated along those lines. That’s because they end up becoming the primary bread winners for their families – all while retaining their roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker. The men are too busy studying Torah to support their families. Their Kollel stipends are hardly enough to do that.

A woman becoming a judge might very likely be seen by the Charedi world as a great career move. One that includes the all important increase in salary so that a husband can continue to learn in a Kollel full time. 

This is how Charedi world in Israel is now structured.  A structure that is enhanced as a result of feminist pursuit of egalitarianism in the workplace. Something the Charedi world should be thankful for and express gratitude to.  An unlikely an event as will ever occur!

Although some might see this as some sort of feminist victory, I see it as turning tradition on its head. It is still the paradigm and that’s the bad news.

I am – and have always been - a feminist in the sense of treating men and women with equal dignity. Dignity that all human beings should get having been created in the image of God. I have also been a feminist in the sense of equal pay for equal work. 

But I have never been a fan of overturning Judaism’s traditional roles for men and women. And yet that is exactly what the Charedi world has done. Especially in Israel. Making it worse is the fact that women have not given up their traditional roles. There was no exchange. As noted, women are still wives, mothers, and homemakers. They have just taken on the additional roles of men as breadwinners!

So even though this news about a Charedi woman in Israel is good, they are not living a Utopian life.The Charedi world has evolved into one that has increased the burden on its women. 

I’m not saying that Charedi women are unhappy with their lot. I have no clue how they feel about this in their heart of hearts. Although I am led to believe that they have taken on these additional responsibilities with great spiritual joy - doing their part in devotion to God. But that does not lessen their additional burden

Meanwhile for those men that do feel a sense of responsibility to support their families - they have a harder time accomplishing that than women. Because the education needed for them to do that is sorely lacking. It would be nice if that would change.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Misleading Argument

Typical Chasidic elementary school classroom  (New York Jewish Life)
Is it possible to honestly agree with what amounts to a lie? The obvious answer is no, it isn’t. And yet I find myself doing that in an article by Williamsburg resident and Chasidic school graduate, Abe Deutch. He defends against what he deems an attack against Yeshivos in New York City.

This is a classic case of misidentifying what is being attacked and then defending it. (Otherwise known as a red herring). Mr. Deutch has attacked ‘the attackers’ implying they have an anti religious agenda. Although he does not name the group or its leader, it is clear that he’s talking about YAFFED (Young Advocates For Fair Education) and its founder (and expatriate Chasid), Naftuli Moster. Who is pursuing the goal of making sure that government required educational standards are met in the Chasidic Yeshivos that have been ignoring them. 

I have heard this charge against Mr. Moster and YAFFED before. And as I’ve said in the past, I can’t read minds. I don’t know what goes on in anyone’s heart… or know what the real motives are for anything anyone does. All I can do is judge what they are doing. In this case they are asking that New York education officials enforce the law with respect to mandated educational curricula. YAFFED also asks that education officials do their due diligence to see who is and isn’t following it and sanction those that do not. Which for me is quite the reasonable request regardless of any supposed hidden agenda. None of this is new. I’ve discussed it all before. More than once.

What is different this time is that what Mr. Deutch is defending is a yeshiva education itself. He claims that what is happening with the Chasidic Yeshivos that do not offer any secular programs is the beginning of  slippery slope towards government meddling in all Yeshivos. And then he goes about defending the values taught in all yeshivas. Values that I obviously agree with.

There is no question in my mind that the future of Judaism lies in Yeshiva attendance. Without a basic religious elementary and high school education, the future of Judaism in America would be bleak – even for Orthodox Jews. 

Although there have been some major exceptions where Orthodox Jews have attended non religious schools (whether public or private) and remained observant as adults, history has shown that in assimilationist culture like ours has shown - without it, observance is severely weakened. Children from observant families might as adults forgo observant Judaism entirely. 

It is more than about getting a decent Jewish education. A Yeshiva environment during the formative years is essential so that one does not experience primarily the rich and attractive general culture and its pull toward assimilation and non observance. 

It is my sincere belief that had the day school movement not been started, there would be far less observant Jews in America today. And Orthodoxy would be as endangered a species as Conservative and Reform Judaism.

So I agree with Mr. Deutch in that sense. But as I said this is a red herring.  What is being asked of those particular Chasidic Yeshivos is to have the same or equivalent curriculum that most other Yeshivos do. That they offer basics like English, Math, Science, and History. Mr. Deutch has conveniently ignored that distinction – seeming to place all Yeshivos in the same category.

He then argues from the perspective of his own non secular education experience (in a sort of bait and switch tactic). He claims that the education he received in his Yeshiva (implying  that his school represents all Yeshivos)  prepared him very well for life: 
The reality is that these children are in school and learning for ten or more hours a day, several hours longer than their public-school peers. While the curriculum mix is different from what public schools offer, the focus on critical thinking and problem solving prepares them for success in a wide variety of pursuits – and to be thriving, upstanding citizens of their communities. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s not valid. 
To simply call it different implies that they have a different but comparable secular studies program to that of public schools. While what he says about his experience may be true. But, it is not nearly enough to prepare students for a successful career. The critical thinking is there. But the study skills required for advanced learning are not.

Nevertheless, Mr. Deutch says that he managed to create a successful  plumbing business using the skills he acquired at his Chasidic school. His children and many of his classmates went on to successful careers too. But evidence has shown that many if not most children graduating from these schools are ill prepared for the workforce of the 21st century. They find it difficult to catch up to graduates from public, private and religious school that do offer secular studies. They end up with menial jobs and meager pay. In most cases not enough to support their typically very large families. Which is why so many of them have to rely on government financial assistance programs . And unfortunately we know where that all too often leads.

This is what Mr. Deutch fails to understand. Or purposely ignores. It is disingenuous to argue the value of a Yeshiva education as a defense against a good secular studies program. That argument has nothing to do  with what those schools are being asked to do. Which is basically to follow the law. They haven’t been doing it and have until now remained under the radar and unsanctioned

It is more than time that these Chasidic schools join the ranks of most other yeshivas and provide a decent secular education for their children. There is nothing in Judaism that forbids the study of Limudei Chol (secular studies).  If they had done so in the first place none of this would be happening. They would not feel that they are being attacked because of their religious beliefs because they wouldn’t be attacked at all. Nor would the values he said are so critical for the Jewish people be negatively affected. Even slightly.

And finally there is this. Mr. Deutch says that a new organization PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools) has been formed to upgrade the secular studies programs for Chasidic schools (as though they already had them but they needed upgrading – another misleading statement).  However, the mission statement says that this organization is about protecting their parental rights to educate their children as they see fit.

But even if it’s true that they also want to upgrade their ‘secular studies program’- if he believed that what they were doing until now was so great (as evidenced by  him, his children, and many of his classmates) why bother? Why the need for the the ‘upgrade’?

He says that there is always room for improvement. That is certainly true. If YAFFED accomplished any improvement at all - by forcing them to upgrade - it was certainly worth doing. But PEARLS has been around since 2016. I wonder what - if any - improvements there have been in those schools. What does their secular studies program look like now? I will be happy to be proven wrong - but my guess is that nothing has significantly changed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Egalitarianism and Modern Orthodoxy

The right stuff: Judge Ruchie Freier - Egalitarian yet traditional (Jewish Link)
I have been reflecting a bit on the current trend in the modern world towards egalitarianism between the sexes.  On the surface, the desire for all people to be treated equally seems like the noblest of goals.

And yet when it comes to Orthodox Judaism, there are a lot of ‘nos’ to full equality of the sexes. This is one of the main points of contention between Progressive Orthodoxy (formerly known as Open or Liberal) and mainstream Orthodoxy. In short this means that certain roles in Orthodox Judaism are available to men while being denied to women.

By now it should be well understood that Orthodoxy is not fully egalitarian - even if you are an adherent of its progressive arm.  A woman for example can never be counted toward a Minayn – the minimum number of people required for a public prayer service. The Kaddish prayer cannot be recited among a group 9 men and even 99 women. Clearly this is counter to the egalitarian ideal.

YCT (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) Talmud Chair, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz made an indirect reference to this lack of egalitarianism in a recent article.  And yet he and the progressive wing to which he adheres believes it is permissible for women to become rabbis and serve synagogues in that capacity. He believes strongly that this concession in the very spirit of egalitarianism it is not only permitted, but to be encouraged to those women that seek it. Even while conceding that Orthodoxy cannot be fully egalitarian.

Mainstream Orthodoxy rejects that position totally. Which is why the OU has recently required the few member Shuls who have hired women as rabbis to remedy the situation within 3 years - or be expelled from membership. Why Rabbi Katz draws the line there in opposition to all mainstream Orthodox organizations and Poskim is a question only he can answer.

This got me to thinking about this is the stridency with which modern day Orthodox Jewish feminists pursue this particular form of egalitarianism while at the same time so many modern day Orthodox Jewish women do not feel the slightest bit less equal without it. I am not talking about the women of Meah Shearim.  Not even about women that live in the Charedi world.

I am talking about Modern Orthodox women that participate fully in the culture. Women that actually believe in egalitarianism in all aspects of life except the theological one. I know many women like that. They are MDs, PhDs, CEOs, authors, academicians, artists… and all manner of successful career women. They have taken advantage of the egalitarian spirit of the times and yet do not feel for a minute that they are any less of a human being because they cannot enter one particular profession – the rabbinate.


Although there have been some notable exceptions where women have led the Jewish people (e.g. the prophetess, Devorah) - the vast majority of women throughout Jewish history have not felt the need to pursue that kind of equality. Even as the inequality of women in the general culture was clear and hurtful to women, Jewish women never saw Judaism hurting them that way. Why do some women see it that way now? Why are some Modern Orthodox women pursuing that ‘right’ now while others accept their roles as women in Judaism and pursue equality outside of it?

I can only surmise that it is the influence of general culture in which we live. A culture that applies the ideal of equality into all spheres of life.  Overriding any other ideal with which it comes into conflict. That is my theory.

But it has been rejected by those that pursue a full egalitarian agenda.  They do have a legitimate point about questioning the sincere motives of these women. Who am I to question their sincere motives?! But that is not what I am doing at all. All I am saying is that it is virtually impossible NOT to be influenced by a popular ideal that at its core makes a lot of sense.  Which is what the ideal of egalitarianism is.

I believe that in most instances women that want to become rabbis are sincere. They desire to serve God in ways they feel they best can. That is what is in their hearts and minds. But I am also convinced that had they not be influenced by a culture that espouses an ideal of equaility in all areas - there would be no real desire for women to break with thousands of year of tradition. A tradition that is clearly supported by all of mainstream Orthodoxy.  A tradition based on a theology where men and women have different roles.

In western culture today, the very concept of a male or female role has been virtually obliterated. There is no such thing to an egalitarian. Men and women should have the right to pursue any goal they choose. If that choice conflicts with a religious principle – the religious principle loses.

To be clear this is not about preventing women from achiving the same level of knowledge as men. It isn’t even about preventing full participation in Jewish life. Women can and should pariticipate fully using the knowledge they have attained.   Among areas that they can contribute right along with men WITHOUT trampling on the tradition mainstream Orhtodxy says must be followed  is pastoral counseling, Halachic advisors (such as Yoatzot), teachers, principals, and public speakers.

Why do some women have the need pursue egalitarianism to the point of breaking with Jewish tradition - while others are quite content to pursuing egalitrainsim in areas outside of Judaism – like the ones mentioned above?

Can it be that our female ancestors would be on board with any of this had they been alive today? Are we to believe that they suffered in silence for thousands of years - watching men do what they couldn’t?  Were they really that unhappy with their lot in life? I somehow doubt that. And yet that is what we are told to believe.

The foregoing was not meant to be a criticism of women that want to serve the Jewish people as rabbis. While I remain opposed to that for reasons beyond the scope of this post  – that was not my purpose. It was only to explore attitudes among Modern Orthodox women that are on opposite sides of the issue. And these were my thoughts about it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Not Orthodox in the Extreme!

Setting fire to an IDF soldier in effigy - May of last year (TOI)
The pattern of behavior is quite clear. It makes me wonder sometimes if we are following the same Torah. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Not only are there modern Orthodox and Centrist Jews that feel this way - many mainstream Charedi  Jews feel that way, too. Although if I were Charedi  it would probably upset me even more than it does as a Centrist.

There is a segment of religious Jews whose values do not in any way match those of the rest us in Orhtodox Judaism.

They do not necessarily belong to the same sect or group. They have different rabbinic leaders. What unites them is participation in the same type of Chilul HaShem. There are many different incarnations of it. All of which go unpunished by anyone in a position of leadership that they may follow.

There are several examples of this again that happened recently. We cannot afford to just complain and ignore them. They must be fought as a plague upon Judaism.  Which is what their behavior amounts to. They are a plague upon religious Jews all over the world because they look so religious and are so meticulous in observance of many of  the Mitzvos of the Toraah – which their constant Chilul HaShem negates in my view.

Shoshana Keats-Jaskoll has a video of a wig burning event in Meah Shearim that turns my stomach. There is a lot of laughter going on but it isn’t funny. It is disgusting that these people set fire to an item used by so many married observant Jewish women to fulfill the Mitzvah of covering their hair. By this act they not only insult these women in a frightful way, they imply that the Mitzvah they perform is really an Aveira! I agree with Shoshanna: 
This is not normal, or okay. Men and CHILDREN burning styrofoam heads and wigs of women is really, really not ok
I would go further. It is not just - not OK. It is counterproductive and SICK!

And then there is the story about yet another religious soldier being attacked. This time in the middle of prayer. It happened at ‘Shtieblach’. That is an area in the Beis Yisroel section of Jerusalem that is near the Meah Shearim. It is what is known as a ‘Minyan factory’. There are constant Minyanim going on there for Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv so that if someone in the neighborhood wants to Daven at any time of the day, he will find a Minyan there to do it. From Arutz Sheva
During the evening prayer services, haredi extremists assaulted the soldier and forced him to flee the synagogue and call for assistance.
While his attackers pursued him, the soldier managed to escape when an ambulance arrived at the scene.
It is unclear if the soldier any injuries during the attack. 
This is just the latest in a series of attacks over the last few years against religious Jews serving in the IDF. And then there was the recent incident where two religious girls were chased down at a protest against a newly observant religious woman who joined the army.

There have been a great many stories about these people doing damage to others in their ‘righteous crusade’ to establish their version of Judaism as the only legitimate version. A crusade that keeps making one Chilul HaShem after another – as I’ve said so many times. The ‘gift that keeps on giving’. 

It is has become expected. It has become so ‘normal’ for these people to do these kinds of things that there is a tendency for the rest of the Orthodox world to just write them off as extremists best ignored.

Wrong answer.

Yes, they are extremists. But there are a great many of them. Too many of them involved in too many incidents to ignore. And they have spread to locations outside of Meah Shearim.  

They must constantly be condemned lest the casual observer seeing it or reading about it think that this is the way all religious Jews behave. I just wish that all rabbinic leaders from all stripes of Orthodoxy took steps to once and for all to completely condemn and ostracize them in a unified statement! Instead of - as is often the case - heaping praise upon their community as the most religiously idealistic among us! Even as they condemn the extremism that stems from them.  

That’s not good enough. It is absolutely the wrong message. They need to stop thinking like that. And once and for all declare to the world that looking Frum is not the same as being Frum. Far from it. That kind of praise perpetuates the belief that their extremism is just a function of their zealotry as defenders of the faith who have the courage to act! 

Leaders of all Hashkafos in the Torah world need to say loudly and clearly that these people are not acting any more Jewish than the Reform Jewish pioneers of the past who rejected all form of Jewish ritual. They need to tell the leaders of the communities that harbor them that - saying they can't control them is not good enough either. It is their Hashkafos that created this ‘monster’ and they share significant responsibility for these extremists; the harm they cause to innocent people; and the damage they do to the image of the Jewish people.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Dual Shidduch Crises – Solutions and Exploitations

Modern Orthodox Couple (Forward)
A wonderful woman I know quite well that lived on the Upper West Side (UWS) of New York City for many years had terrible dating experiences. I can only imagine the personal pain she experienced dating men from the community that had commitment phobias. I met one of those men. He was a very nice guy that had been dating her for a year or two… indicating that they would someday get married and ‘live happily ever after’. That never happened. After a very long courtship without any forward movement on his part, my friend through down the gauntlet.  She challenged him. Was he ever going to commit? After several  requests by him for more time – she finally gave up and broke up. This pattern repeated itself with every new relationship.

It seems that this is business as usual in on the UWS.  Eventually through a third party - she met a wonderful fellow that was not a part of the community and got married shortly thereafter. She was well into her late 30s by then. Thankfully she has been happily married for many years now and raising a wonderful family.

I don’t know how many people have suffered from the ‘syndrome’ of commitment phobia that is so prevalent on the UWS. While I’m sure that there are people that do get married there - my impression is that a huge portion of them never do.  They just have a singles type relationship forever. (I have even heard that there are some unmarried women that have been going to the Mikva so that if a sexual relationship develops - she would not be a Niddah which would be a severe violation of Halacha entailing  the Kares penalty. I don’t know if this phenomenon is true. But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if it was.)

I have to wonder how this UWS culture developed. What is it that created a group of young (and not so young) men that have commitment phobia as part of their personality? The fear of commttment is not exclusive to the world of Modern Orthodoxy of which the UWS is primarily made up. But I do believe that my friend’s experience is far more typical there than it is in the world of the right. If this isn’t a Shidduch crisis, I don’t know what is.

Thankfully there seem to be a new initiative designed for this community. From the Jewish Link
The Modern Orthodox communities of the West Side of Manhattan and Northern New Jersey have announced a new initiative, making available dynamic new programs for matching young Modern Orthodox professional men and women between the ages of 22 and 32...
 “As singles move past the age of 32 they tend to form less pliable frameworks in their respective lifestyles, making it more difficult to form serious dating relationships. The methods of matchmaking for the 32+ group are different and require much more intervention. We are trying to get more matches formed within a younger age group, thus allowing for more flexibility.”
The upscale events will have in attendance top-notch matchmakers. Tova Weinberg, a well-known matchmaker, has given her full support to the project. She said, “I think what you are doing for singles is amazing and I want to help you the best way I can...” 
This program is designed for what is called Modern Orthodox/Modern Machmir men and women who are serious about meeting a mate. I have heard this term before. I assume it refers to Modern Orthodox Jews that are meticulous about observance. The idea of a Shadchan in the MO world is not a very popular one. But I think it is a great idea. There is nothing wrong with a 3rd party recommendation for a date. That is – after all – what a Shadchan does. He or she puts together 2 people with enough in common to result in a succesful marriage. 

That doesn’t mean they can’t still date in the traditional MO fashion by incidental meetings or being ‘setup’ by friends. All it means is that their opportunities will now be expanded. That is a good thing. What about overcoming commitment phobia? My guess is that those that are meticulous about observing Halacha do not experience this problem as much… but might have fallen victim to it by simply living in the UWS environment.

New Shidduch initiative  in Monsey (The Thinking Yid)
But there is another Shidduch initiative taking place in the Yeshiva world in Monsey. I was linked to a post on a blog called the The Thinking Yid… where this initiative was excoriated! I tend to agree. It seems to be designed to make Shadchanim rich… or at least be paid extremely well. They capitalizing on a crisis. 

3 Shuls are involved. Shadchanim will be subsidized by wealthy private individuals to find matches for the children of these Shul members. What is troubling about it is that there will be double dipping. Shadchaim will not only be subsidized by  wealthy individuals. They will also be paid by the parents of these young people per date. And if the Shidduch is made, they will be paid a total of between $1500 - $1800 per match. Presumably by both sets of parents if they are members of one of those Shuls.

Follow the money. Desperate parents are being taken advantage of. The idea of setting up young people because it is a Mitzvah seems to be a value of the past. 

Now, if you want to get married, it will cost you up front – and cost you more if you succeed. I wouldn’t have such an objection to this, if this community would allow for other means of young people meeting. Such as singles events, or socializing between families.  But since these things are at best discouraged (if not outright banned) in the Yeshiva world I find this to be a highly mercenary tactic. ‘You don’t have money?’ ‘Don’t bother me!’ says this initiative. That’s called  taking advantage of desperate people.

I’m sure the wealthy people subsidizing this are well meaning. But for me the ‘double dipping’ puts this enterprise into question.

When my own children were dating (not that long ago - at about the time of the turn of the century) they had a variety of opportunities to meet potential mates. Which included asking people in positions to do so, to ‘Red a Shidduch’ - Yiddish for recommending my son or daughter to a potential mate. But my case, there was no fee. In those cases where the recommendation worked out, we gave the Shadchan a nice gift as a token of our appreciation. Which was graciously accepted. This is – in my view how it should be done.  Unfortunately the Shidduch crisis has given way to a new industry that capitalizes on the desperation of potential clients.  

This phenomenon is evident and even more egregious in all the Segulos for Shidduchim one finds being advertised. I’m sure many people have seen the ads where if you give a certain amount of money to a particular charity, then a large group of ‘Gedolim’ will pray 40 days and 40 nights at the Kotel or at some grave-site at midnight for your child to get married. With testimonials from successful clients! That is truly despicable! But paying Shadchanim exorbitant sums of money seems to be not that far behind in that kind of exploitation. And that’s just plain wrong.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Common Sense

Mass murderer, Nikolas Cruz and his stash of guns 
‘Guns don’t kill people. People do.’ ‘If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’ ‘Every Jew a 22.’ The logic behind the first of these two popular phrases is inescapable.  The second one rings true as well. The 3rd one (coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane) makes sense too in light of the persecution Jews have faced at the hands of fellow citizens throughout history. The argument is that if Jews would have been armed during the Holocaust, they could have better protected themselves and saved many lives. But I dispute that argument in this country. More about that later.

When I am in Israel, I can hear that argument. Military personnel that are so pervasive in Israel obviously carry weapons. As do the police.  But it is not only them. I am amazed at the number of civilians that carry unconcealed weapons. As I am surprised at the type of people carrying them – religious Jews.  While it is mostly Religious Zionists or Dati Leumi Jews that carry guns, it is not exclusively them.  

I suppose that in Israel, Rabbi Kahane’s argument might make sense. There are threats lurking behind every corner. Terrorists abound. I admit to feeling a sense of comfort and security in Israel when I see a religious Jew carrying a gun. (Although sometimes I wonder how many of these gun toters  have actually been trained in firearms use and safety. Or how some of them might freeze during an actual event requiring a quick response. Or worse killing an innocent bystander by mistake out of sheer nervousness. But still…)

What about America? Should I feel that way here? No. First some background.

The reason I bring all of this up now should be obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the news. On Wednesday at about 2:00 PM Eastern time, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz walked into the South Florida school he once attended armed with a legally purchased semi-automatic AR 15 assault rifle and proceeded to slaughter students and teachers totaling 17 people. With many more being injured. He was apprehended and caught. He is now in custody – charged with 17 counts of premeditated homicide and related charges.

Observing the reaction of victim’s families actually brought me to tears! Just as it did last time something like this happened.

It seems as though mass shootings in schools are beginning to happen on a regular basis. Innocent children are indiscriminately shot by people with mental issues. People like Nikolas Cruz can easily obtain weapons and with ease - cut people down in the prime of their lives in a matter of seconds.

It is my considered opinion that this kind of thing can be curbed if not eliminated by common sense gun legislation. While such laws are on the books, there are too many loopholes. For example I recently became aware of guns being sold on line that are missing a working part and cannot be fired without it. They can be purchased by anyone of any age. They contain no serial number or any identifying mark. The missing part can also be purchased on line along with instructions on how to put them together to create the perfect untraceable weapon. All legal.

Automatic (rapid-fire) military type assault rifles are illegal. But they may be sold legally if the automatic feature is disabled. Which can be easily restored or modified after purchase.

There are other laws designed to prevent  gun sales to criminals and the mentally disabled. But these laws have giant loopholes, too.

All the loopholes need to be closed! There needs to be much stronger gun legislation in this country. The less guns there are, the less people will be killed. Study after study has shown this. And yet this simple truth is ignored by gun enthusiasts and by the politicians in office that support them. Politicians that cater to the gun lobby – led by the NRA (National Rifle Association) one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. 

The NRA is led by Wayne LaPierre, a man I consider to be a Rasha! …and indirectly responsible for what happened Wednesday. As well as all the previous mass murders of this type in this country. I’m sure we will be hearing from him shortly (if he hasn’t already commented) touting the second amendment to the constitution. Which states: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 
The purpose of this amendment is to assure the existence of a well regulated militia. The US has that in spades. Soldiers need to be fully armed. Do we really need private citizens that have no intention of being part of the military to be armed? But I am not here to argue for repeal.  I am arguing for controlling access.

What about arguments like ‘Guns don’t kill people.’ People do.’ True there has to be a person pulling the trigger for the gun to kill. But without a gun, it would be much harder to kill anyone. Guns make it infinitely easier to do that. The more loopholes we have, the more people that will be killed. Had Cruz come into those classrooms with a hunting knife, I seriously doubt that 17 people would have been killed.

It is also true that if guns were outlawed, law-abiding citizens would not have any. But criminals would easily find ways to have them. Which is why I am not supportive of outlawing guns completely. But I am in favor of outlawing assault rifles like the AR 14. There is NOTHING in the second amendment to prevent such a law. The right to bear arms will still be in place.

Forbidding semi automatic assault weapons (which as noted - can easily be converted to automatic mode) will also reduce the carnage. What possible protective value is there in an assault weapon, anyway? The purpose of these weapons are to kill as many people as quickly as possible – a useful tactic in battle. But private ownership is insane. It can only appeal to gun enthusiasts. What kind of obsession is that, anyway?! It is the gun enthusiast that converts them back to automatic mode.

Then there is the mental health issue. It appears that the motive in many of these mass shootings by a young person is  in reaction to being constantly bullied by fellow students.  Their built up rage makes road rage look like child’s play. There needs to be a concerted effort by schools to end this phenomenon. I know it’s hard to detect since much of it takes place on hand held social media. But that does not free anyone involved from tackling this problem. It ought to be a priority.

Administrators, principals, teachers, advisors… and just about anyone involved with schools needs to brainstorm and figure out ways to eliminate this scourge from our schools. But it starts with better parenting. Parents need to be in control of what their children do on social media.

It is also imperative to create legislation that would prevent people with any kind of mental health issue (like Cruz) from the ability to purchase any kind of gun.  There should be no possible way to buy a gun under any circumstances without a thorough background check. Both with respect to criminal records and to any kind of mental health issue. It would also be wise to outlaw online purchases of guns as well. Even those that are missing parts so that cannot be fired!

It ought to be much harder to buy a gun than it is now. If this latest tragedy doesn’t teach us this, nothing will. Unfortunately I believe this to already be the case. Mass shootings like this that have happened in the past – have resulted in nothing.

Nothing will change by what I write here today, unfortunately. I doubt that any politicians read my posts. And even if they did, it probably wouldn’t sway them. But the truth needs to be told.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why America is Not Poland (or Even England)

Republican Candidate for Congress and American Nazi, Arthur Jones (CNN)
There been a bit of an uproar here in Illinois and in some Jewish and other publications about Arthur Jones. He is running as the unopposed Republican candidate for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. What is unusual about this fellow is that he is an avowed Neo-Nazi and white supremacist. Jones is seeking the seat in the House of Representatives currently held by Democrat Dan Lipinski who is seeking reelection.

Although this south side and suburban Chicago district was known to be more conservative than the rest of Chicago, it has nevertheless held true to the Chicago tradition of a near non existent Republican party. 

Democrats are assured of winning any election in Chicago. The real elections take place in the Democratic primary. Once nominated, the general election is only a formality. In my own congressional district Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is running unopposed.

I assume that is the case in just about every area in Chicago and nearby suburbs, including the 3rd district. (In fact in the last Presidential primary, Bernie Sanders won that district by 8 points!) What happened is that Jones took advantage of that fact - and with no Republican taking the trouble place themselves on the Ballot, Jones took the initiative to get the 800 signatures required to do that. By the time anyone realized what happened, it was too late for any Republican to oppose him on the ballot - or even as a write-in candidate.

There is no question that Jones will lose the election. He will be trounced - even if he wasn’t a Nazi. The fact that he is allowed to run is one of the great freedoms of America. No matter how disgusting an individual’s personal views are – they have the freedom to espouse them and even run for public office. It is also the greatness of America that he will be so wildly rejected by voters (other than his fringe base).

If one wants to know how the Republican Party has reacted to Jones, all you have to do is read an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. It was written in the form of an open letter to Jones by Richard Porter, the national committeeman for Illinois to the Republican National Committee. Here in part is what he said: 
Given that you're not actually a Republican, I should tell you something that you won't like about me or others in the Republican Party. You should know:
I love Jews. I am not saying “I have friends who are Jews,” I am saying I love Jews.
I love the stories of the Old Testament, the trials and tribulations, and the miracles and the disasters, that befall this family that grew into a tribe and then into a people — a people who have thrived despite thousands of years of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.
Arthur, denying the cruel reality of the Holocaust is unforgivable.
I love Israel too. Indeed, I am a proud Christian member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and we lobby for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
I love what Jews have done for this country. I marvel at art created by Jews, I help Jews build amazing companies, and I read brilliant legal analyses by Jews.
I love my Jewish law partners — such amazing people. Brilliant, hard-working and decent. We give to each other's charities — they are so generous, I find it hard to keep up.
I love to attend bar and bat mitzvahs. Seeing 12- and 13-year-olds get up and chant beautifully in Hebrew and then discuss their Torah selection so maturely, I always find myself asking: “Why don't we ask more of kids where I worship?”
Actually, you should know that the Republican Party is filled with Jews who are passionate advocates of liberty and smaller government.
Gosh (and I say that because the God of the Jews commands me not to take the Lord's name in vain), you could say the Republican Party is the party for Jews and those who love Jews and Israel. 
He then goes on to ask Jones to voluntarily leave the Republican party and basically run as the long time member of his other political party - the American Nazi Party. 

It is Porter that represent the real America. It should also be evident that the Republican Party is increasingly becoming the party of the Jews – as Porter indicates.  The tables have been turned. Jews were always more comfortable among the more liberal Democrats. Blue blood Republicans were rightfully considered to be guilty of at least soft antisemitism. This is no longer the case. Republicans seem to have purged any and all antisemitism from their midst - as indicated by Porter. 

And while Democrats are not antisemeitic either, their support for Israel is becoming increasingly tepid while Republican support seems to be increasing. One will find a lot more criticism of Israel among liberal Democrats -  as opposed to conservative Republicans. Most of whom unabashedly express views like Porter’s. Or express enthusiastic support for Israel like UN Ambassador Nikki Haley... or just about any notable Republican one would care to mention.

Contrast that with what is going on in Poland. Instead of admitting their clear history of persecution against their Jewish citizens, and apologizing, they have opted instead to erase it from the collective memory of the world. They have outlawed any reference to a Nazi Death camp being Polish - subject to a fine and even possible jail time! 

As noted here recently, it is technically true that the death camps were built and operated by Germans. But this new law is deceptive. It ignores the fact that so many Poles were willing accomplices! And although the Poles were victims of Nazi Germany too, it makes them seem like they were never the rabid antisemites they actually were. Long before the Nazi Party ever existed! And you will never see the kind of genuine love expressed by Porter for the Jewish people by any government official there. Probably not even in England either!

There is also the rabid anti Israel views of activists in Jeremy Corbyn’s liberal Labour Party, England’s major opposition party. Activists that Corbyn refuses to deal with. You will never see such views expressed by our liberals, the Democrats. Contrary to Corbyn, Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority leader is a very strong supporter of Israel and a proud Jewish American. (He actually bucked his own party’s Orthodoxy and voted against the nuclear deal with Iran!)

Which is why I continue to believe that Esav Sonei L’Yaakov clearly still applies to Europe (especially Poland)  – even after the Holocaust. And why it does not apply to America - the greatest democracy the world has ever known.  A country where Jews are not only NOT hated, but are appreciated and loved.  God Bless the United States of America!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Win? Or a Defeat?

Is this a real diamond ring?
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz has made the kind of unequivocal statement one would – and should - expect from anyone that calls themselves an Orthodox Rabbi. His statement is precisely the same argument used by those of us that oppose innovations he supports (like the ordination of women). From the Times of Israel, it reads in pertinent part as follows:
Halakha was never destined to be optimally inclusive or perfectly egalitarian. There was always going to remain a whiff of discrimination (descriptively speaking) which is innate to the system and could never be eliminated. Coupling halakha with modernity was never meant to be the perfect elixir, completely eradicating the existential pain of the modern-and-observant Jew. That is impossible. It can only minimize that pain. 
I welcome the clarity of this statement - even while the lines drawn by virtually all mainstream Orthodox Jewish institutions in the world are drawn differently than his lines. This is an important statement because it clearly delineates that societal values never trump the Torah. There are lines that cannot be crossed no matter how unjust they may feel to modern sensibilities.

His point in making this statement was that all the possible accommodations to modernity made by Progressive Orthodoxy (formerly known as Open Orthodoxy)… have already been made. We cannot go further. There is much to be done elsewhere, he says, and we ought to be getting on with that. The battles are over. Their progressive agenda has taken hold. The war has been won. Female rabbis are a reality (albeit one that has to be nourished, he says). Case closed.

I hope he’s right about the battles and war being over. But I think he is mistaken about winning the war.

As noted here many times, there has been no acceptance of female rabbis by any mainstream Orthodox institution anywhere in the world. Not a single Posek of stature has endorsed it. Member synagogues of the OU may not hire a female rabbi. Doing so would void membership in the OU. Negotiations with member synagogues that currently have female rabbis are taking place. But if their status quo in that regard remains they will surely be expelled. To paraphrase Mark Twain, news of their survival is greatly exaggerated! At least as any kind of Orthodox Judaism.

And yet Rabbi Katz calls it a reality – albeit a reluctant one. The issue has been conquered. Progressive Orthodoxy can afford to retreat. 

I heartily endorse them doing that. Not because they have won. But because they have lost even if they don’t realize it yet.  Retreating is the right thing to do. Because if they insist on maintaining this new innovation they will eventually write themselves out of Orthodoxy. Not because I say so. But because Orthodoxy itself does, by dint of rejecting what they have done.

Rabbi Katz might counter this and say that what he means is that the genie is out of the bottle. Women are being ordained and serving their synagogues as rabbis. No one is going to change that. It will only increase. 

It is true that women are being ordained. It is also true that some women are already serving as rabbis. (Whether that increases remains to be seen.) What is also true, however, is that it is not accepted as a legitimate form of Orthodoxy by any Orthodox institution. Synagogues doing so will not be considered Orthodox. This is not called winning. It’s called wishful thinking.

One may ask, who gets to define Orthodoxy? Why shouldn’t Progressive Orthodoxy have the same right to be called that as does the right wing or Centrist Orthodoxy?  

True, they can call themselves anything they want. A person has the right to call Cubic Zirconia a diamond if he wants to. But that will not make it a diamond no matter how much he says it is. Even though it closely resembles a diamond. Only those with expertise in the precious gem industry have that right. They are the most educated in the matter and therefore have the most expertise. They are the only ones that can decide what is and isn’t a real diamond.

So too with Orthodoxy. When it comes to the definition - it remains in the hands of the people that know Torah the best - the mainstream Poskim of our day. When there is universal agreement among them about a parameter being crossed - it is crossed.

This is the case with female rabbis. Those who accept or endorse it might call themselves Orthodox. But they are no more Orthodox than a Cubic Zirconia is a diamond.

There are those who will say, ‘So What?’ ‘Who cares what they are called?’ ‘If they think they’re right, who is anyone to tell them to stop?’ ‘Let them do what they believe in - and see what happens!’

This is true. But it was also true for a movement founded over 100 years ago that also wanted to be considered Orthodox. They too considered themselves to be a Halachic movement. Today, there is not a single Orthodox Rabbi - including Rabbi Katz - that would make such a claim. Conservative Judaism is not - and never really was Orthodox.

If Progressive Orthodoxy goes that route, I fear it will have a similar outcome.  I do not believe that Progressive Orthodoxy wants to do that. Which is why they continue to use the word ‘Orthodox’ in any label they choose for themselves. Whether the prefix is ‘Open’, ‘Liberal’, or ‘Progressive’.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. But I hope that when Progressive Orthodox leaders see the actual truth rather than what they think it is – they will realize that they have not won the war but have have lost it! And finally abandon this position as a well intended mistake – difficult though that may be.  A mistake that at the end of the day, cannot fully satisfy the egalitarian agenda in any case - just as Rabbi Katz has clearly stated. And then they can turn their attention to what he says they should be doing next. Something all of Orthodoxy should  be doing as well:  ‘reorient its energies towards creating a religiously vibrant home front.’ 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For The Sake of Our Children...

An Israeli Ikea bruchure features no pictures of women. (Sputnik)
I have a lot of respect for Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll. She is a real Mentch! When I suddenly lost my brother a couple of years ago while visiting my children in Ramat Bet Shemesh, she came to be Menachem Avel me – paying me a condolence call during my Shiva period. Even though she barely knew me.

Shoshanna is an individual that cares about her family, her country and her fellow man… and fellow woman.

She is in fact a 21st century feminist. Which is where I often part company with her - even though I too consider myself a feminist albeit in its original incarnation. Which for me meant treating both men and women with the same level of dignity and respect due to all human beings - having been created in the image of God.  And to promote equal opportunities (and equal pay for equal work) for both men and women in all areas except in our roles as Jews based on the Torah (as interpreted  by our sages and rabbinic leaders throughout every generation).

That difference has gotten me into trouble with Shoshana in the past.  Which actually made me feel terrible. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect someone of the courage to stand up for what she believes – even at those times when I disagree with her. I tried to apologize to her but mostly stood my ground since I believed in the essence of what I said. Not sure she accepted it.

Our differences are certainly sharp on certain issues. But there are a lot of areas where we actually agree. One of those is in the area of the decreasing instances of women’s pictures being published.

As I have always said, the narrow slices of Orthodox Jewry on the extreme right have the right to lead their lives according to their own values. If they as a community feel that publishing any picture of a woman violates their particular standards of modesty, they certainly should have that unfettered right among themselves.

But most of even the Charedi world does not have this standard. I keep using this example – but it is a good one. The Agudah website published pictures of women giving lectures at their recent convention in New York. Their Rabbinic board (Moetzes) consists of many of whose rabbis are considered by Charedim to be  Gedolei HaDor – the rabbinic giants of our generation.

But as is increasingly becoming the case that practice has taken hold in a variety of other venues that heretofore never had such restrictions. 

On an Israeli program called Orly and Guy, (video below with English subtitles) Shoshanna does a masterful job explaining why the phenomenon of erasing women from the public square is so detrimental to the fabric of our lives as Jews. On that same program Rabbi Dov Halbertal defended the practice – saying that it is done to avoid men becoming sexually aroused. Extending this idea to pictures of modestly dressed women is absurd in the extreme.

We are not talking about Playboy centerfolds. We are talking about women dressed according to the strict letter of the law. And we certainly are not talking about a Holocaust era picture. Rabbi Halbertal's attitude was that it doesn’t make any difference.  A picture of a woman in any circumstance can sexually arouse a man. I have to wonder how anyone can take that claim seriously. Besides, isn’t such an attitude the very definition of objectifying women – thinking of them only in terms of being a sex object used to satisfy prurient interests?

Mishpacha said that their rabbis came out with an edict 70 years ago forbidding it for reasons of modesty.That was made clear by them in response to the massive criticism they received for publishing a pixilated face of a woman in a Holocaust era picture. They apologized for that particular instance -but stood by the edict they received 70 years ago.  (Which contradicts Rabbi Halbertal’s assertion that context doesn’t matter.)

(Incidentally, in her inaugural Mishpacha article Alexa Fleksher,  did not have her picture published either. All the male columnists did. I found that both odd and a glaring omission. Perhaps – in fairness they should not publish the pictures of their male columnists either – just to keep things uniform and fair. But I digress.)

Mishpacha and similar publications are not the only people erasing women from their pages. As noted by Shoshana during an appearance on an Israeli news program. Even secular establishments feature ads that do not have any women in them.  Several examples of that were shown on that program.

To depict a world without women is an outrage that has negative ramifications for all Orthodoxy. The real world cannot exist without women. To depict it that way is to perpetuate a lie. That they say it doesn’t but instead honors women by recognizing the high level of modesty - might work as an explanation for them. But it is clearly an insult to many others. Including me.  What do young girls learn about their self image when they are treated like sex objects no matter how modestly they are dressed.

The same question can be asked about young boys! The idea that women are sex objects is reinforced and this is what they grow up thinking. Which is a very unhealthy way of looking at a woman. Not to mention the fact that in my view it fuels incidences of sexual misconduct. If you see someone as an object rather than seeing them as a fellow human being, It should not be so surprising that they are used that way.

I therefore agree with Shoshanna completely here. And support her crusade to end this distortion of what the Torah considers immodest.

Obviously a picture of an immodestly dressed woman does appear to men as a sex object. Playboy exploits women that way. But a eliminating, distorting, or pixilating the picture of a modestly dressed woman with the excuse that any picture does that teaches young people to look at women as sex objects all the time. And that is just wrong!


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Sad Odyssey of a Righteous Convert

Ariella Barker (Kol HaBirah)

This is a tough one. A heartbreaking one. One that defies the norms of society and tugs at the heart. It is terribly sad. And terribly unjust.

Ariella Barker is a Giyores, a righteous convert to Judaism. She is a highly-educated attorney, writer, and activist, who describes herself as worldly, witty and whimsical. She also has a disability. Ariella  does not say what her disability is. But based on her picture, it seems that she is wheel chair bound. Reading her story in Kol HaBirah simultaneously broke my heart and made me angry. And yet I’m not even sure where to direct my anger.

When Ariella converted - the conversion court of the RCA challenged her. Why did she want to convert since as a single women desiring to get married, the marriage pool would be dramatically reduced to less than 2% of the population? Her answer was the right one. She could only see herself married to a Jew.

Now 11 years later she is still single. Ordinarily this would be a sad but not so uncommon experience even for people with no disabilities. There are a variety of reasons that people don’t get married. Often the blame lies in the individual (for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post).

But this was not the case with Ariella. It was not for a lack of trying. It was for a lack of any dates! The the vetting process of Orthodox Shidduch and dating sites always ask if there is any disability. By disclosing that she was disabled, it effectively cut her off from any recommendations. She did not get a single recommendation from any of those websites! No one was willing to date her because she was disabled!

There was however attempts by friends and even strangers to set her up with a disabled man. Which amounted to 95% of her dates. As if that was the only quality that mattered. There was no attempt at seeing compatibility or whether there were other issues like moral character.  The other 5% were: 
...blind dates were with actual untouchables: married men, grandfathers 40 years my senior, the perpetually unemployed, and, once, a convicted pedophile. 
She no longer accepts blind dates and has sworn of internet dating. But that too has ended up badly thus far: 
I decided to only date men I knew personally. But these relationships often led to heartbreak. Boyfriends ended the relationship for a variety of reasons: Their rabbis advised them to. Their parents insisted that marrying me would ruin their lives due the burden of caring for me. They were overwhelmed by the difficulties of sharing a life with someone who endlessly faced inaccessibility. They were afraid one day they would resent me for my disability. They were afraid we’d have children with my disability. And some simply couldn’t handle the tzaddik (righteous person) status many placed on them for having the chesed (kindness) enough to love me. 
The saddest part of this story is that the frustration and heartbreak Ariella has experienced has led her to be content to remain single… and if the right man comes along, that it would be God’s will.  The joy of marriage and family is eluding her as she watches her friends get married – one by one - and have those families.

What an indictment against the Jewish men who turned her down for any of those reasons. Even worse is the fact that their rabbis advised them not to marry her! Especially in light of the fact that before she converted she said she rarely struggled to find a partner. She now wonders whether - had she not made the decision to covert – would she have been married by now.

I do not think anyone with a sense of humanity and compassion would not empathize with her sitation. And at the same time give her credit for her ability to adjust and remain ‘content’ as a single woman for the rest of her life.

But in my view it is tragic that she has found so much difficulty finding a religious Jew that can overlook her disability. What kind of priority is that? Shouldn’t a disability like Ariella’s be less important than her midos? Her character? Her personality? Her achievements? Her potential? Her commitment to Judaism - despite the difficulties it as brought her as a disabled person? A woman that is in every other way healthy and can live a full life and happy life as a wife and mother, and contributor to her community?

Ariella is a great person – with a great future.  And yet, it’s hard to blame anyone for having reservations about dating a disabled person. I don’t think that people that have reservations about that are evil. It is a natural concern for most people. But at the same time, it should not be a deal breaker. One should not automatically rule out someone with a disability which does not affect their health in any other way. 

Yes, it is legitimate to give some weight to the fact that the person you are considering spending the rast of your life with is disabled. But that is only one factor among many more important ones. 

What single people should look at the most is the character of the people they date;what kind of contributions can they make to a family; and the kind of  future you can build together... I believe that if one looks those issues first, than a disability like Ariella’s will end up being an insignificant detail that will ultimately be irrelevant to a happy future.