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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rabba Hurwitz?

Rabba? What’s next? Rava? This is really getting ridiculous.

Rabbi Avi Weiss has ordained the first female Orthodox rabbi. Her name is Sara Hurwitz.

We can discuss whether what he did was appropriate and what the impact is on overall Orthodoxy. There is debate about whether that is a good idea or a bad one. One can discuss the legitimacy of ordaining women.

As I have said in the past I do not see anything Halachicly wrong with it since today’s version of Semicha has absolutely no basis in Halacha.

It is just recognition that one has studied and mastered certain sections of the Shuchan Aruch, knows how to learn Gemarah, has successfully studied it along with Rishonim and Poskim for many years, has exemplary Midos, and will faithfully promote and beautify the ideals of Torah.

Passing tests to that effect grants one permission to serve as a rabbi in any Orthodox community.

As I have said before - I am nevertheless opposed it for various reasons. I’m not going to rehash them all here. Suffice it to say that I do not believe it is normative Judaism even if it is technically not against Halacha.

But like it or not the fact is that Rabbi Weiss has by his own admission conferred Semicha upon Ms. Hurwitz. That makes her a rabbi. Not a Maharat. Not a Rabba. But a Rabbi. An Orthodox one. It is insulting to call her anything else and I challenge him to rectify that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Multiple Choice Quiz

Can anyone identify who made the following comment?

Because the Jewish people remain witnesses to God’s presence and to divine revelation at Sinai, Hitler knew that to destroy God and God’s moral law, he needed to murder the Jewish people first. This is an enormously significant theological statement, acknowledging that Jews and Judaism continue to play an essential role in the unfolding of God’s plan for humanity.

Let me help with a list of possible candidates:

A) Ghandi
B) Abraham Foxman
C) Pope Benedict
D) Rabbi Marvin Hier
E) Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel
F) President Barack Obama

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Analysis of my Latest Poll

The poll to the right closed yesterday. I have analyzed the results on my primary blog Emes Ve-Emunah where it will get more attention because I think the results of this poll are important. I am reposting it here for convenience.

There were 129 respondents to to a poll asking what issues are the most important ones affecting Orthodox Judaism in our day.
First the standard disclaimer: This poll was not scientific. I realize that it is not necessarily representative of all of Orthodox Jewry. For one thing the number of respondents is less than a tenth of my readership. And my readership is heavily weighted toward right wing modern Orthodox and moderate Charedim (as per my last poll results). Nonetheless I somehow think that it more or less reflects Orthodox thinking - even if not in the exact proportion that the poll indicated. Here are the categories - in alphabetical order - and the breakdown:


Agunos 0%

Cheating the government 9%

Kids at risk 6%

Poverty 10%

Sex abuse 10%

Shiduchim 1%

The slide to the right 26%

Tuitions 36%
Here is my homegrown analysis.
Considering the fact that every other category has either devastating effects on the family or is responsible for major Chilul HaShem, it was a bit surprising that tuition costs were the number one concern. 36% of those who responded indicated that tuition is the biggest problem facing Orthodoxy in our day.
I suppose that most people realize that most of the other problems on the list are more devastating to those individuals personally affected by them. But I guess when you get hit in the pocket book that is what you feel the most. I also realize that tuition obligations are back breaking to most families. Very few of us pay full tuition. And tuition costs hit everyone (i.e. - those with children). That is perhaps why this category received the greatest number of votes.
$100,000 sounds like a pretty good income. But is it? A typical family like that with say 5 children at a cost of $10,000 (minimally) per child will have a tuition bill $50,000. How many people even make $100, 000 per year? And yet - is it even a consideration that such a family pay half of their pre-tax income for tuition? Of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean they don’t pay anything. Families like these are asked to pay as much of that $50,000 as they can. That means sacrificing a lot.
Most families make less than six figure incomes and more than a few have more than 5 children. They are squeezed the most. I guess I shouldn’t wonder why parents seem to be focusing on this issue. Financial pressures can break down a family. Squeezing parents like this does not help.

To the average tuition paying parent this is what is what seems to be on their daily plate. How are they going to be able to afford to pay tuition? How will they be able to live a half way decent middle class lifestyle without maximizing debt – even at $100,000 per year?And yet from the school’s perspective – how can they ask for less? The teachers deserve to be paid. By not maximizing tuition schools run the risk of falling short in their payroll - especially in this economy where fund raising efforts are being negatively affected.
Of course I have been through all this before. The cost of Jewish education is definitely a major issue for our time - a fact that I have never disputed. And one that seems to defy solution. It’s just that some of these other problems seem to be a so much more serious in the over-all scheme of things.
Is not sex abuse a bigger issue?
Or the poverty that is rampant in the more Charedi sectors – especially among the Avreichim in Israel?

What about Shiduchim? How many young women – and even some young men - are there that are single and desperately trying to get married and getting older with every passing moment? That population seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in all segments of Orthodoxy.
What about the slide to the right? Doesn’t that affect us all? Taken to its logical conclusion, doesn’t living in a world full of isolationism, ignorance, and Chumra scare anyone? On the other hand this category got the second highest number of votes at 26%. But that is still a full 10 points lower than the concern over the cost of Jewish education.

What about the rampant disregard for the laws of the land that result in cheating the government? Is the huge Chilul HaShem resulting form that a cause for great concern? Does that not increase anti-Semitism in the world? That affects all of us.
What about Agunos? OK, I realize that as a percentage of the population they are very small. But what does it matter how small the numbers are when it God forbid happens to you? Can anyone imagine what it is like to be an Agunah? Never being able to marry again? This category received no votes at all!
Last but obviously not least what about the Kids at risk phenomenon? This category does not have small numbers. I’m sure that everyone knows at least one family that has a child who is at risk of going off the Derech – or worse. The numbers are so huge that they have evolved into an entire community of their own. One that some experts say is here to stay. Is that not a bigger problem for Orthodoxy than tuition costs.

Please do not misunderstand. The high cost of Jewish education is definitely an important issuee. One which I have addressed many times in the past. But I just didn’t realize it was the number one item on most people’s minds. I guess I was wrong.

I guess the question now is - what do we do about it?
Notice: I will shortly (hopefully) have a new poll up.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Murder Ain't Beanbag

Post of the Day

The story is unbelievable. Mercy is being asked by activists. They want the governor to commute his sentence. According to this report this man is truly remorseful and has done Teshuva. He is currently as observant as possible under his imprisonment conditions.

While I’m sure he is sincere, he did brutally murder someone. And although he was under the influence of drugs at the time - murder ain’t beanbag (to paraphrase Congressman Tip O’Neil of the Reagan era).

He has also asked for a Kosher burial after his execution now scheduled for February 16th. I don’t think that should be a problem. What a sad sad story!

From VIN:

Florida - On January 12, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a death warrant for Martin Grossman, convicted of murdering a Pinellas County wildlife officer in 1984. Grossman was 19 years old when he and a friend went to a wooded area in Pinellas County, Florida to shoot a stolen handgun.

Grossman, who was on probation for burglary when the event occurred, pleaded with Florida Wildlife Officer Margaret Park not to report the incident as both possession of the weapon and being outside of Pasco Country, were violations of his parole agreement. When Park attempted to radio for help, Grossman struck her, while his accomplice beat Park. Grossman, who was high on drugs when the incident occurred, wrestled Park’s gun away from her and shot her in the back of the head.

Activists, who argue that while Grossman is guilty of murder, he never should have been found guilty of murder one or placed on death row, are gearing up to ask Governor Crist to commute Grossman’s death sentence. Grossman is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on February 16th at 6 PM.

VIN News has learned that Grossman, who practices Judaism as much as possible in the Florida prison, has requested a proper Jewish burial.

Rabbi Menachem Katz of The Aleph Institute, an organization that provides for the needs of Jewish inmates and their families told VIN News that there is a strong case to be made for commuting Grossman’s death sentence. According to Rabbi Katz, not only was this not a premeditated murder, but Grossman was high on numerous drugs at the time of the crime, had a very difficult upbringing which affected him psychologically and is not the same person he was 25 years ago.

Rabbi Katz, who visited Grossman last week on death watch and received special permission from the warden to allow Grossman to put on Tefillin, says that Grossman “has changed a great deal and is highly remorseful.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Suicide Bomber or Orthodx Jew?

This is from Ha'aretz. But it has been widely reported. Should one put on Teffilin in a plane if that is the only time he will be able to do it that day? One young Orthodox passenger thought it was OK and did. What happened to him? Read on.

A U.S. Airways passenger plane was diverted to Philadelphia on Thursday after a religious item worn by a Jewish passenger was mistaken as a bomb, Philadelphia police said.

A passenger was alarmed by the phylacteries, religious items which observant Jews strap around their arms and heads as part of morning prayers, on the flight from New York's La Guardia airport heading to Louisville.

"Someone on the plane construed it as some kind of device," said officer Christine O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia police department.

No one was arrested or charged, O'Brien said.

The plane landed without incident and the passengers and crew were taken off the plane, a spokesman for U.S. Airways said.

Phylacteries, called tefillin in Hebrew, are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them. Observant Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm each weekday morning.

Thursday's incident was the latest of several false alarms on U.S. flights since the Dec. 25 incident in which a Nigerian man attempted to detonate a bomb in his underpants from materials he smuggled onto the plane just as his flight was about to land in Detroit, authorities said.

The device did not explode and only burned the man, who was pounced on by fellow passengers. Since then several flights have been diverted by security scares that have turned out to be harmless.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rules of the Road

This little gem was written by a Baal Teshuva. But these are words of wisdom most everyone should hear. From Beyond BT it is my 'post of the day'.

1. Listen to the wise advice of Pirkei Avos. Make yourself a rabbi and acquire yourself a friend. It’s essential to have a reachable rabbi who has a good brain, a good heart, a sense of humor and lots of practical good sense. It’s also important to have an understanding and patient friend whom you can cry on, vent on and kvetch on.

2. Don’t be like the guy who’s always changing the hands on his wristwatch whenever he spots a different time on someone else’s. Maybe, just maybe, the other guy is wrong! And that’s even if the other guy is an FFB going back to the Vilna Gaon. That’s why you need the reachable rabbi and the patient friend mentioned in #1.

3. Having too much money will never be a problem again.

4. Having too much leisure time will also never be a problem again.

5. Angels are perfect. Human beings, even if they wear black hats or sheitels, are not.

6. It is the most wonderful experience in the world to be a grandparent to frum from birth grandchildren. Unfortunately, you first have to pass through a stage known as Being a Parent. Being a parent to frum children is a three-way race to see what you lose first: all your sanity, all your money, or all your hair.

7. Parts of New York are their own planet.

8. Do one tremendous awesome Yom Kippur to atone for all of those sins in your previous non-frum existence. From then on, take it one year at a time.

9. Learn to read Hebrew. You don’t need to actually speak it, unless you’re planning on moving to Israel. You do, however, need to learn frummisher sprach (all of those Yiddish-Yinglish-whatever slangy expressions which are sprinkled through FFB speech). “Our b’chor won Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah at his Yeshiva Gedola by pledging to learn two thousand blatt.” “Bli ayin harah, my machatenesta is in remission from yenem’s machalah.” “The rav’s aynekel’s bris was on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, so they invited the entire kehillah to a fleishige seudah in the shul sukkah.” English, of course, right? But would anyone not part of our culture understand what you were trying to say?

10. Reach out beyond your reachable rabbi and your patient friend to a support group, like the people right here at Beyond BT dot com.

11. Distinguish between those family members who are supportive and those who are toxic. Spend quality time with those who are supportive and caring. Send Rosh Hashanah cards once a year to those who are not.

12. Gehinnom was created on Erev Shabbos. That’s why Fridays are frantic and stress-filled no matter whether sunset is four-thirty or eight-thirty.

13. Bosses are generally more willing to let you leave early on Friday if you work late on Thursday. The problem is, that’s also when you have to shop and cook for Shabbos. So say goodbye to any chance of getting to sleep at a decent hour Thursday nights.

14. If you have two cents the kids’ yeshivos will take it. See Number Three above.

15. Find a spouse who’s in it for the long haul.

16. Pray to G-d a lot.

I’m sure my fellow BT’s out there will have their own tips, strategies and survival secrets to pass along to new BT’s (hopefully without scaring them off).

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Kind of Orthodox Jew Are You?

I have just concluded a poll on this blog that asked what the Hashkafa of my readers are. It is not a scientific poll. Far from it. For one thing not everyone who reads this blog participated. There were only 112 respondents. I have thousands of readers on my primary blog Emes Ve-Emunah on a regular basis. But I still think that the results are probably fairly accurate. They more or less matched my expectations.

In the categories I listed here is the breakdown:

Chasidic: 4%
Right Wing Charedi: 2%
Moderate Charedi: 26%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 31%
Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 23%
Lubavitch: 6%
Orthoprax: 5%

Here is my very unscientific analysis.

Most of my readership is drawn from those who generally agree with me and are closest to my Hashkafa. I am basically a Right Wing Orthodox Jew (with an asterisk – in some things I might be in the moderate Charedi camp and in others I may be in the LWMO camp).

At 31% - it is the largest percentage and seems to be drawn from this group.

At 26%- Moderate Charedim are a close second which to me indicates that they pretty much tend to like what I write and identify with many (but not all) of my positions. In conversations with moderate Charedim who have mentioned that they read my blog - this is what they say.

I would also note that the close numbers between RWMO and moderate Charedim supports my theory that our values and views are similar. That – in turn - supports my theory that these two groups are well suited for the integration that is going on. The two categories combine form a majorty of the posters who responded

At 23% - I was a bit surprised that LWMO had such high numbers. I guess there are many from that demographic that identify with my views on the Issues. That is an encouraging sign. That said, it is also very possible that my readership does not support me at all and just reads my blog to see my views – agree or not.

At 4% - I was a surprised at the low numbers of Chasidim. I guess my strong criticisms of Chasidim like Satmar and Toldos Ahron in Meah Sheraim and Chasidic Rebbes like the Spinka Rebbe pushed many of them away.

At 2% - I was not at all surprised by the low numbers of RW Charedim. They are understandably turned off by my questioning their hard core values

Lubavitch obviously has a problem with me. I have been very critical of them and continue to be. Boyotting me is therefore not al that surprising. On the other had – at 6% they were the largest of thsoe who only garnered single digits.

Orthoprax Jews got 5% of the vote. I suppose that these observant skeptics do not consider my views about the Torah to be Emes. They probably see them as being more about Emunah. But at the same time they must also see that I do not question the sincerity of their doubt. And do not dismiss them as just a bunch of Kofrim.

So, I am a bit surprised at just how their proportion is here.

Those are some of my observations. YMMV (Your mileage may vary). I fully accept that these numbers may in fact not be accurate and that my analysis may be off.

Update: (1/19/10 - 10:27am CST): A new poll is up.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Michael Medved's Kiddush HaShem

The Tonight Show and the personalities surrounding it have been in the news a lot lately. NBC has become an object of ridicule of late because of all the controversy about the hosts and the changing time slots . But here is an inspiring story involving that show that happened many years ago. It was both materially rewarding, a Kiddush HaShem, and a tribute to Michael Medved.

Hat tip: Saul Z. Neuman

When The Tonight Show invited the Sabbath-observant Medved to discuss his awful movies, he had to beg off because it was scheduled for the night of the second Passover Seder. The producer suggested an alternate date, but that date was on the last days of Passover, which also precluded participation. At this point, the disbelieving producer said that there would be no more alternative dates.

Desperate, Medved read the producer the biblical passage forbidding work at the end of Passover, and the producer relented. Medved's eventual appearance was viewed by another producer, of Sneak Previews, who offered Medved a spot on the show. Of course, the episode on which Medved appeared was the only time that year the Sneak Previews producer had watched The Tonight Show, making this the 20th-century equivalent of a Hasidic tale, where strict observance begets material success.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Setting the Record Straight

Post of the Day

Occasionally I will be putting up what I believe is the best or most interesting post I have seen while perusing some of the blogs I regularly read. Today is one of those days.

The post of the day is the Shannon Orand story on Failed Messiah. Here is it is in her own words:

I was married to Charles Brady Orand. Brady had several affairs. I was very much a Christian. I believed if I prayed enough God would change him. That wasn’t going to happen.

My husband had wanted some sexual things that I wasn't comfortable with but did because they were important to him.

Brady was working in Ohio and coming home every other weekend. I decided to surprise him for Valentine’s one year and went up there and met all of his friends in a bar up there – a get-together party I went to.We fought while I was up there and we decided to get divorced.

When I got back I got calls from two women. They told me I’d done the right thing. Brady had been sleeping with both of them and neither knew about the other or that he was married. So I separated, took the kids and went to an apartment.

I had kind of left Christianity and was not doing much at all religiously…

There are rumors I had affairs. That’s not true … I started seeing a secular Israeli guy…very anti-religious, very against everything I now stand for.…He was also separated and going for a divorce.

He wanted to take me to Israel to meet all his friends over there.When I was in Tel Aviv I contacted my mother. She was very religious, very Christian, and she was complaining I was spending all my time in Tel Aviv partying, going to clubs and meeting his friends and family, and on the beach. You’re in Israel and you’re not going to see the places Jesus was? So I decided to spend one day in Jerusalem. When I came back I started going back to a messianic synagogue – I had been involved in the messianic movement but not so seriously – and at the same time I started studying all the counter-missionary stuff. And then I started my studies [for conversion to Orthodox Judaism]. That started my studies.

During the separation Brady molested my daughter. She was mine before I married him. She’s from my first marriage. My son is from my second marriage to Brady. She knew him as daddy. So when we were separated, that was her house, too, and she wanted to go back to visit and she wanted to see him. We had two kids – she didn’t know him as a stepdad.When she had weekends available, she would go visit just like my son would go visit, just like a normal visitation, even though she wasn’t his child.

She was ten. My son was five.One of the times, she came back, and nothing happened. But the next week – it was vacation, it was the 4th of July – she was supposed to go with him because I had to work and then go with my mother for the rest of the week, but she said no, I don’t want to go to daddy, I want to say here. We tried to talk her into it. She got very upset and said she can’t go. She pulled my niece aside and said you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to tell grandma not to let me go to daddy’s.

The next day my mother called me and said we have to talk. The reason my daughter didn’t want to go is because on the last visit he got into bed with her and messed with her. He fingered her and he hurt her. She said, “Daddy you’re hurting me,” but he wouldn’t stop.

My son and my daughter were in bed together when Brady abused my daughter. My daughter got away from him by asking to use the bathroom, and she tried to stay in the bathroom for a long time hoping he would fall asleep. But then she went back in the bed. We asked her why and she said, “Because my brother was there, I didn’t want him to hurt him. He was going to hurt my brother.” Brady was charged. We prepared for the trial. The prosecution had the doctor’s report of my daughter’s medical examination. It showed the physical damage. The first day of the trial he decided to take the plea bargain, which was ten years probation. So he didn’t have to serve time.

I was abused as a kid. I was so young, it wasn’t as if I was being violated – it was all that I knew. My daughter was old enough to know she was being violated. It started when I was three and I didn’t know anything was wrong until I was nine years old and there was a McGruff the Crime Dog program at school telling kids what’s wrong and what’s right. If anyone does this to you you go to an adult. That was the first time I knew anything was wrong and I right away said someone does that to me! A much older step-brother, my mother’s husband’s son.

My abuse was long-term. My daughter’s was one time, maybe. I thought maybe she wouldn’t suffer so much, but she did. She suffered terribly.She chose to go to an all girls school just to avoid being around boys. She used to put up booby traps in her room when she’d sleep so no one could get in. She’s been affected very, very much.It was a long divorce. He told friends that it wasn’t true, that he didn’t abuse my daughter, and that that this was all about me wanting to get half of the house. So I ended up dropping everything and signing the divorce papers right away and left with nothing and threw all of my focus into my daughter’s case. And then we went to the criminal trial.He pled guilty in 2007. I agreed to the plea bargain that was in print. There were special restrictions for sex offenders. One of those was that he could not have any access to children under the age of eighteen.

While they were in front of the judge, his attorney said he wanted to add a line on there: “With the exception of my son, if the family court permits.” So he hand-wrote that on there.

The judge looked at that and said, that’s for the family courts to decide, and okayed it, not knowing there was already a standing court order – which was a divorce – which was a standard custody just like any other father gets, full access to my son.

So the DA took me out and said this was approved, this was put in there, you go to a family court right away and get this changed, so he can’t have access to your son. And that’s what I did.

He fought it and said he wants standard visitation. I wanted to leave Houston and get as far away from him as I can so he couldn’t have access to my son. My attorney said you’re going to have to take this to trial, and the trial is going to cost you at least $20,000. I went to friends. I went to advocacy organizations. I tried to find someone to take the case pro bono. She tried to bide time while I tried to come up with the $20,000. It wasn’t working and we had a deadline.

She said: Either you come up with the money for the trial or we have to withdraw the case – and then it reverts back to the family court order and he gets full access to your son. And that is when I approached Rabbi Tropper, who was overseeing my conversion. He had access to money. He’s an organization and he had access to Tom Kaplan. He was a rabbi. I ended up crying to him about everything. I even told him about my husband's sexual demands. Tropper offered to help me. That was May 2009.

He created a job for me with EJF. He brought me to Monsey to meet everybody in the office, to have meetings with Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Medows about how I could help. I was going to raise money and I was going to run programs in Houston. That was June. He started pressuring me.The video was the first recording I did. It was in Monsey on that trip. That’s when I bought the camera. I didn’t have time to set it up. The date’s wrong on the video. When I saw it I said, oh, that’s wrong.

He wanted to get me together with his wife. He said he wouldn’t touch me. I didn’t know if she was going to do it. He asked what it would take to get me together with his wife. I said it made me very uncomfortable. I tried to get out of it a little bit and Tropper could tell I was uncomfortable. He said: Maybe if I wasn’t there you’d be more comfortable. Then I talked to Leba and found out she’d never really been with a woman. She’d just been making up stories to please Tropper. They were just lies. She’s very submissive. She’s a victim in all this. So I told Tropper I’d be much more comfortable if he wasn’t there, and if it would be an ‘encounter’ we’d tell him about later. Tropper wanted to be there for the last five minutes. He still said he wasn’t going to touch me but I wasn’t so sure, so I went out and bought the camera. Leba and I didn’t do anything. We just rehearsed our story, the story we would tell Tropper. When he called to say he was coming we got undressed and waited.

I knew someone who was well-connected in Israel with the rabbis. The tapes were supposed to go to leading rabbis and everything was supposed to be handled internally. And it was working. Rabbi Amar broke with EJF and the European rabbis publicly condemned EJF.

But someone leaked the tapes.I didn’t know my name was on one until you told me on the phone. It was horrible. The trial was supposed to conclude Monday. My daughter was supposed to testify in the morning and then the verdict would have been that afternoon. When we got to court my ex-husband’s attorney had copies of the New York Post article. Because it said the money Tropper was giving me was for legal fees, it was admissible. My ex-husband’s attorney had been terrible throughout the trial. We’d been living as frum Jews for years, and his attorney used that against us. He played up Orthodoxy as some kind of religious cult. He made Modern Orthodoxy seem like hasidim. He also kept saying it was only one time, and that’s horrific to me, because how many times is okay for a father to rape a ten year old girl?

There was child porn. I found a lot of it [before the molestation]. He came up with excuses why it was there I fell for.My attorney pulled me aside and said I’d have to explain the article on the stand. I said, “No, I can’t. This is a different case. It’s not relevant. It has nothing to do with my children. Somehow you’ve got to get it out of there.” But she said, no, it’s totally relevant. In there it says the money you received went to the attorneys. My attorneys had been in touch with Tropper all the time. Tropper is a control freak. He had constant contact with them wanting to know what was going on, and he was sending the checks. And they knew all the money was coming from him. And that put us in a tough spot, because we’d have to say the money came from him.

This would have extended the trial, and I was already $10,000 negative – the money Tropper wasn’t going to give me. She said, “Gosh, you can’t afford this, another week or two or three at $2,000 per day for me to represent you. The audios are going to have to come out.”She said, “Your only choice is to settle. You’re going to have to allow visitation.”I’m looking at a picture of me and Tropper being distributed all over the courthouse. I panicked and I freaked. To me, settlement was the only option we had. There’s no way I could get on the stand and go through all this stuff. I didn’t know until the Friday you called me that my name was connected to it.

They wanted regular visits with his wife as supervisor. I said no way. She’s never going to tell if something is wrong and she has to sleep sometime. She can’t stay awake for seventy-two hours three days straight. My son and my daughter were in the bed together when he abused her, and he had a girlfriend in the house. So just because she’s there it’s not going to protect my kid. So then it was, he can have visitation but no overnight visits. That’s what it ended up being. He can have them for the three days and his wife is the supervisor but he can’t keep them overnight.“It was horrible watching my daughter fall apart like that. She’s just now getting better.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heeb?

Joe Aaron, editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News is a brilliant but controversial writer. He writes a weekly column on various Jewish topics in the back of his paper. While I don't always agree with him, I admire his skill in presenting his view. And very often - I do agree with him. This is one of those times.

The following is an excerpt from last week's column. This one... I agree with.

Do we have to demean Judaism in order to save it? I have always hated Heeb magazine. That's the magazine begun as a way to reach out to young Jews who don't care about Judaism. It's supposed to grab them by being hip, irreverent, cutting edge.

Instead, it's mostly disgusting.

First, the name. How sad to use a slur as a way to attract young Jews. Those who hate us have called us Heeb, which is why we shouldn't use it any more than any self-respecting black publication would use the n-word as its title. I know, I know, using Heeb is supposed to be a way for us to take away the word's power, make it an object of ridicule.

Baloney. It's an ugly word and sends a loud and wrong message to young Jews about what Judaism is about. Even worse, the magazine seems to feel mocking Judaism, diminishing Judaism is the route to getting young Jews to want to embrace Judaism.

Again, I know young people need to be approached in ways they can relate to, in the methods they are used to in today's world. That's fine. But while the means can be unconventional, the goal should be to show young Jews the beauty of Judaism, why living Jewish lives will be so enriching to their lives, will give them meaning and joy.

Instead, among the things Heeb has done is host a Chanukah party featuring a game of "Strip Dreidel," with Jewish porn stars, publish a cover with Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler and baking burnt Jew cookies ... I could go on, but I won't.

Tasteless doesn't begin to describe it. Nauseating comes closer.

Yes, the Jewish world has done a horrible job of finding effective ways of reaching young Jews and making the case to them for being Jewish, but coming out with a magazine named for a slur and celebrating Jewish porn stars, does not convey the essence of Judaism, nor does it tell young Jews that Judaism is anything but to be laughed at.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Tel Aviv Cluster

What a great article about... US! It's by David Brooks. It's in the New York Times. Just had to post it. Read it and enjoy.

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.

In his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.

Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendants have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant’s ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.

No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the Diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics.

Milton Friedman used to joke that Israel disproved every Jewish stereotype. People used to think Jews were good cooks, good economic managers and bad soldiers; Israel proved them wrong.

But that has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation’s public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.

Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.

As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other’s ideas.

Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy’s long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclays write that Israel is “the strongest recovery story” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.

This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And, in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view in places like the West Bank and Jordan.

But it’s more likely that Israel’s economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbors. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centers. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.

For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the U.S. Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.

The tech boom also creates a new vulnerability. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has argued, these innovators are the most mobile people on earth. To destroy Israel’s economy, Iran doesn’t actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.

During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shanon's Story

The following is from a blog called Jewish Israel (JI). It is an interview with Rachel (Shannon) Orand after her conversion to Judaism. The story is riveting! Congratulations to Rachel on her sincere conversion and to JI for getting this 'scoop.' - HM

Jewish Israel would like to wish a heartfelt Mazal Tov to JI member Shannon Orand upon her conversion to Judaism which she received in Israel earlier this week. Welcome to the Jewish people, Rachel (Shannon’s Hebrew name)!

Members of the Beit Din were Chief Rabbi Dov Lior of Hevron, Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, and a respected rabbi who requested that his name be withheld. In addition, another recognized Chief Rabbi facilitated in the conversion process.
Shannon withstood an extremely challenging test over these past few weeks, as news of Leib Tropper’s compromising behavior hit the press and blogosphere. Shannon is a valued member of Jewish Israel. She actively participates in our interactive forums and talkbacks, and provides us with invaluable information. We were in touch with her and very much aware of the disturbing circumstances involving Leib Tropper. We offered Shannon our hopes and prayers for a quick, proper, and decent resolution to this episode. We opted not to publish any information until this incident came to a positive and fruitful conclusion, and indeed it has.
Jewish Israel had the opportunity to speak with Shannon this week, and she graciously afforded us this interview:

[Note: one of the rabbis handling Shannon’s conversion asked that she no longer refer to Leib Tropper as “Rabbi”]

JI: How are you feeling? You’re a Jew now.

Shannon: Relieved after such a long process. I feel like I came out of Egypt. Many potential converts undergo severe testing, and I’ve certainly had my share.
JI: Were the rabbis involved with your conversion fully aware of the episode that transpired over the past few weeks?

Shannon: They were fully aware of the situation, are in possession of tapes, heard evidence, thoroughly questioned me, and required me to submit a written statement.

JI: Is there something you would like the online public to know that was not exposed in the press reports? Is there a statement that you would like to make?
Shannon: I think it needs to be understood that the information which went public was intended for trusted rabbinic authorities only. It should never have been leaked. The worst thing for me is the chilul Hashem that was created by all of this and the pain it has caused the Jewish community. I’m sick over the media’s treatment of this episode and the aspects they chose to focus on.

The outstanding questions are, how did I allow this situation to happen? Why didn't I put a stop to it and just go elsewhere?
But the press reports virtually ignored the fact that I have been immersed in an ongoing legal battle involving my children and my ex-husband who sexually molested my daughter, pleaded guilty, and is a registered sex offender. Leib Tropper was taking care of the tremendous legal expenses I was incurring – which put me in a terribly difficult situation. I don’t think the press or blog reports conveyed the desperate and powerless situation I found myself in.

JI: In addition to the humiliation and pain caused by the Tropper scandal what are the other emotional costs you have incurred?

Shannon: I lost the trial and although my ex-husband is forbidden from seeing my daughter, he has been granted visitation rights to see my son. I had planned on making aliyah, but after this verdict that is no longer possible at this time.

A major concern I have is, how will the people in my community react? They are confused, and because I have been silent thus far, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. I want the opportunity to clear my name, and to be accepted by the community as a Jew.

There are other costs. My mother, who is a devout evangelical/messianic and was never supportive of my conversion efforts, has told me that I’m going to hell and taking her grandchildren with me. My father, who used to be a preacher, has left the church and now considers himself Bnai Noach. He is supportive. (Shannon’s parents are divorced.)

JI: And you still insist on being a Jew after all of this?

Shannon: Yes. I came from an idolatrous Christian background and worshipped a man instead of G-d. And now I have a relationship with G-d that no man can take away from me. I began studying counter-missionary literature when I was part of the church. I realized that the Christian bible had been severely altered, and that’s how I became interested in Judaism.

JI: You’ve had a chance to explore the rigors of the conversion process in both America and in Israel – in the Hareidi and the religious Zionist worlds. Is the approach different?

Shannon: I found that the Israeli process is just as stringent, but was far more focused on what it means to be a Jew, whereas the American Hareidi system placed a great – almost exclusive - emphasis on halacha. For example, the Israeli rabbis asked me questions about halacha, but also asked me questions pertaining to the 13 principles of faith, the idea of messiah, belief in one G-d, the importance of the land of Israel, the mitzvot, and what being a Jew means to me. The American rabbis grilled me on the various laws pertaining to Shabbat observance. I have to say that I found the Israeli approach to be refreshing and inspiring.

I feel very fortunate to have had what I consider to be the best of the best conversions, under such an amazing Beit Din. To be able to sit in front of and speak to such pure individuals that I respect and admire was beautiful. These people understand what it means to be a Jew, that it’s much more than a black hat, and they live it every day.

JI: Shannon, thank you for your honesty. May G-d grant you the strength, focus and wisdom needed to continue on the correct path and to meet the challenges ahead.

We hope the Orthodox community in Houston will welcome Shannon as a valuable member of the Jewish community, assist her, and enable her life and the lives of her children to return to normalcy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Murdering One's Child

What is THIS about? In a post on YWN Zaka founder and former Edah HaCharedis official, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav seems to be implying that a Charedi father murdered his infant? Is that what happened? Is this the harsh realities in the chareidi neighborhood he is talking about? If it is I give him credit for recoginzing that probelms like this exist and bringing them to the attention of the public. The post from YWN follows. - HM

Following the tragedy in the Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood of Yerushalayim earlier in the week that resulted in the death of an infant, by the hands of her father R”L, Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav spoke with Kikar.net, expressing his pain over harsh realities in the chareidi neighborhood.

After having to deal with the infant, even people like Meshi-Zahav find it difficult, overcome with strong emotions and hopefully, a “cheshbon nefesh” as he puts it, the need for the chareidi community to finally come to terms with some harsh realities, realities that we prefer not to admit to ourselves.

Meshi-Zahav, a former ‘operations officer’ of the Eida Chareidis, explained that he lectures in chiloni forums frequently, and discusses difficult issues. He explained that anyone who engages in this type of askanus of Zaka and similar organizations understands these concepts more than the average person.

Meshi-Zahav intervened between police and chareidim present at Bikur Cholim Hospital, and he transferred the body of the infant to Shamgar, to the Chevra Kadisha, explaining the emotions that accompanied him during the trip, a most difficult one, even for someone who has been at the scene of many terrorist attacks, among the most heinous known.

He explained others involved in this kind of work are aware that in the chareidi community, some of the urgent issues, the problems that no one wishes to discuss, are not addressed appropriately - the issues that are ignored in the hope they may disappear, or at the very least, escape the scrutiny of the public eye.

When asked what one can do, he explained a good start would be to prioritize, explaining that while the battle for kedushas shabbos must maintain prominent significance, there are things more important than Intel.

“We of Zaka are the ones who deal with the consequences of such horrific incidents, and we mustn’t close our eyes. Action must be taken, appropriate action, such as in this case as the community becomes aware of a father’s deteriorating mental state”.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Haredi Web geeks fight rabbis' crackdown on Internet

As if to underscore my post on EvE the following story by Yair Ettinger showed up in today's Ha'aretz. Is the Charedi public ignoring the ban? See the bolded section near the end. - HM

Under a blitz attack by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the people behind the country's ultra-Orthodox Web sites are attempting to return fire.

Guy Cohen is the CEO of Global Networks, the Internet media company whose Web portals include the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim. He is threatening a million-shekel lawsuit against Rabbi Moshe Karp of Modi'in Ilit, the behind-the-scenes leader of the three-week-old campaign against the sites.

The campaign has already led to the closure of one major ultra-Orthodox public Internet site and the resignation of key figures from others. Cohen, a businessman who is not religiously observant, is hoping to save Behadrei Haredim, considered the most important ultra-Orthodox Web site.

Haaretz has learned that on Saturday night Cohen met with Karp and gave him a letter claiming that the rabbi, under cover of the official boycott, was slandering him and engineering threats to the site's advertisers. The letter informed Karp he could face NIS 1 million suit for slander.

The boycott began with a letter in the party-controlled ultra-Orthodox dailies that had been signed by dozens of the most important rabbis in the Haredi community, beginning with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the most senior ultra-Orthodox adjudicator, did not sign the letter).

The letter, which Karp is thought to have written, targets not the estimated hundreds of thousands of Haredim who use the Internet, but rather the operators of the Haredi sites.

"Recently, 'Haredi' Internet channels have been sending forth all sorts of reports and gossip and slander against the Haredi public..." the letter said in part.

The undersigned rabbis called on the Haredi community not only to avoid looking at the sites but also not to cooperate them in any way and not to advertise on them as individuals, organizations or companies.

Subsequently, both editors in chief of Hadrei Haredim, David Rotenberg and Dov Povarsky, announced they were leaving the site. One of the sites that continued operation, Kikar Hashabbat, is being attacked directly in the Haredi press. The ban generates headlines on a near-daily basis. Hamodia's front page yesterday featured an article in which the great adjudicator of the Hasidic world, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, was quoted saying that the "steadfast battle against the Internet and 'Haredi' sites that destroy all that is good is a moral war."

Behadrei Haredim continues to operate, and Guy Cohen said recently that user numbers have not declined.

Cohen said he has, however, been hurt by the flight of advertisers from the site.

At a meeting last Saturday night at Rabbi Karp's Modi'in Ilit home, Cohen offered to submit the portal to the rabbis' authority, including increased supervision of forums by the direct representatives of the rabbis. According to sources who attended the meeting, he was rebuffed. Karp demanded that Cohen close the site, and that is when Cohen produced the letter informing

Karp of his intention to sue. Both Karp and Cohen declined comment.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Paving the Road

It seemed like a good idea at the time. When I first heard about the widely attended gay panel at Yeshiva University sponsored by their Wurzweiler Graduate School for Social Work and the YU Tolerance Club – I thought, Wow! ...what a bold move. Finally - a forum whereby one can learn to hate the sin and not the sinner.

I made clear at the time that as long as Halacha is followed one should not condemn someone who is physically attracted to members of the same sex. If one has such a drive but does not act on it, he is to be lauded. And for those who succumb to their Ta’avos, they should be treated no differently than any heterosexual that succumbs to their own forbidden Ta’avos. I of course still feel that way.

Unfortunately most hereosexuals especially religious ones don’t. They tend to feel extreme prejudice against homosexuals. I should add that it is quite understandable that a heterosexual would feel revulsion at gay sex. That makes it very hard even counter-intuitve to be toerant. We have to work very hard to over-look that feeling of revulsion.

But what is revolting to us is normal to a homosexual. By having no Halachicly permissible outlet for their sex drives, one needs to bend over backwards to understand their predicament. It is my understanding that the suicide rate among homosexuals is higher than it is for the general public. I think that the public revulsion to the act that to them is the only act that is sexually gratifying contributes mightily to the potential depression and higher suicide rate they have. They know our revulsion. It depresses them that they are sexuallyaroused on by something that most people are disgusted by.

The assembly in YU a couple of weeks ago did not come off as advertised. Instead of talking about tolerance it ended up almost a legitimizing the lifestyle itself. Maybe not in those explicit terms. But in the over-all tenor of the event.

Rabbi Mayer Twerski spoke passionately about this to students in YU’s Beis HaMedrash earlier this week. Here is an excerpt taken from DovBear who published his words:

Unfortunately, the way the Chillul HaShem unfolded and how the event occurred, it was billed as being gay at YU. The Chillul HaShem unfolded as a reflection on the institution, on all of us, because of people in the event, attending the event, and when that’s how the Chillul HaShem unfolds – not only is there a need to find some forum, some vehicle to go on record against this Chillul HaShem, and in this case the obligation is many times over. The picture projected, one of total distortion, is that it reflects on the yeshiva. It reflects on every segment of the yeshiva, administration, rabbeim, talmidim, everyone was implicated by how the program was projected and how it came off: “Being Gay in YU.” Two of the four presenters also spoke about actual mishkav zachor, in addition to the distortions we’ve spoken up until now. The transcript talks about applause at many points – but no mecha’ah. That’s where the record stands. SO everyone in our community must say that is not us, we reject – we disassociate ourselves from all of that.

I agree. I had no idea this assembly degenerated to that. Had I known I would not have applauded it. I would have condemned it. It was indeed a Chilul HaShem - good intentions gone horribly wrong. Perhaps I should have realized that something like this would happen. But I didn’t and apologize for any contribution - no matter how slight -I made toward that end. I am fully supportive of the Roshei Yeshiva of YU and its administration headed by Presidnt Joel who had earlier expressed similar feelings to those of Rabbi Twersky.

I had originally hoped that the whole world was watching when YU seemed to be confronting an issue that had too long been in the closet. I now regret that it did. Those 6 Roshei Yeshiva who protested it before it happened were right. When there is potential for such a degradation of the Torah, all good intentions should go out the window. Yotzah Sechro BeHefsedo. Any benefit gets washed away by the loss. All I can say in my defense is that my heart was in the right place. I now condemn what happened as a Chilul HaShem.

I think it should be noted that Yeshiva University stood up to the challenge here. This includes not only the faculty of Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva. That was to be expected. It includes almost all of the students and the administration represented by President Richard Joel. There can be no controversy about YU’s position here. YU has certainly had its share of criticism from the right in the past - on many issues. One could debate the legitimacy of those criticisms. Had this event gone un-protested, that criticism would have increased – perhaps rightfully so. Those criticisms would have been difficult to refute.

It should also be noted that the nature of a Yeshiva like YU encourages its students to live in the modern world and it teaches them how to do it. But it is also true that Yeshivos like this are vulnerable to abuse of that approach. To say that something like this could have never happened in Lakewood is true - but there is no comparison.

Lakewood is a closed society. It purposely isolates itself from the culture. There is indeed no way this could ever happen there. The more open minded a school is – the more easily it can fall prey to an event like this. YU is open minded - and it happened there – all with good intentions. Thankfully that was not the end of it. The Yeshiva did the right thing to strongly protest it and set the record straight.

It took courage to have this panel. That ended up being a big mistake.

It took even greater courage to condemn it afterwards. For that it deserves tremendous praise. Self criticism is very hard. I hope that the rest of the Yeshiva world appreciates that.