Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Evils of Expulsion

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
I have had differences of opinion with Rabbi Steven Pruzansky on various issues. Some of them very strong. But I consider him an honorable man whose views are Torah based, sincere, and well intended. As a man of honor and integrity he will admit to being wrong when evidence points him in that direction. This was the case with a recent article published at The Jewish Link and republished at UOJ where I first encountered it. I completely agree with his reconsidered view. But rather than paraphrasing it. I have republished here as well. It follows:

For some time now, we have heard that many of our youth are in a bad way—drinking, drugs, scandalous behavior—all of which have given rise to problems in schools. There have been conferences and seminars, calls for better education and improved communication. And the schools have generally responded to credible accusations of misconduct with a quick but somewhat selective trigger finger—especially in their use of expulsions. 

A number of people have reported to me about a party that took place recently in the metropolitan area that attracted a lot of teens and involved mass drinking and revelry, with the parents of the host conveniently out-of-town. (There were probably many other and similar parties of which I am unaware.) And the schools have dutifully responded with the range of disciplines at their disposal, and applied to the great variety of offenders under their dominion in inconsistent ways.

I have always been a law-and-order man; schools should have rules just like life has rules because otherwise there is chaos and anarchy. But I think we have gone too far in these situations to the extent that I have changed my mind. I used to think that it was appropriate for schools to monitor their students’ behavior even off campus and react when there is degenerate behavior, and in an ideal world that would still hold true. But I no longer believe that. Schools should monitor what students do on their premises, and that’s it. And off premises? That is the responsibility of the parents. Remember them?

Parents used to have primary responsibility for parenting, discipline, and instilling values in their children. Sometime in the recent past, parents abdicated that responsibility to the schools, and the results have not been pretty. For example: What parent lets a teenager go to a party of teenagers that has no responsible adult in charge? (I say “responsible” because not all adults are responsible.) You would have to be insane to allow such a thing. My children were trustworthy, but I would never let them as teens go to an unsupervised party. My wife and I would monitor, as best as possible, with whom our children would socialize. That is elementary parenting.


Forget the schools. As far as I am concerned, it’s none of the school’s business what happens off campus. It’s the parents’ business—and parents have to reclaim their role. Indeed, parents have many more disciplinary tools in their arsenal than schools do. They should use them, without fear of losing their children as “buddies.”

That being said, I have reconsidered something else. Schools have to stop these willy-nilly expulsions of students, which have become (1) a marketing tool (“Look at us! We expelled two students for unacceptable behavior. Problem solved. Send your children to us!”), (2) a deterrent that has clearly failed given the widespread misconduct that apparently exists and (3) a tacit admission that schools don’t have the time, interest or energy to deal with every child with a problem. I was slow to come around to this but I have realized that was once unthinkable has become normative, and again, quite selectively applied. A few months ago, I was sent a video a few months ago of Rav Moshe Weinberger (the Rav of Aish Kodesh) pleading with principals to remember their own youth. “What were you like when you were 17?” Why are they pretending that all was so perfect that now we can just dispatch Jewish children into the spiritual wilderness?

My initial reaction was that it is easy for someone not in chinuch to make such a broad statement and encourage such a policy change—banning expulsions—but as I pondered his comments over the course of a few weeks, I realized that he was correct. Teens are teens, and even if the parameters of “acting out” have widened over the decades since I was a teenager, and mostly in very unsalutary ways, I do not doubt that there are today principals and Roshei Yeshiva, teachers and rabbis, who acted as teens in ways that they chalk up to adolescent hijinks. Yet, they—or their boards—do not want to give today’s children the same break or a compassionate hand. I certainly do not lay all the blame at the feet of the principals or administrators who are often confronted with conflicting pressures that cannot all be resolved to the satisfaction of all.

And then I started my research on my “Great Rabbis of the 20th Century” series and to my astonishment, I determined that these giants dealt with the same issues in a much more tolerant, loving and probably effective way. The Alter of Slabodka, for example, never agreed to expel a student. (Keep in mind that Slabodka had its share of students who desecrated Shabbat, who were Socialists trying to overthrow the Czar, who were students in the yeshiva who even rebelled against the Alter and tried to have him dismissed!) 

Yet, he would tell the Roshei Yeshiva, that we must look and find some good in them. He kept one student around, he told his colleagues, even though he wasn’t much of a student, because he liked to do favors for people. The Jewish people need that also. And when challenged about particular miscreants, he would cite the verse in Kohelet and the Midrash (Vayikra Raba 27:5) thereon: “‘G-d seeks out the pursued;’ even when the righteous pursue the wicked” G-d takes up the cause of the underdog. So find his good quality and help him. Don’t throw him away.

Similarly, Rav Ovadia Yosef said in an interview a year before he died that it is forbidden to expel a child from yeshiva. I quote: “Even if there is a student who behaves inappropriately, it is still forbidden to throw him out of school and instead we must exercise extreme patience… If we are patient with this student, one day he can grow up to be a talmid chochom. And if we send him away from the yeshiva where will he go? To a secular school and then what will become of him?”

And then he added: “What, are you throwing away a rock? These are precious souls! If you throw a child away, do you know what will be? Are you ready to take responsibility for what might happen?”

And in Rav Yissachar Frand’s Dvar Torah last week (the second essay) he made the same point. If all these great rabbis are addressing this issue, it tells me that there is a problem in Baltimore, Israel, the Five Towns, New Jersey – and everywhere else.

And who are we throwing away? The children of the Avot and Imahot of our people. Like Rambam says (Hilchot Sanhedrin 25:2), even the lowliest among us are “the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the armies of G-d who took us out of Egypt with a great might and a powerful arm.”

I’m not an extremist. If a child is endangering another child, that is different. But short of that, there are other measures. Educate. Discipline. Suspend. Make a child repeat a class or a grade. (The thought alone of paying an extra year’s tuition will get the parents’ attention.) But don’t throw them away. G-d also took these children out of Egypt.

I would rather send my children to a school that deals with its children with problems than to a school that pretends it doesn’t have any children with problems.

And what should parents, now once again responsible for their children’s behavior, impress upon them? During the years of bondage in Egypt, we never lost our identity, our dignity, our sense of self-respect. We always knew, in the statement of the Mishna (Masechet Shabbat 111a), that “all Israel are the children of kings.” We are all princes and princesses. We never let the Egyptians, those debauched pagans, define us. We endured them, survived them and triumphed over them, and then the sense of inner freedom naturally emerged from us. It cannot be suppressed forever – in any of us.

That is the message for us and for our children. They should realize that all the attractions and allures of the world mean nothing compared to the great privilege of being part of a royal people. They need to be taught that when they act like reprobates, they have first and foremost let themselves down.

There is no greater deterrent to mischief than the realization that some conduct is beneath them and unworthy of them, of who they are supposed to be. When that realization sinks in, we will merit only blessings from all of our children.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Judge Freier on The Today Show

This video of Judge Freier speaks for itself:

 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rabbi Sacks on the Status of Jerusalem

I wish I had said this... But that's what makes Lord Sacks - Lord Sacks and me - me. His eloquent words about US recognition of Israel follow: 

I welcome today’s decision by the United States to recognise as the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, whose name means “city of peace.” This recognition is an essential element in any lasting peace in the region.

Unlike other guardians of the city, from the Romans to the Crusaders to Jordan between 1949 and 1967, Israel has protected the holy sites of all three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and guaranteed access to them. Today, Jerusalem remains one of the few places in the Middle East, where Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to pray in freedom, security and peace. 

The sustained denial, in many parts of the world, of the Jewish connection with Jerusalem is dishonest, unacceptable and a key element in the refusal to recognise the Jewish people’s right to exist in the land of their origins. Mentioned over 660 times in the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem was the beating heart of Jewish faith more than a thousand years before the birth of Christianity, and two-and-a-half millennia before the birth of Islam. 

Since then, though dispersed around the world, Jews never ceased to pray about Jerusalem, face Jerusalem, speak the language of Jerusalem, remember it at every wedding they celebrated, in every home they built, and at the high and holiest moments of the Jewish year.

Outside the United Nations building in New York is a wall bearing the famous words of Isaiah: "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." Too often the nations of the world forget the words that immediately precede these: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Those words, spoken twenty-seven centuries ago, remain the greatest of all prayers for peace, and they remain humanity’s best hope for peace in the Middle East and the world.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Thunderclap? Or Whimper?

Special Council investigating the President, Robert Mueller
I've been saying all along that the investigation of the President with respect to his involvement with Russia prior to his election - is almost certainly political and will not bear the fruit his opponents (including-  and perhaps especially - the mainstream media) are hoping for. 

To be clear, I am not a fan of the President and did not vote for him. And I continue to believe he is an embarrassment to the country. But I agree with Alan Dershowitz. This investigation will end with a whimper. His words from a published article follow: 


The charge to which retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty may tell us a great deal about the Robert Mueller investigation.

The first question is, why did Flynn lie? People who lie to the FBI generally do so because, if they told the truth, they would be admitting to a crime. But the two conversations that Flynn falsely denied having were not criminal. He may have believed they were criminal but, if he did, he was wrong.
Consider his request to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., to delay or oppose a United Nations Security Council vote on an anti-Israel resolution that the outgoing Obama administration refused to veto. Not only was that request not criminal, it was the right thing to do. 

President Obama's unilateral decision to change decades-long American policy by not vetoing a perniciously one-sided anti-Israel resolution was opposed by Congress and by most Americans. It was not good for America, for Israel or for peace. It was done out of Obama's personal pique against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than on principle.

Many Americans of both parties, including me, urged the lame-duck Obama not to tie the hands of the president-elect by allowing the passage of a resolution that would make it more difficult to achieve a negotiated peace in the Middle East.

As the president-elect, Donald Trump was constitutionally and politically entitled to try to protect his ability to broker a fair peace between the Israelis and Palestinians by urging all members of the Security Council to vote against or delay the enactment of the resolution. The fact that such efforts to do the right thing did not succeed does not diminish the correctness of the effort. I wish it had succeeded. We would be in a better place today.

Some left-wing pundits, who know better, are trotting out the Logan Act, which, if it were the law, would prohibit private citizens (including presidents-elect) from negotiating with foreign governments. But this anachronistic law hasn't been used for more than 200 years. Under the principle of desuetude - a legal doctrine that prohibits the selective resurrection of a statute that has not been used for many decades - it is dead-letter. Moreover, the Logan Act is unconstitutional insofar as it prohibits the exercise of free speech.

If it were good law, former Presidents Reagan and Carter would have been prosecuted: Reagan for negotiating with Iran's ayatollahs when he was president-elect, to delay releasing the American hostages until he was sworn in; Carter for advising Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to reject former President Clinton's peace offer in 2000-2001. Moreover, Jesse Jackson, Jane Fonda, Dennis Rodman and others who have negotiated with North Korea and other rogue regimes would have gone to prison.

So there was nothing criminal about Flynn's request of Kislyak, even if he were instructed to do so by higher-ups in the Trump transition team. The same is true of his discussions regarding sanctions. The president-elect is entitled to have different policies about sanctions and to have his transition team discuss them with Russian officials.

This is the way The New York Times has put it: "Mr. Flynn's discussions with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, were part of a coordinated effort by Mr. Trump's aides to create foreign policy before they were in power, documents released as part of Mr. Flynn's plea agreement show. Their efforts undermined the existing policy of President Barack Obama and flouted a warning from a senior Obama administration official to stop meddling in foreign affairs before the inauguration."

If that characterization is accurate, it demonstrates conclusively that the Flynn conversations were political and not criminal. Flouting a warning from the Obama administration to stop meddling may be a political sin (though some would call it a political virtue) but it most assuredly is not a crime.
So why did Flynn lie about these conversations, and were his lies even material to Mueller's criminal investigation if they were not about crimes?

The second question is why did Mueller charge Flynn only with lying? The last thing a prosecutor ever wants to do is to charge a key witness with lying.

A witness such as Flynn who has admitted he lied - whether or not to cover up a crime - is a tainted witness who is unlikely to be believed by jurors who know he's made a deal to protect himself and his son. They will suspect that he is not only "singing for his supper" but that he may be "composing" as well - that is, telling the prosecutor what he wants to hear, even if it is exaggerated or flat-out false. A "bought" witness knows that the "better" his testimony, the sweeter the deal he will get. That's why prosecutors postpone the sentencing until after the witness has testified, because experience has taught them that you can't "buy" a witness; you can only "rent" them for as long as you have the sword of Damocles hanging over them.

So, despite the banner headlines calling the Flynn guilty plea a "thunderclap," I think it may be a show of weakness on the part of the special counsel rather than a sign of strength. So far he has had to charge potential witnesses with crimes that bear little or no relationship to any possible crimes committed by current White House incumbents. Mueller would have much preferred to indict Flynn for conspiracy or some other crime directly involving other people, but he apparently lacks the evidence to do so.

I do not believe he will indict anyone under the Logan Act. If he were to do so, that would be unethical and irresponsible. Nor do I think he will charge President Trump with any crimes growing out of the president's exercise of his constitutional authority to fire the director of the FBI or to ask him not to prosecute Flynn.

The investigation will probably not end quickly, but it may end with, not a thunderclap, but several whimpers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ben Gurion's True Legacy

I saw this on Rafi's blog, Life in Israel. It is 53 minutes long and worth every minute. Daniel Gordis presents a contrast between the Balfour Declaration and Israel's Declaration of Independence. In the process many myths about Ben Gurion are shattered. Ben Gurion's true feelings about the source of our rights to the land - is the Torah.

 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Demise of the Traditional Jew

Scenes like this are disappearing as more Jews shed their Jewish identities
Once again, words of wisdom from Rabbi Berel Wein. His historical overview of 'what happened' to American Jewry over the last 100 years or so is quite on target. It matches my own view, which I've discussed many times on my main blog. His words follow:

The Jewish community in the United States has changed dramatically over the last sixty years.  A trip down nostalgia lane will reveal that the backbone of the Jewish community in the United States then was the traditional Jew. That Jew did not attend synagogue services often but was somehow vaguely familiar with the prayer service itself. He or she was not strictly observant of the laws of Judaism by any measure of observance but retained a connection to that observance by eating matzo on Pesach, lighting Sabbath candles on Friday night and eating food that had some relationship to being kosher.

That Jew was fiercely loyal to and proud of the fledgling State of Israel and voted on the narrow issue of “is it good for the Jews?” That Jew was still scarred by the economic ravages of the Great Depression. He was determined to give his children a college education, a degree that would guarantee them a profession and a haven of economic security.

That Jew was not wealthy by today’s standards but strove to be part of the emerging middle class, to own a home and an automobile. That Jew was a strong supporter of the then American public school system and hoped that their children would be able to integrate themselves fully into the general American society, without having to intermarry and assimilate completely.

Their children were given a minimalist Jewish education in afternoon or Sunday Hebrew schools that, at most, led to their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. It was better than nothing but only barely so

Most of these were second or third generation Americans, descended from Orthodox Eastern European parents and grandparents. Though they may have loved and cherished their ancestors, they were determined not to be like them in appearance, language and way of life. These traditional Jews became the constituency of the Conservative movement of twentieth century American Jewish life.

Unwilling to commit to the radicalism of Reform but equally unwilling or unable to adjust to a fully observant Jewish lifestyle, the Conservative movement became their logical and confortable home. Though it made few actual ritual demands upon its members, the Conservative movement still retained the flavor of traditional Jewish life and values.

Israel and the Holocaust were the main tenets of its approach to traditional Jewish life and its mission. But as the decades passed these issues receded and faded. In the eyes of many, especially on the Left, Israel was too strong and Germany was no longer considered to be a pariah state.

The children and grandchildren of the old traditional American Jew fought for universal causes and slowly but surely drifted away from any meaningful connection to the Jewish people or to the value system and lifestyle of Judaism itself.

Intermarriage became rampant and complete alienation from Jewish causes and the State of Israel became the norm of the new generation of American Jews. This new American Jew was completely ignorant of his faith and heritage, knew not the history of his or her people and began to internalize the narratives of the enemies of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. This type of Jew became the subtle enemy of his or her own people and self.

All of this was recognized on the ground by the slow but steady erosion of the Conservative movement in American Jewish society. In many respects, it lost its traditional moorings and became only a pale shadow of Reform. The influence of the increasingly hedonistic and loosened bonds of general American culture wreaked havoc among the children of its base constituency.

They were no longer interested in any form of Jewish worship services, no matter how many guitars now accompanied the prayer services. The universal had conquered the particular and the fuzzy ideas of utopianism replaced the hard-core concepts of basic morality that lie at the heart of Jewish thought and social life.

In this atmosphere of blissful ignorance and befuddled goals, support for all Jewish causes declined and loyalty to the State of Israel, as the great accomplishment of the previous century, weakened dramatically. The traditional American Jew of the twentieth century had no descendants and hence no future as well.

It is most unlikely that this tragedy can be averted and reversed in out lifetimes though as a nation we are well accustomed to unforeseen events and miraculous deliverances. The prediction of the past, that in Judaism it is either all or nothing at all, appears to be ominously accurate as far as American Jewry is concerned currently.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ignoring the Forrest

Rabbi Berel Wein
Wisdom from Rabbi  Berel Wein in Arutz Sheva:

We are all aware that our best laid plans and visions of our future are upset when life itself intervenes. We are always blindsided by unforeseen events. We are prone to be distracted and diverted by rather petty, small and even inconsequential events. The great issues that face and even bedevil the Jewish people and the Jewish state rarely receive the attention that they obviously deserve. 

A great deal of this is due to the media frenzy and instant social media communication that characterizes our current society and generation. The constant necessity to produce news – fake or otherwise – drives the crushing creation of distractions and diversions. And these sideshows mesmerize us and we forget what our true goals and policies should be.

We are invested in scandals, personal failures and rumors, and the great issues are ignored. There is no doubt that a price will be exacted for this failure.  The history of the past two centuries in Jewish life worldwide shows clearly the perils of ignoring great ideas while concentrating on passing controversies. 

When Reform and Haskalah were attracting generations of children of previously staunchly Orthodox families, the Orthodox leadership generally ignored the underlying causes for the success of these movements and contended themselves with bans and posters. Instead they argued about women’s education, secular studies, modes of dress, personal rabbinic disputes and controversies and other issues, most of which have long been completely forgotten. Seeing only the trees and never viewing the forest is always a dangerous policy.  

There is currently a controversy here in Israel about the kosher status of a certain type of chicken species. Imported from Belgium, this type of chicken was approved as being kosher by a leading charedi kashruth certification organization, one of the more renowned groups here in Israel. However, as can be expected in any type of kashruth question and innovation, there is always another rabbinic opinion. 

And the other well-known rabbinic kashruth authorities declared that this type of chicken was not acceptable. The media had, and continues to have, a field day regarding this controversy. As is usual in such instances, families have been split, dishes have been discarded and destroyed and the poster wars have been renewed and intensified. 

And the other well-known rabbinic kashruth authorities declared that this type of chicken was not acceptable. The media had, and continues to have, a field day regarding this controversy. As is usual in such instances, families have been split, dishes have been discarded and destroyed and the poster wars have been renewed and intensified. 

This is very reminiscent of the rabbinic dispute in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries regarding the newly discovered American turkey.  For almost a century, the controversy regarding this bird continued until the Jewish people, by practice, decided that the American turkey was just a big chicken and therefore a kosher bird, as it is universally accepted today. 

I have no idea what the eventual Jewish decision regarding the fate of the Belgian chicken in our kitchens, but like most disputes of this type, I expect this controversy to continue for some time.  But the fate of the Belgian chicken and the attention that it is receiving is a distraction. The real issue that the rabbinate should be dealing with is education, outreach and adjustment to modern changes, which are the stuff of today’s important issues.

The existential issues facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel are unfortunately numerous and serious. Iran is the Hitler of our time and cannot be ignored. The Jewish people and its religious leadership have to prepare their societies for this looming crisis. Iran is not a matter of Belgian chickens. 

Demonstrations against the Israel Defense Forces are not only foolish and wrong but they are completely irrelevant to the Jewish future. The complete alienation of so much of the Jewish people certainly has to be addressed. But one hears very little from the top about this danger, which is certainly as existential as Iran is. The Talmud allows for questions to which it has no answers. Even without having answers to problems, the problems themselves should be raised, addressed and discussed. 

We are wasting assets and valuable resources on distractions and diversions. Our leadership, as well as all of us, must somehow rise over this and concentrate on the real issues and problems that face us. But we are very attracted to these diversions. We prefer to play with the toys that are strewn throughout our daily lives. It is much easier to avoid the real issues than to face up to them. At the very least we should be able to identify and reject these confusing disturbances.