Monday, December 31, 2012

A Satmar Scribe Writes a Temple Torah

Satmar Sofer Rabbi Moshe Eisenbach and his temple patrons
photo credit - NJJN
The New Jersey Jewish News reports that a Sofer (scribe) from Williamsburg has written a Sefer Torah for a Reform Temple. I guess some Satmar Chasidim are more open minded than one would ever believe about them.  Rabbi Moshe Eisenbach has written one knowing it will be used by a Reform Temple. This goes just a wee bit beyond recognizing heterodox movements. Doesn’t it?

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about Satmar and Reform… along comes a story like this and completely throws you for a loop. I’m glad the Satmar Rebbe approves. Apparently. But what Agudah would say?

The Hachnosas Sefer Torah was held on Saturday, December first at a Reform Temple in Edison New Jersey. There was singing and dancing accompanied by the beautiful voice of Cantor Jacqueline Marx (who often play guitar at the service). This Shabbos had additional musicians - a pianist, woodwind player and drummer.  After the hoopla The Torah was read and a beautiful time was had by all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Believe Him

Photo illustration courtesy the Forward
Today’s Forward features an article by Macy Gordon’s victim. As it pertains to YU’s overall response to this both now and in the past I have an only one word response and I will repeat it many times: Investigation, investigation, investigation!  The Forward article follows:

The author claims to have been sodomized by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a former teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, while a student at the school in the late 1970s and early ’80s. His was one of the accusations reported in the Forward’s December 21 issue, in “Student Claims of Abuse Not Reported by Y.U. Leader.”

I am Macy Gordon’s accuser. My allegations are true, yet I understand why some people may doubt my claims. I wish now to respond to some of the comments I have read in the wake of the Forward’s revelations and to make a few statements of my own.

To those who say that pedophiles exploit more than one child and that there must be other victims — you are correct. There was at least one more victim but he has not come forward. I cannot speak for him, but for me the exposing of this abuse has evoked nightmares and forced me to relive traumatic events that I had put behind me. Although I have asked to be anonymous, there is no guarantee that my identity will remain protected, and that is a risk I take. If other victims decide to remain silent out of fear or otherwise, that is their right, but it does not make me a liar.

To those who knew or know Rabbi Gordon and respect him, shock and denial is a reasonable response; however, surely they know that this was the reaction in the cases of Jerry Sandusky and many Catholic clergy. It is that very veneer of respect that might enable some of these infamous pedophiles to commit serial crimes. If it were the janitor, he would be reported immediately. But when a revered member of society commits these crimes, victims are confused and are frightened of the perpetrator’s authority. Their stature also grants these pedophiles a lesser degree of suspicion. That, too, intimidates victims.

To those who are outraged that these individuals are being tried in the press, this was the last — and only — resort. Rabbi Norman Lamm, Y.U,’s former president, admitted that staff who had improper sexual activity were let go, especially if it was what he called a “cut-and-dry case.” In my case we reported the activity to Y.U. and as far as I know they did not investigate further, although I gave them the name of another victim. That also means they did not try to evaluate or assist that other student.

After so many years, the statute of limitations has expired. Others have previously pleaded with Y.U. to investigate past sex abuses but were ignored. The only way this has gotten any attention was through the media. Whatever you think of the Forward, the paper’s staffers are not stupid. Trust me that they did their due diligence, interviewed me a number of times and still took great risks to publish my account.

To those who doubt my account because of the details, that hurts me the most. You are essentially accusing me of being not just a liar, but also a bad liar. Would you be more satisfied if I said I had been raped? It should be self-evident that victims do not choose their method of assault.

To you victims of sexual abuse who are still struggling to find your way, I understand you. Perhaps you blame yourself. Your response is normal. In fact, you are entitled to whatever feelings you have about this. You are also entitled to get professional help, which is what I did. You may want to reconsider your connection to religion, but I encourage you to not let the predator rob you of your ties to Judaism. Find the best values that religion has to offer and live by them, as I do. Gemilut chesed, acts of loving-kindness will help you heal. Dedicate yourself to some form of community service and your faith in people and yourself will be restored.

To the Orthodox who are grappling with this, some of you are stuck between the concepts of lashon hara, gossiping, and motzi shem ra, discussing false accusations. This is a reflex response for some of you, but also a convenient way to stifle discourse on an important topic for the community.

To Rabbi Macy Gordon, you are now an old man, but you were in your prime when you assaulted me. Although you had no compassion for me, I have some rachmanus, compassion for you. I feel bad for you that you must deal with this now at this stage of life. And I feel very sad for your children. This cannot be easy on them, but it is your own fault.

Also your fault is that I cannot daven the shmone esrei in peace and often skip it entirely. That is because you required us to memorize the modim and I find myself thinking of what you did to me. It is your fault that it took me many years to trust people again.

To Rabbi Norman Lamm, how is it that you do not now remember the “shock” that we were told you experienced upon hearing of my molestation at the hands of Macy Gordon? I suppose a $250,000 donation to name a scholarship after Gordon is incentive enough to forget.

To current Y.U. President Richard Joel, what will you do now? Will you allow the Macy Gordon scholarship to stand? In the end, I have to say that I did learn some things during my time at Yeshiva:

1.To distrust authority, especially the clergy.

2. That the Orthodox are for sure better at observing various rituals but are just as corrupt and unethical as everyone else (they just don’t see it that way).

I want to share a story that even I find incredible in retrospect. I once was caught cheating on a chumash test in Macy Gordon’s class, but I tried to lie about it. I was sent down to the office of the assistant principal, George Finkelstein, where he looked at me sternly and said, “Averah goreret averah” — “One sin begets another.” Indeed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sober Analysis of the Weberman Verdict

Weberman and an attorney at trial
The following is an article in the Forward. It does cast somewhat of a shadow on the verdict as the author suggests. I agree with her that it would be helpful if more victims came forward and make their experiences public. 

I have been assured by my contacts in that community that there are more victims who have indeed come forward privately but fear retribution if they were to go public. I hope that some of them do summon the courage to come forward so that there can be no mistake about Weberman's guilt. The article follows in its entirety. 

On December 10, Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed youth and marriage counselor in the Satmar community of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, was convicted of 59 counts of sexual misconduct against a minor.

As in any trial, the judge reminded the jurors that the defendant’s guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” But with Weberman now facing a possible prison sentence of 25 years or more, it is worth asking what exactly has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether it was Weberman’s community as much as his actions — deplorable if true — being judged in the docket with him.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s case hinged exclusively on the credibility of the team’s single witness — the young woman accusing Weberman of sexually abusing her during each of their counseling sessions, which often took place multiple times a week, beginning when she was 12 and ending when she was 15. Though there have been reports of other victims, both from religious support groups for victims as well as from the DA, none have come forward. Weberman has flatly denied the allegations. When asked if he had ever touched his accuser inappropriately, he said, “Never, ever.” Absent DNA evidence, the case is a he said, she said. The verdict hung ultimately on whose testimony the jury found more credible.

Related Hasidic Sex Abuse Victims Advocate Hit With Bleach Nechemya Weberman Convicted in Sex Case Most Brooklyn Abuse Cases Involve Kin Weberman’s defense team questioned the accuser’s credibility by arguing that she had two very strong motives for wanting to harm Weberman. First, the accuser’s sister owed the defendant $35,000, the first $10,000 of which was due six days before she went to the police to report Weberman. And second, Weberman had assisted the accuser’s father in taping her having sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend when she was 15, leading to the boyfriend’s arrest. On the stand, Weberman’s accuser denied that she knew of his involvement in the arrest, stating that she learned of it only this past summer, though Weberman’s name was explicitly stated as an accomplice during her original complaint to the New York City Police Department, two years ago.

The defense team also pointed to discrepancies noted when comparing the accuser’s testimony in court with her conversation with the arresting detective, to whom she made the original complaint. Furthermore, the top two counts for which Weberman was standing trial were on dates of alleged abuse that didn’t match the victim’s statement to the NYPD. For these reasons, Weberman’s attorney argued, none of the evidence against his client is provable beyond reasonable doubt, and the case should be dismissed.

On the other side of the aisle, the DA’s office painted Weberman as a sexual predator with a harem of young girls to satisfy his every sexual need. But their main attempts to discredit him came not from testimonies of other victims, of which there were none, but rather from his shady business dealings and his position in the male-dominated Satmar world. They said he used a credit card belonging to his charity organization to pay tuition for one of his children, and later used the same credit card to purchase lingerie (his wife maintains that the charge was hers; she purchased clothing for a young woman who was the recipient of Weberman’s charity). They mentioned the fact that Weberman allows people to call him “Rebbe” despite not being ordained. They mentioned the fact that he charged a whopping $150 a session for “counseling” despite being unlicensed.

But beyond the connotations and stereotypes suggested by this evidence and certainly reiterated in the media, the DA’s case focused on the rules of the Satmar world; the stringency of the dress code; the suppression of free thought; the laws of yihud, or seclusion, governing women and men’s conduct; the regime of terror that the Va’ad Hatznius, the modesty council, allegedly metes out upon young women; the beit din, or private courts, and most of all, the injunction to maintain an absolute separation of the sexes. An expert was brought in to go over the details of this community’s lifestyle, all of which were portrayed as draconian, misogynistic and enabling of sexual abuse. The clear implication was that the accuser was victimized not only by Weberman, but also by his form of religion.

In this context, the accuser was portrayed as a hero in her attempts to escape from this repressive and alienating environment. Her process toward secularization was represented as emancipation from the world of the defendent toward the world of the jurors. She stood up for herself in school — questioning God and the necessity of modesty laws — becoming an outcast; now she stands up to the accused, who is backed by the Satmar establishment “like a god in Williamsburg,” the accuser said.

But one of the main signs of this secularization was hidden from the jury. The judge didn’t allow the tape showing the accuser having sex with her older boyfriend to be admitted into evidence — an expected but monumental decision, as it turns out. One alternate juror who I spoke with while observing the trial, a Brooklyn resident in his mid-30s, said he was “split down the middle” as to whether he would have convicted. The alternate juror said that seeing a sex tape would definitely have made him question the credibility of the witness. While it would be deeply problematic for a young woman’s testimony to be discounted simply on the grounds of her not being a virgin, or even on the grounds that she might be the only victim, it would be equally problematic for a man to be accused of a crime he might not have committed because a jury had been alienated by his religious choices.

Based on the evidence actually presented in court, only the accuser and accused, and not the jury, can be said to know what happened between them during those sessions, beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of those who have heretofore refused to come forward would be required to tip the scales. While the value of using reasonable doubt as a standard for judging criminal acts, especially rape, may be debated, as might the Satmar community’s business dealings and handling of teenage behavior, Weberman was not on trial for his community or his business dealings, though at times this seemed like the DA’s central and more damning argument against him.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who teaches at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pro Palestinian Jews

This morning I watched 2 videos bearing the fruits of the Satmar anti Israel Hashkafa. They were featured in a Ynet article. To be clear, I realize that the Satmar Rebbe did not approve of such actions. But his hateful words about Zionism (even Religious Zionism) most definitely inspire the actions of his Neturei Karta followers.

These are people who support the objectives of Hamas: the destruction of the State of Israel. Using the same language as do Palestinians - calling Yom Ha’atzmaut the” Nakba” (day of catastrophe) – they spoke at a pro Palestinian rally yesterday. This anti Israel rhetoric was made to the sound of cheers from the crowd.  

Even if one agrees with his philosophy about dismantling the State of Israel because they believe it violates Halacha (i.e. the 3 oaths) for Jews to have their own government in the land of Israel before the advent of Moshaich, do they really think that dismantling it would be done at no cost to Jewish lives?

Do they really think that - with over a hundred years of indoctrination of the Arab people to think of Jews as Nazis – it is going to just end now in one big beautiful love fest? Do they think that all the Jews who live there now will be allowed to stay? Intact? In their homes? …and continue to live their lives as they do now under a benign Palestinian government?

If Israel were to relinquish their control of the land and give it ‘back’ to the Palestinians there would be a blood bath of major proportion. The Jewish people of Israel, including the remaining elderly survivors of the holocaust would be swept clean out of the country. Palestinians do not want a Jewish presence there of any kind.

Where are the 6 million Jews living in Israel going to go? Miami Beach?

I am beyond appalled by these people. The term useful idiots comes to mind. That is what they are. The term ‘useful idiot’ was coined in the 60s during the cold war between the former Soviet Union and the US. It referred to well intentioned people who used the same arguments made by the Soviets to oppose American policy with respect to them. Our enemies loved Americans who made their arguments for them.

Nerutei Karta may be well intentioned. But they are stupid beyond belief.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are I-phones Really All that Bad?

Interesting take on the Charedi push to ban smart-phones. Very similar to my own view. I have always said that Charedi rabbinic leadership is right about what’s wrong with it. My only dispute has always been in how to handle it – and the fact that they are so consumed about what’s wrong with it that they ignore or discount what’s right with it. In any case the following Tablet article tells the story.

Had you ambled through some of Jerusalem’s more stringently Orthodox neighborhoods last month, you would have come across a slew of strongly worded pashkvilim—publicly posted ads informing the faithful of the latest rabbinic declamations—targeting a mighty foe: the smart phone. “They will bring about a spiritual Holocaust on all those who use them,” read one ad. Another, specifically targeting iPhones, called users of the world’s most coveted gadget impure beings who are “immersed in filth 24 hours a day and spawn their stench on all those around them.”

It’s easy for us moderns to laugh at such archaic language and portray the rabbis as addled reactionaries. But they aren’t wrong. Smart phones, now used by more than half of Americans, may not be as cataclysmic as Jerusalem’s bearded sages suggest, but their affect on our souls, largely unexamined, is far more detrimental than most of us care to admit.

The most damning argument against smart phones is also the most obvious one. “You’re holding a small device,” Rabbi Mordechai Bloy, the secretary of Israel’s Rabbinical Court, recently told a television interviewer, “and you make a touch here and a touch there, with an iPhone or an iPad or any smart phone, and just like that, he’s in another place. You can be in the synagogue, but you won’t really be there anymore.”

You needn’t stray further than a restaurant or a park to realize the merit of Rabbi Bloy’s claim; chances are you’ll see a good number of people sitting and staring into small screens, unaware of their surroundings and inattentive to their companions. With smart phones offering us the opportunity of communicating with an endless parade of absent friends and strangers—plus a windfall of distractions—we are rarely ever in the here and now: Some other place and time always beckons. 

Our technologies, as MIT professor Sherry Turkle suggested in her brilliant book Alone Together, determine the architecture of our intimacies; give us the capacity to replace the fear and wonder involved in unmediated human contact with controlled bursts of information, and we won’t be able to resist.

But the greatest calamity heralded by smart phones, perhaps, has to do not so much with how they’re used but with how they’re built. Use a computer to get online, and you are, to borrow Eric Raymond’s famous metaphor, in a bazaar. It’s noisy, chaotic, and full of seedy fellows trying to lure you into their dark corners, but it also allows you a tremendous amount of freedom. Consider the following: Most of what we do online involves using a graphic browser that enables us to surf from site to site; 76.3 percent of Americans use either Chrome or Firefox as their browser of choice; and both Firefox and Chrome are open-source browsers. This means that anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of programming can access the source code and apply it to make new and useful things. And HTML, the language with which websites are created, is simple and intuitive enough to allow almost anyone establish a presence online.

Smart phones, on the other hand, are cathedrals, confined spaces governed by a distinct hierarchy. They run apps, and apps are much more difficult to create, allow for no unsanctioned usage, and are sold through centralized and capital-intensive distribution systems tightly governed by the phones’ makers. Even if you possess the considerable skills required to create the next great app, you have to play by Apple’s rules to get it into the tens of millions of iPhones squirming in pockets across the country.

Such strictures make for a very different experience of interacting with technology; the evolution of electronic games is a case in point. As the gaming industry dawned, in the early 1980s, games were played on personal computers, and anyone could simply type a command and view the game’s code. If you were curious, you could mess around and rewrite it, run the program, and observe the changes, until you figured out what each line of code meant and did. This is how generations of nerds were introduced to computer programming. But their younger brothers and sisters weren’t so lucky: By the late 1980s, electronic gaming occurred mainly on video game consoles, which were walled gardens—unless you were an electrical engineer and could physically rip the box open and rewire it, you had no way of tweaking the content of the cartridges you fed into your Sega or Nintendo.

A similar thing is happening now with smart phones. Kids curious about how the machines work find themselves in a highly restricted environment governed by a handful of corporations. Fewer and fewer of them know the intense pleasures of learning by trial and error and inventing something new just for the heck of it. And if such an approach is detrimental for technological progress, it is also bad for the soul. The more we depend on smart phones as the organizing paradigms of our lives, the less control we have over how we communicate, consume information, and forge bonds with other humans.

The rabbis, then, have it right. Their reasons for banning smart phones may be different—they are primarily concerned that device owners will use them to access corrupting content like pornography—but their hearts are in the right place. We may not want to follow their advice and banish our iPhones altogether, but we should heed their warning and realize that our new shiny forms of connectedness come at a steep spiritual cost.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Two Honorable Men

There are two things that can be gleaned from the following story in the Forward. 1) Jack Lew is a walking Kiddush HaShem, and 2) The President truly respects Judaism and its practitioners. Here is the Forward article in its entirety:

When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.

Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.

“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?’” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”

Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.

“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.

The chief of staff noted it was Obama who brought up the issue of Shabbat when first offering Lew the job.

“He raised it with me saying: ‘I know that things are going to come up where there’s an emergency on Saturday or that you need to be here. I know you well enough to know that this is not an issue. I want you to know that I’m never going to ask you to work on Saturday if it’s not really necessary. It’s important for me that you know that.’”

On his behalf, Lew provided the President with his own assurances.

“I’ve made it clear,” Lew said, “that you don’t have to wonder if there’s a crisis whether I’m available. If you need me, I don’t even consider it a violation of my faith to be doing the things I need to do to make sure people are not in harm’s way.”

In practice, this arrangement has worked out well. On Fridays, Lew leaves the White House before Shabbat begins and he is off on Saturdays. In the cases where his presence was needed on Shabbat, the chief of staff usually walked to the White House and back.

Rabbis he consulted with assured Lew that when there is a real necessity, Jewish tradition approves of working on the Sabbath. The number of times Lew actually had to work in Saturday has been “limited,” he said.

Lew had dealt with the potential conflicts between observing Shabbat and working in top level positions under President Bill Clinton, when he served as the White House budget director. Clinton made sure not to have his top budget adviser busy from sundown Friday to the end of Saturday, and Lew made himself available when emergencies occurred.

“I have found that if you are true to your own beliefs, people respect it,” Lew said. “I’ve found that President Obama considers it a sign of strength and value that there is something in my life that reflects principles that I adhere to.” 

Monday, September 10, 2012

One Picture - 1000 Words

I can't think of a more fitting tribute to Rabbi Asher Lopatin and his goals at YCT than this picture of him speaking to Rabbi Yehoshua H. Eichenstein. His goal at YCT which he has been hired to lead is to make it more open - to the right. As I said in my own tribute to him on my main blog, if there is anyone who can do it, it is Asher Lopatin.

For more on this story read the JTA article on it. Here is an excerpt:
Lopatin says he wants to ground the students more firmly in Orthodoxy by exposing them to the “full Orthodox spectrum.” That includes, he said, exposure to and instruction from haredi Orthodox yeshiva leaders.
“When it comes to things like Gemarah and halachah and hashkafah and Tanach,” Lopatin said, using the Hebrew terms for Talmud, Jewish law, philosophy and Bible, “those are things that need to be taught fully, classically Orthodox. Those are the main meat and potatoes of smicha” – rabbinic ordination. 
This is a great goal and a change of direction sorely needed by YCT. Will it be enough to gain acceptance by the wider Orthodox community? Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Filling a Void

This looks like a movie I want to see. In fact Fill the Void  may be a movie even Charedim may want to see. That's because it was made by a Charedi Jew - a woman by the name of Rama Burshtein (pictured). Which means that it probably adheres to Charedi standards of Tznius.

Most depictions of Orthodox Jews  end up as silly caricatures. Although we are depicted as good people - we  are also depicted as overly clumsy... or overly eccentric...  or ridiculously foolish or extremely naive. I guess that's the way non Jews or secular Jews see us. But director Burshtein knows what Orthodox Jews are really like since she is one of us. We are people. Not caricatures. That should mean that unlike other films where Orthodox Jews are featured we will get some realistic images and scenarios here.

One of the pluses of this film is that it seems to be getting some good reviews from mainstream reviewers like the one in the entertainment industry rag, Variety. Hopefully this means a bit wider distribution than is ordinarily the case. which means that more people will see it and see us in a more accurate light. And that is a hood thing... and about time it happened.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik at the RNC

I can't say I'm surprised. But I sure am proud to say I know him. From the Associated Press (AP) via VIN:

An Orthodox rabbi from New York City’s Yeshiva University has been chosen to give the invocation at the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik (Soh-loh-VAY’-chick) said Monday that it is an extraordinary privilege to deliver Tuesday’s invocation. He said he has been teaching courses about the connection between Jewish ideas and American democracy and that makes it all the more meaningful.

Soloveichik is the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva. He is also associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (Kuh-HEEL’-ath JESH’-uhr-run ) in New York.

The head of New York’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has been chosen to give the benediction on the night Mitt Romney accepts the Republican presidential nomination.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Aly Raisman - Proud to be Jewish

Congratulations to 18 year old Aly Raisman for winning 2 gold medals and one bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics. This is quite an achievement. But that alone is not what merits this post. It is her pride in Judaism that does. Coming from a Reform background one might think that her Judaism doesn't matter that much to her.

But her choice of a Jewish song for all of her floor exercises was done at least in part because of that pride. Choosing a Jewish song - Hava Nagilah to perform her floor exercises may not seem like much to those of us who are observant. But it should. It is that "Pintileh Yid" that often brings out a much fuller commitment to Judaism at some later point in her life.

And even now at the height of her Olympic achievement she had the presence of mind to honor her heritage and the 11 murdered Israelis at the 72 Munich Olympics. Something that happened well before she was born. Such dignity. Such poise. Such maturity. Much to be proud of.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pollard and Parole

With all the angst over Jonathan Pollard’s long incarceration I wonder why it is that he has never asked for parole.  According to an article in Arutz Sheva (re-posted at Joseph deGenova (who was  the prosecutor in that case and personally opposes his release) said if he does that and supporters like former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger and former CIA director, James Woolsey testify at his parole hearings, that would auger very well for his prospects.

He could have applied for a parole hearing as early as 10 years after he began serving his sentence – and yet he never did?  What has he gained by not doing so, other than over 15 additional years in prison – and still counting?

There has been a worldwide attempt, mostly by the Orthodox Jewish community to gain a pardon, clemency, or commutation of sentence for Pollard. Wouldn’t parole serve virtually the same purpose – to get him released from prison? Why are we spending so much effort and political capital if he could do it all by himself?

There is something very funny about this case. And I don’t mean funny - 'ha ha'.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's So Hot Today .... can fry an egg on the.... never mind. It's 12:35 PM CDT in Chicago and 102 degrees in the shade! Happy 4th of July and to all my fellow Chicagoans - I hope your barbecues are indoors.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Too Funny for Words

I told her she had 3 beautiful daughters. She got upset. My mistake.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Orthodox Population Growth

The following appeared in today's Forward. I think it is an important piece. I have republished it in its entirety. It follows.

The Jewish population of the New York City area grew to 1.5 million in the past decade, driven by rapid growth among the Orthodox that is quickly transforming the face of the biggest Jewish community in the country, according to a landmark study released on June 12.

More than six out of ten Jewish children in New York are Orthodox, according to the report, which marks the first comprehensive accounting of the community in a decade.

The study, sponsored by the UJA Federation of New York, covered the five boroughs of New York City plus Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and Westchester County to the north. It found most of the growth centered in the city’s Orthodox populations.

The survey calculated the Jewish population in the area at 1.54 million, up from 1.4 million a decade ago. Of those Jews, 32% identify as Orthodox, up from 27% in 2002.

Among the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews are the largest group, at 16% of the Jewish population of the eight counties counted in the survey. They outnumber both Modern Orthodox Jews, at 10% of the total Jewish population, and non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews, at 6% of the population.
Ultra-Orthodox households are far bigger than non-Orthodox households. The mean number of Jewish members of a Hasidic household is 4.8, compared to 1.8 in a non-Orthodox home.

The study found rising poverty rates among Jews. In New York City, 27% of all people living in Jewish households are poor, compared with 20% a decade ago. More than one in ten Jewish households is on food stamps.

Poverty rates are high among older Jews, and among the Orthodox. Hasidic Jews are the poorest Orthodox group – a full 43% of Hasidic households qualify as poor.

The proportion of seniors who are poor has dropped since 2002 to 24% from 35%.
While Jews make up a slightly smaller proportion of the population in New York than they did a decade ago, they are way up in Brooklyn. Now, 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, compared to 18% a decade ago.

The study found some markers of Jewish engagement among unaffiliated Jews were down. The proportion of Jewish households that never Hanukkah candles is up to 19% from 12% a decade ago.
According to the report, half of the non-Orthodox marriages between 2006 and 2011 included non-Jews. About 1 in 6 Jewish households include biracial or non-white people, the study said.

Of particular interest to the backers of the study, the UJA Federation of New York, the proportion of Jews who reported a donation to the UJA was down from 28% in 2002 to 24%. Hope for a reversal looks dim: Only 11% of the Ultra-Orthodox give to the UJA, and only 9% of the Jews with no religion give.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bulgarians and the Holocaust

One of the things most striking about the Holocaust is how the nations of the world turned their backs on us. Jews were prominent citizens of the European nations - many of them patriotic who contributed to their nation’s prosperity and welfare.

When World War II broke out, Bulgaria joined the Axis powers allying itself with Hitler and his anti-Semitic Nazi philosophies. Much like most of Europe, the Bulgarian government leadership couldn’t care less about the fate of its Jewish citizens. So they started enacting anti Semitic laws themselves – acting much the same way other countries did toward its Jewish citizens at that time.

One might think that is the end of the story. But it isn’t. Sometimes people can rise as a group to the challenge. This was true in individual cases in many countries where righteous gentiles risked their lives to help us. But in those countries, the vast majority of citizens did nothing, or worse – actaully cooperating with the Nazis - some of them with relish. This was not the case with the Bulgarian people.

Someone just sent me a page from something called Candles – Holocaust Museum. Here is an excerpt:

At the beginning of 1943, the pro Nazi Bulgarian government was informed that all 50,000 Bulgarian Jews would be deported in March. The Jews had been made to wear yellow stars and were highly visible.

As the date for the deportation got closer, the agitation got greater. Forty-three ruling party members of Parliament walked out in protest. Newspapers denounced what was about to happen. In addition, the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Krill, threatened to lie down on the railroad tracks. Finally, King Boris III forbade the deportation. Since Bulgaria was an ally of Germany , and the Germans were stretched militarily, they had to wrestle with the problem of how much pressure they could afford to apply. They decided to pass.

I guess in some cases it was more the rule than the exception to help the Jewish people. Bulgarians obviously never heard of the oft quoted Rashi  “Eisav Sonei L’Yaakov”. 

Imagine that! The Bulgarian Archbishop of the Orthodox Church was willing to lay down his life for us. If only the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Rome had done the same…

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Admitting the Value of Bloggers

Mishpacha Magazine has published a very revealing interview with Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel. He has in fact given credit to bloggers for raising the painful issues of abuse and getting organizations like his (Agudah) to address them in ways  that have not been addressed heretofore. It is an article worth reading. An excerpt can be seen on FM’s blog.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Great Uncle Binyomin Maryles

What a Joke!

Hmmm..... Maybe Charedim do know the value of the interent after all.

They are using the very social media they hope to filter out of their homes to promote a gathering dedicated to that proposition! This picture (note the I-Pad) and the accompanying story in the Forward makes a mockery of the entire enterprise and makes Ultra-Orthodoxy look foolish and stupid! Unbelievable!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

R' Aizik Ausband, 1962

BMG's Shavuos Fundraiser

How ironic is THIS! Lakewood's Mashgiach, HaRav Matisyahu Salomon is pushing this big internett Asifa telling everyone that despite the reality of the internet, one is better off without it... that it is the great Nisayon of our day; that filters and the like are at best a B'Dieved but a reality nonetheless...and I get this in my inbox today???


I guess when it comes to money, the internet isn't such a Satan after all - is it? Or maybe the right hand doesn't' know what the left hand is doing? Nah...! It's about the money. They need it. I get it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

R' Motel Katz

Rav Motel Katz, Rosh HaYeshiva of Telshe - Purim Seuda 1962

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Funny Stuff!!!

Brand new puns courtesy of a relative who wishes to remain anonymous.

1. I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.

2. When chemists die, they barium.

3. Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

4. I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.

5. How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.

6. I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

7. This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.

8. I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.

9. I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.

10. They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.

11. Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.

12. We’re going on a class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there's no pop quiz.

13. I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

14. Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?

15. When you get a bladder infection urine trouble.

16. Broken pencils are pointless.

17. I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

18. What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

19. England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool .

20. I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

21. I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.

22. All the toilets in New York 's police stations have been stolen. The police have nothing to go on.

23. I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

24. Haunted French pancakes give me the crêpes.
25. Velcro — what a rip off!

26. A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy.

27. Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Purim 2012

Purim Headlines 2012

The Groggers Hired To Perform At The Siyum HaShas

MBD Retires

Avraham Fried To Release Collection Of American Standards

Airmont Shul To Open Franchises Worldwide

Frum Dub-Step Artist Tops Electronica Charts

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin Appointed To Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah

Frum Child Molestor Reported To Police By Rabbi

Frum Song With Intelligent Non-Cheesy English Lyrics A Pop Sensation In Brooklyn

Maccabeats Tapped To Sing Backup On New Eminem Album

NYC HASC/Ohel Concerts Announced: Lineup Will Not Include Lipa, Shwekey, Avraham Fried, or Eighth Day

New Deborah Feldman Book "ReOrthodox" On NY Times Best-Seller List.

Rabbi Avremel Schorr Launches Chain Of Internet Cafés

Most Talented Contestant Wins "A Jewish Star" Competition

New Wedding Takanos Limit Chupa Processions To Choson and Kalla Only

Mormons Posthumously Convert Golem of Prague - Jewish Community Outraged Launches Three New Websites: Big Lakewood, Big Satmar, and Big Skver

Novominsker Rebbe Joins Facebook

Shmuley Boteach Apologizes; Withdraws "Kosher Jesus" Book

Lakewood Rabbis Ban Chavrusah Tumult; Urge Bochurim To "Just Grow Up Already"

Jewish Week Wins Communal Praise For Exposé On MO Abusive Rabbi

Rabbis Ban Boys Choirs On Tznius Grounds - Sounds Too Much Like Kol Isha

Hat tip: Seen online and forwarded by someone who chooses to remain anonymous

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

They are Animals!

My Kind of Rabbi

From VIN:

Jerusalem - A well known Rosh Yeshiva who is also a popular figure in the Sephardi kiruv world had nothing but contempt and scorn for Charedi Israeli extremists.

Rabbi Rafael Zar, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Dor – Ohr Yehuda, a noted baal mussar and considered by some as a spiritual leader, had strong words for those who resort to extreme measures, in the name of tznius.

“They are the worst kind of evildoers, far worse than the most secular individual,” said Rabbi Zar. “If I could I would break their arms and legs. This is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of Chazal. They would catch them, give them lashes and break their bones for their appalling behavior.

Spitting on women? I am appalled by this and any true Ben Torah feels the same way about this garbage. The people who do this are nothing more than garbage and they bring a foul stench to the scent of Torah in this world. It is repulsive. To spit on a Jewish Girl? Who do you think you are?

Anyone whose middos are so corrupt, is not a Jew in my eyes. He is an animal.”

“Someone who commits a Chilul Hashem like this does not deserve to have a beard. It is an embarrassment. According to the Holy Tazdik Baba Sali Zt’l there are Jews that when they will go to gehenim, the fire will start from their beard, because they don’t deserve to have a beard.”

Rabbi Zar further continued to lambast those have created the furor over segregation in Israel, saying that those who refuse to sit next to a woman on a bus should get off the bus and take a different bus with fewer women because a true yarei shomayim would not raise a commotion over an issue like this.

He also added that he suspects that many of those who pretend to be overly pious in public are probably guilty of transgressing the gravest sins that can be committed by a Jew in private.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Natan Slifkin's Take

The following was published in the Jeruslam Post. It is a must read.

Everyone agrees that the Battle of Beit Shemesh – my hometown for over a decade – is about a group of hostile, hateful people trying to impose their ideology on a group of nice, normal Jews. But whereas the secular, national-religious and moderate haredim (ultra-Orthodox) think that the group of hostile, hateful people trying to impose their ideology on others are the haredi extremists, mainstream haredim think that the group of hostile, hateful people trying to impose their ideology on others are the secular.

Hadash, the weekly haredi newspaper in Beit Shemesh, was formerly owned by Mayor Moshe Abutbol’s official spokesman. It was sold to new ownership which maintains devout loyalty to the mayor and the haredi community. A giant front-page headline last week screamed “THE BLITZ!” Under that, the article said haredi residents of Beit Shemesh have become “a target of persecution, the likes of which have never been seen.”

The entire issue contained article after article about the terrible, evil secular campaign against the haredim, with each article including a graphic captioned “The city under attack!”The lead editorial ranted on and on about the terrible, baseless persecution of the haredi population and denounced the kippa-wearing people who brought the Banat Orot school situation to the attention of the wider public. There was not a single word condemning the haredi thugs.

Especially ironic was a half-page article about a Haaretz journalist who allegedly spat on a little girl. This was in a newspaper which never prints articles about the countless acts of harassment against the national-religious that have taken place for years in Beit Shemesh – stealing flags, throwing stones, spitting, threatening businesses, attacking children and much more. Even when there was a mob beating of national-religious kids which resulted in my neighbor’s child requiring stitches in his head, the newspaper claimed that it was all the kids’ fault!

JUST AS important, however, the secular interpretation of events is sometimes no more accurate. Many secular Jews possess the absurd belief that all haredim, or even all religious Jews, are of the same mindset as the extremists. Former Meretz Party chairman Yossi Sarid declared that Judaism itself halachically mandates such behavior (!), and that all religious parties should be disqualified from the Knesset.

The widespread talk against religious Jews is no less offensive than the curses heaped by haredi extremists upon others. This also has the effect of encouraging the wider haredi world to adopt a siege mentality and prevents them from acknowledging any wrongdoing in their own camp – which in turn lends credence to the secular charge that haredim are indeed all of the same mindset.

Thus, the ultra-secular and the ultra-Orthodox are locked into a vicious cycle which brings out the worst in each.Yet another interpretation of events was apparently held by the groups that joined the rally in Beit Shemesh, who portrayed the issue as one relating to women. But aside from the question of whether some of them were seeking to force a rift between Netanyahu and his coalition, even those genuinely motivated by a desire to improve the status of women were missing the point.

The events in Beit Shemesh had little, if anything, to do with the oppression of women. The haredi extremists did not object to Banot Orot because it was a girl’s school; they objected to it because it was national-religious. And those who linked the Beit Shemesh extremists to the soldiers who walked out of a ceremony in which women sang got it entirely wrong. Walking out may well have been unwise and even unnecessary, but in that case, the soldiers did not impose their mores upon others; if anything, secular mores were being insensitively and unwisely imposed upon them.

THE INTERPRETATION and reaction among religious Jews outside of Israel is diverse. Modern Orthodox groups such as the OU and RCA issued harsh, unequivocal and unqualified condemnations of the haredi extremists. So did important moderate haredi figures such as Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz. The mainstream haredi world, however, watered down their condemnations of the extremists by stressing that the (alleged) ultimate goal, of increased modesty, is holy. As in Israel, more extreme elements of the haredi world in America adopted the siege mentality of presenting the entire situation as a secular campaign against Judaism.

But virtually the entire religious community commits the error of attributing all the problems to a miniscule group of extremists. (For foreign-born religious Jews, this often stems from sheer horror at the thought that it could be any more than that.) Yet this is no more accurate than the belief of the secularists that every haredi Jew is a rock-throwing, cursing spitter. The problems in Beit Shemesh are more complex and widespread than that.

It is true that the vast majority of haredim would never dream of spitting on people and cursing them. These are the actions of a fringe element that are feared and detested by the rest of the haredi world. But the mainstream haredi community is supportive of the ultimate goals, and does not see such actions as being terrible enough to justify joining with “outsiders” in order to condemn it. A letter expressing support for Banot Orot and condemnation of the extremists was signed by over a dozen national-religious and moderate haredi community rabbis in Beit Shemesh, but not one mainstream haredi rabbi signed on to it or made any similar such public declaration.

In addition, haredi society is pervaded by a fear of not appearing adequately “frum”; people in haredi communities are always looking over their right shoulders. And it is often the zealous elements that manipulate the “Gedolim,” the elderly Torah scholars that are ostensibly the leaders of the haredi world. As a result of all this, those practicing intolerance and extremism always exert a disproportionately large degree of influence in haredi society as a whole.

THE MORE general problem is that at many levels in haredi society, there is inappropriate behavior towards nonharedim, which is felt particularly strongly in the mixed city of Beit Shemesh. For example, as noted, the Hadash newspaper never reports on attacks against non-haredim; haredim are always innocent and non-haredim are always the enemy. And many haredi rabbis in Beit Shemesh have either overtly or tacitly supported mild harassment of non-haredim and attempts to impose haredi mores on the rest of the city.

The Ramat Beit Shemesh district was originally designated as a mixed area for haredi, national-religious and secular Jews. But the latter group fled after harassment, and Ramat Beit Shemesh is on its way to emulating Beitar, where the national-religious were effectively forced out of the city and extreme haredi elements took control. Under the current mayor, this is an accelerating process, as he gears the expansion of the Ramat Beit Shemesh district primarily towards haredi purchasers.

I don’t know what should or even can be done about the larger social problems of haredim vis-à-vis the rest of Israeli society. But I do know that the first step to solving a problem is facing up to its existence and understanding its nature.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It’s Time to Act

Wow! Maybe things are beginning to change. These seems to be a groundswell of Charedi outrage about the the Chilul HaShem that the Meah Shearim crowd has been responsible for - both in Bet Shemesh and on their home turf. The following is a front page editorial published in the very Charedi newspaper, Hamodia. It was written and signed by the publisher Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein. This is unprecedented. It is republished in VIN. I republish it here in its entirety:

Last Shabbos morning was exceptionally beautiful in Yerushalayim. As always, the streets were full of Yidden going to and from shul, passing walls plastered with a variety of posters and advertisements.

Suddenly I noticed a placard announcing a demonstration in Kikar HaShabbos, to take place on Motzoei Shabbos.

Participants would be required to wear a yellow star and don prisoners’ uniforms, similar to what was worn in the Nazi death camps, and demonstrate against the harassment of the authorities with regard to the mehadrin lines and other similar grievances. I was horrified.
In a subsequent conversation in which I described the placard, its content and style, to a resident of Yerushalayim with a lot of life experience, I was surprised at his calm response. He just brushed it off with a wave of his hand. “Nonsense! Meshuga’im!” he exclaimed.

But this time, these “meshuga’im” overstepped the line. They went too far. What has been imprinted in everyone’s memory, with the eager collaboration of the secular media, is the horrific image of a small child wearing a yellow star, with his arms raised, and, not coincidentally, remarkably resembling the famous photo of a child with his arms raised in the Warsaw Ghetto.
How did the hands of the parents not tremble when they dressed their small child in this horrific uniform?

What does this father know about the Holocaust, about children in the Holocaust, about the significance of such a photo? Obviously, less than nothing. With pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.
What will this father tell his son when he grows older and tries to understand how his father opted to turn him into a symbol that will haunt him all his life?

It’s not pleasant to be a chareidi in Yerushalayim — or anywhere else in Eretz Yisrael for that matter — these days. During the remainder of my brief stay in Eretz Yisrael, wherever one went the reaction was the same: “You chareidim! Shame on you!”

The more polite, well-mannered people said, “We know they are a radical minority, we know they are casting a stain on the entire chareidi community with their behavior, but why do you remain silent?”

The time has come to shatter the silence. Ignoring these fanatics is no longer an option, since they go out of their way to attract the secular media in order to broadcast their warped messages to the entire world.

I make no demands on this group, since they are not rational. The father of that child and his cohorts not only did not apologize or explain themselves, they even pledged to continue in their ways, according to secular media reports.

My demand is from us: How did we, in our naiveté, think that the actions of this fringe group could just be ignored? How did we give them a platform, allowing them to act as the representatives of chareidi Jewry?

What we desperately need is a serious media campaign to present the true position of Torah Jewry to the world. As my father, Rabbi Leibel Levin, z”l, and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, understood when they founded Mercaz L’hasbarah Datit and Am Echad, respectively, for this purpose, we dare not relinquish the spokesmanship of Klal Yisrael to irrational, irresponsible and self-serving fringe elements.

If we want to survive, if we want to merit understanding in Israel and abroad as Orthodox Jews who want to live our lives in accordance with the Torah, we must act — immediately!

Postscript: VIN also has this from Rav Ovadia Yosef. Finally the righteous outrage I have been waiting for!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Orgy of Hatred

On my main blog today, I wrote about one secular Jew in Israel that turns my stomach. I usually try and give secular Jews the benefit of the doubt. But Yossi Sarid has made that virtually impossible in his case because of the screed he wrote.

But not all secular Jews are alike. Amnon Levy - who if I read correctly is actually an atheist - has my respect. His article is published in Ynet. It follows.

In recent days I’ve been quarreling with all my friends. They are good people, these friends – liberal, tolerant, moderate and sensitive to any injustice. These are people that in our complex reality were never confused between good and bad. This is why I love them, among other things. I’d like to think that we are cut from the same cloth. That’s why I’m so amazed to see how uncaring and hateful they become when a group of people known as the haredim comes up for discussion.

My liberal friends propose various steps against the haredim and religious: A cadet who cannot bear female singing will not be an officer in the IDF, said one friend. As simple as that (“as simple as that” or “at once” are words that always accompany discussions about the haredim.) A segregated bus shall be stopped! The driver and bus operators should be sent to jail. A yeshiva that will not teach the core curriculum shall be closed at once! We shall not allow primitive ignoramuses to be raised here, and at our expense no less. A neighborhood that features separate sidewalks for women shall immediately lose its municipal services! They can go ahead and choke in their own garbage.

There are more proposals that are even more terrifying. Disconnect haredi neighborhoods from electricity, water and whatnot. The same people who would quiver, and rightfully so, if such proposals were made about Gaza, forget that behind the dark clothes, odd views and challenging (and annoying) behavior lie human beings. They are different than us, but they are human beings.

I’ve been following haredi society for many years yet I don’t remember such anger. And that’s odd, because the secular fury comes at a time when secularism is winning while the haredim are on the defense. Once upon a time the haredim sought to educate us. They made pretenses of telling us where and what to eat, what to do on Shabbat, where and how to be buried, and how to get married. Some time has passed, and the seculars won most battles.

Today it’s the seculars who wish to educate the haredim. The seculars are upset by the segregated bus routes. This doesn’t upset haredi women, but it does upset the secular Tania Rosenblit. The seculars are upset that math is not being taught at yeshivas. They know better than haredi parents what’s good for their sons. The seculars are upset by the relationship between men and women in haredi society. Why can’t the haredim be like us?

Wild incitement
I look at the holy secular anger and fail to understand it. It lacks the modesty of one who looks at another society from the outside. It has no hesitation – maybe we are wrong after all? Perhaps we failed in understanding the other?

I, for example, very much want the haredim to study the core curriculum, I will try to convince them this is needed, but I won’t enforce it upon them. Why? Because somewhere in my head I’m not certain that the core curriculum is truly important for the life meant for a haredi child. Perhaps for him math and English are less necessary than another Talmud class? In all such matters I will hesitate, because in my view when a civilized liberal looks at someone who is different, this should be done with the required modesty.

However, the seculars are furious and are unwilling to show any modesty in the way they look at the haredim. Had I been a religious Jew, I would be concerned. I would take this fury seriously and understand how I contributed to it. I would try to calm the atmosphere through some concessions.

And here I get to the heart of the matter: We need a new social covenant. The old status-quo may have secured political calm, yet caused a flare-up in secular-haredi relations. Both sides must be brave and go for a new covenant premised on a simple principle: Life in the country will be secular in every way. The haredim will let go of their need to care for our secular souls. This means buses on Shabbat, civil marriage and everything associated with a modern state.

On the other hand, the secular majority would allow the haredim to have full cultural autonomy within their neighborhoods. This means letting go of the need to education them and allowing them to live their life as they see fit. And yes, this means segregated buses in haredi population centers and tolerance to haredi education.

That’s the principle. Implementing it isn’t simple because there would be red lines, of course. If the haredim want to educate their children by beating them up, we won’t agree to. However, within the boundaries of logic, we must make every effort to accept the differences of the other.

In my arguments with my liberal friends, one of them sometimes places a hand on my shoulder and asks in a concerned voice: “Amnon, what happened to you? After all, you are secular, a devout atheist; what’s happening to you?” So here is the answer: It appears to me that being a liberal, progressive and humanist today means resisting this blatant incitement against the haredim; standing up against the bon-ton and saying: I’m not taking part in this orgy of hatred.