Sunday, August 28, 2016

So Why DO They Only Criticize The Left?

In the previous post, Summer Camps and Summer Camps, I noted how the charedi establishment and its hangers-on tends to only criticize those on the left, no matter how insignificant they are, and never criticizes those on the right, even when they pose a much more severe threat to proper Torah values. The examples discussed from Satmar included their summer camps which incite to hatred and violence, and the anti-Israel rally in New York which was joined by the right flank of the Litvishe world. (There is also a news item about a horrifying children's board game, called Bashert!, in which you win $70 for breaking the trait of haughtiness, and $500 for screaming at a Zionist soldier. Contrary to press reports, however, it seems that this is not from the Satmar community, but rather from Neturei Karta. However, given the activities of the Satmar summer camp, this game appears to be equally representative of the values of that community.)

So what actually is the reason for this incongruity? Several suggestions were offered. These include:
"People enjoy the feeling of righteous indignation that arises when the latest set of blistering accusations against the "other team" is posted. And they vastly prefer to read a condemnation of Open Orthodoxy rather than of Satmar, with whom they feel more cultural comfort."

"The problem is theological. We have a left end to Orthodoxy, a point where it falls off. However, there is an underlying "more is better" ethos that prevents us from having a right end where one can be too Orthodox."

"It's all about having Gedolim. Satmar had the Satmar Rav. Open Orthodoxy doesn't have Gedolim." (I don't think that this is a major factor. First of all, it's not as though the Satmar Rav is around to legitimize their new extremism. Second, people generally just invoke Gedolim to give license to their positions, they don't really base themselves on them.)
To these I would like to add another explanation. Charedi society is built upon trembling in fear - of not appearing frum enough. Everyone is always too afraid to say what they really think about things. So the entire notion of formally protesting those who present themselves as being super-frum, no matter how loathsome their words and actions, is frightening.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer Camps and Summer Camps

There are all sorts of summer camps. Most familiar to most of us are summer youth experiences like Camp Agudah, Camp Sternberg, Camp Morasha and many others like them. They combine Torah-study and stress on Jewish ideals like chessed and tefillah with sports activities and arts and crafts. Spirits are famously high in such camps, lifelong friendships are made and many a successful Jewish adult credits his or her love for things Jewish and for other Jews on their formative camp experiences.

In the same state, there are summer offerings, too, for young people from other streams of Judaism, like Satmar. In these camps, children are taught "to express their freedom of speech" by denouncing Israel.

During the summer camps’ stint, hundreds of children enjoyed their camp experience. As Modern Orthodox, Centrist Orthodox and Yeshivish youth here in America were taught water safety, wrote skits and cantatas and composed and heard divrei Torah, Satmar youths were striding down the street in the style of a demonstration, chanting “Israeli government, shame on you!” and waving creative anti-Israel banners that they had designed.

The Modern Orthodox, Centrist Orthodox and Yeshivish campers, as every year, were enthusiastic about the the unity they felt with their fellow campers and the caring mentorship of their counselors. As Tisha B’Av came closer, the spirit of mourning over the batei mikdash was intermingled with yearning for the Geulah sheleimah and realization of the tefillah of “Sim shalom.” At a Satmar camp, on the other hand, children were given eggs and told to throw them at a black SUV which represented the car of the Prime Minister of Israel, whilst yelling derisive slurs.

In Modern Orthodox, Centrist Orthodox and Yeshivish media outlets, the camps' creative and sporting activities were highlighted in photo features. In the Satmar's official newspaper Der Blatt, a full-page feature displayed photos of the children throwing eggs at "the Prime Minister's car."

Summer camps and summer camps, l’havdil meah elef alfei alafim havdalos.

*      *      *

The above was inspired by Rabbi Avi Shafran's latest column in Hamodia, which contrasted Agudah camps with Hamas camps. It is indeed important to be aware of the depravity of our enemies. However, there is certainly no risk of Hamas making any inroads into Jewish religious society. Satmar, on the other hand, presents a real danger of influencing other Jews with its hateful approach. Yet Rabbi Shafran did not see fit to write a column condemning it, and as far as I know Hamodia likewise did not cover it (despite it often providing news about the Satmar community). Why not?

This is also the reason why many people had a problem with Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer's mission against the Open Orthodox. Last week he announced that he is taking a break from his three-year crusade. He described the reactions to his writings as falling into two camps: those who rated his work as being "of great import and necessity," and those who vilified him and failed to respond to the issues on their merits. No mention is made of those who presented reasonable critiques of various aspects of his approach or of his arguments. One of those critiques was that it seem strange to go on a crusade against the largely irrelevant and miniscule numbers of those stray too far to the left, while completely ignoring the much more relevant and greater numbers of those who stray too far to the right. Mishpachah magazine even put Rabbi Gordimer on the cover for his crusade against the Open Orthodox. Yet would they ever feature a critic of Satmar or others that are too far to the right?

To those who would claim that Satmar is not relevant to other Orthodox Jews, we can point out the following facts: A few years ago, Satmar planned a rally in Manhattan that was also attended by many other chassidic groups as well as right-wing Litvishe rabbis, including Rav Aaron Schechter (of Chaim Berlin), Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel (South Fallsberg), Rav Osher Kalmanowitz (Mir), Rabbi Moshe Meiselman (Toras Moshe) and others. Speakers at the rally spoke about the "evil Zionists" and compared them to Amalek. They described Israel as an "evil regime," spoke about how “the very existence of the state is a rebellion against God” and about how “the [Israeli] army was founded on murder and blood spilling.”

Why is the charedi community, and similar people such as Rabbi Gordimer, so enthusiastic about criticizing those who are too far to the left, even if they pose no significant threat to the rest of Orthodoxy, yet they will never criticize those who are too far to the right, even if this is very relevant to the rest of Orthodoxy?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Son's Heresy

My youngest child, three years old, is having a rough summer. Sure, he's had fun experiences, like seeing the dinosaurs at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, and the amazing Noah's Ark at the Skirball Museum. He also decided to change his name to Batman. But we took away his pacifier, which makes it very difficult for him to fall asleep at night.

The other night, Batman was sorely missing his pacifier, and his grouchiness led him on a tirade against everything that's wrong with the world. In particular, he brought up an incident from a few days previously that had greatly bothered him. He had elected to eat a salami sandwich before finishing his chocolate milk, and he was extremely upset when we told him that he would have to wait in order to finish his chocolate milk.

We thought that Batman had gotten over this, but he hadn't. As his pacifier-deprived state led him to recount one grievance after another, he brought up the salamai-choco incident.

"It's not fair that Hashem doesn't let me have choco after my salami sandwich," he moaned. "Hashem is such a meano!"

Ouch! What does one respond to that?!

One family member suggested telling him that min haTorah, only cooking them together is forbidden, and it's the rabbis that are "meanos." But this didn't seem like a great idea.

My wife and I decided that, at this age, he's not going to be able to understand the benefits of kashrus. Rather, we should emphasize all the great things that Hashem enables him to experience, which outweigh the "meanness" of having to wait for his choco. What do you think?

(Halachically, a child is permitted to eat dairy without waiting. Still, one should try to train them otherwise. And, trust me, if it wouldn't have been this incident, he would have found another example of why Hashem, along with everyone else, is a "meano"!)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An Assault On Truth

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. What about when it's a picture of a thousand words?

Several months ago, in a lengthy but popular post entitled The Rav, Cosmology, and Evolution, I reviewed several examples of how Rabbi Moshe Meiselman distorts the views of Rav Soloveitchik in order to give him a charedi spin. Perhaps the most extreme example was in Rabbi Meiselman's book Torah, Chazal and Science. Rabbi Meiselman quotes Rav Soloveitchik as saying that the Biblical view of man's nature is theoretically irreconcilable with the scientific view that he is an evolved animal. But what Rabbi Meiselman does not reveal is that one paragraph later, Rav Soloveitchik explains at length why this notion (of there being a conflict between the Biblical view and the evolutionary view) is entirely incorrect, notwithstanding the fact that many rabbinic scholars believed it to be true!

In my post on this topic, I quoted the relevant paragraphs at length. But it occurred to me that people might accuse me of misquoting, and that it might have more impact to show the actual pages of the books. So here is a scan of Rabbi Meiselman's book, with the quote from Rav Soloveitchik highlighted in yellow:

And here are the original pages from The Emergence of Ethical Man, with the relevant paragraphs, which completely refute the earlier quoted paragraph, marked in red:

The dishonesty demonstrated by Rabbi Meiselman is appalling, and is, unfortunately, symptomatic of the entire book. Yet the distinguished congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta is hosting Rabbi Meiselman tonight, for a lecture on - wait for it - "Nothing But The Truth: Maintaining Honesty in a Dishonest World"! I kid you not:

Oh, the irony!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Betrayed By Our Own

A visit to a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles this morning put me in a suitable frame of mind for Tisha B'Av.

After looking through the books on the Holocaust, I moved to the section of books on Israel. There were two books on display that appeared to be prestigious and popular, written by university professors and featuring glowing press reviews. Yet they both depicted Israel as the guilty party in its dispute with the Arabs.

I didn't have time to read them extensively, but in order to gauge their approach, I took a look at how one of them - a book in which the author declared himself to be free of bias and only interested in the facts - addressed the Gaza conflict. This is a recent and relatively small event, and one in which there is broad consensus in Israel, from right to left, about the legitimacy and necessity of its actions. So I was curious to see how this book would address it.

It was unbelievable. The discussion was all about how Israel committed terrible atrocities. The author absurdly declared that the vastly greater numbers of Palestinian casualties demonstrated that Israel was in the wrong. There was no discussion whatsoever of the indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by Hamas, nor of how Israel is supposed to protect its citizens against such things. And it triumphantly declared how Richard Goldstone is a Jew and a Zionist, and condemned Israel for its actions, without any mention of the serious shortcomings in that report, later conceded by none other than Goldstone himself.

The saddest thing about all this? Both authors were Jewish.

It's bad enough that the Arab world denies the existence of the Beis HaMikdash and our historical roots in Israel. It's even worse when the Western world starts to give "even-handed" credence to their claims as being a legitimate alternate narrative. But how can we expect other nations to be honest about the past, when there are members of our own nation who can't even be honest about the present?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Shocking Development in Alleged Abuse Ring Conspiracy

There is an extraordinary development in the case, going on for several years already, of the alleged missionary pedophile ring in Jerusalem. It broke yesterday afternoon, just hours after I had a fascinating conversation with a prominent rabbinic figure about it.

Last year I posted the video in which Rav Moshe Shapiro tells his followers that the 70-year-old woman who was allegedly the mastermind of the ring should be beaten to the point of hospitalization or beyond, because the police are useless, and her house should be ransacked (to find the dungeon). His followers did so, breaking her arms and legs with metal bars, but did not find any evidence of the dungeon. They were then caught by the police, and Rav Moshe was indicted. His defense claimed that he was only offering sympathy to his followers, not telling them to actually beat her to death. Rav Moshe had subsequently put out a letter condemning those who beat her up, and disavowing all responsibility for it.

I couldn't understand is how Rav Moshe could simultaneously try to absolve himself of all responsibility and let his disciple take all the blame. The rabbi that I met with yesterday agreed with me on that point, but he opined that ordering the vigilante action was not necessarily wrong. He told me that, according to the information that reached him, the elderly woman was indeed involved in terrible actions with children. I agreed that there isn't necessarily a problem with a child abuser being stopped in such a way - if they are indeed guilty, and if there is indeed no other way to stop them.

However, in two superb articles in Tablet magazine, Menachem Kaiser had argued that the whole thing was not credible, just like the stories from the 1980s about satanic abuse cults. While there are certainly pedophiles in Jerusalem, the notion of a secret cultic ring is the result of mass hysteria. It is true that many highly intelligent people in Jerusalem - not just Rav Moshe Shapiro, but other prestigious and more humble and cool-headed figures - were convinced that the ring was real. Yet experts with training in this field disagreed.

The bombshell came yesterday afternoon. The Israel Police announced that after a lengthy investigation, they had discovered that the "secret abuse ring" was fabricated by three people as a way to make money. They had conspired to spread rumors of a terrible threat in order to solicit funds for an organization to fight this fictitious threat. There was indeed a conspiracy - but not the one that people had feared. (News article in English here - more extensive article in Hebrew here.) It's wonderful news for the thousands of people in Jerusalem who were terrified about this ring (though many of them doubtless maintain that these arrests are all part of the conspiracy). But it's tragic that the trail of carnage caused a woman to be beaten near to death, a suspect to commit suicide, and who knows what else.

What is the lesson to take from this story? I think one lesson to take is that there is a reason why we have a justice system. No, the system is not perfect, indeed it is far from perfect. But nor are decisions taken by individuals, no matter how brilliant they are. There's no replacement for a systematic investigation, which includes consultation with experts in the field. It's just as Winston Churchill said about democracy - “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Monday, August 8, 2016

Does Rosenblum Come To Praise The Gedolim, Or To Bury Them?

Jonathan Rosenblum is one of the most important writers in the Anglo-charedi world. He is a former staunch charedi apologist, who thereby gained great legitimacy and authority in the charedi world, being a star writer in establishment publications such as Yated Ne'eman and The Jewish Observer. But over the last few years, he has steadily moved in the post-charedi direction.

Rosenblum has written columns in the quasi- rebellious magazine Mishpachah in which he described the charedi community as having a "diminished Klal Yisrael consciousness." He once famously likened the kollel system to toxic chemotherapy. In another column, he called for wholesale reform in the charedi way of life vis-a-vis Torah study. And in yet another column, he declared that we all need charedim to get academic education and professional employment.

In his latest column for Mishpacha, he returns to these themes. After writing about great changes taking place in the world and the disastrous leadership options facing the United States, he segues into how all this relates to charedi society:
...AS WE SURVEY the fast-changing world around us we should not imagine that societal change has somehow bypassed the chareidi world, or that our status as the eternal people exempts us from the need to deal with and respond to changing circumstances.
The Israeli chareidi world of today, for instance, bears no resemblance to that of the Chazon Ish's day. Every Yovel (fifty-year period) represents a new historical epoch, and the Torah leadership of each generation must respond to changing circumstances. Today's Torah leaders cannot just seek to imitate those of the past, for we are living in a different time, with different challenges. That is why Chazal tell us, "Yiftach b'doro k'Shmuel b'doro." Every generation needs its own leaders. (Note: That is not what Chazal's statement means, and I'm pretty sure that Rosenblum knows that! - N.S.)
Outside of the Old Yishuv of Jerusalem, the Lithuanian chareidi world of the Chazon Ish's day consisted of a few hundred families. As a tiny minority amidst a highly ideological secular majority bent on creating a "new Jew," who would be everything that the traditional European Jew was not, chareidi society adopted a policy of cultural isolation and separation to preserve its identity and flourish.
And that cultural isolation could be tolerated by the larger secular society because the small chareidi world was perceived to be almost irrelevant. David Ben Gurion granted the draft deferral for yeshivah students because, in his eyes, it did not matter that much. Within a generation the chareidi community would disappear, or so he thought.
Much has changed since then. Far from being a tiny minority, chareidim constitute at least 10 percent of the Israeli population, and, given the much higher chareidi birthrates, could reach 25 percent within a generation. The community is far too large to be ignored. Nor is it clear that the community could sustain itself in splendid isolation, even if it were permitted to do so (and the government were to continue building all-chareidi enclaves). That isolation is, in any event, ever harder to maintain, as modern technology renders the highest ghetto walls permeable.
The great task with which the Chazon Ish charged the post-Holocaust generation – rebuilding the citadels of Torah learning destroyed by the Holocaust – has been achieved many times over, at least from a quantitative standpoint. The chareidi community cannot be destroyed, at least not from the outside. There is no ideological enemy seeking to free itself from the shackles of Jewish tradition, as there once was (though there are still plenty of non-observant Jews to mekarev).
Nor has the internal chareidi community remained static. The community of nearly a million souls today is not just that of the 1950s writ large, but something quite different. Those who rallied to the banner of the Chazon Ish were a self-selected, highly idealistic group of individuals of a very high spiritual level and intense dedication. Today's community is of necessity a much more heterogeneous group. Its members were in most cases born into the community; they did not enlist in a great cause. The present-day chareidi community encompasses individuals of widely variegated spiritual and intellectual levels.
In his penultimate paragraph, Rosenblum drives his points home, beginning and concluding them with suitably frum terminology:
Among the many contemporary challenges facing the great Torah leaders are: responding to the needs of a diverse community; articulating new approaches to our non-observant brethren with whom we are coming into contact in a rapidly increasing number of venues and for longer periods of time; securing the basic level of economic well-being necessary to flourish; and above-all upholding the core values of the community upon which there can be no compromise and determining how they can be sustained in ever-changing circumstances.
But in the final paragraph, the frumspeak really rings hollow:
A tall order no doubt. But at least the chareidi community has one resource, which the United States can no longer claim: leaders who command reverence and awe (though internal machlokes has taken its toll on this precious quality).
If you were to accept his column at face value, you'd read him as declaring that the charedi community possesses great and wise Torah leaders, who command obedience and respect, and are going to successfully lead their community through the great transitions that are required. But, of course, if there were to indeed be leaders who can do that, Rosenblum wouldn't need to talk about it!

The facts are that it's perfectly clear to everyone, including (especially) Jonathan Rosenblum, that no such leadership exists. Rav Steinman came to my neighborhood and declared that secular education is entirely unnecessary, and that boys should be raised to go to kollel, not to work. As for girls, he once said that "it is better to steal money than for a women to attend college." And remember that Rav Steinman is the leader of the relatively moderate faction in the litvishe charedi world - Rav Shmuel Auerbach is even more extreme. Furthermore, it's not even clear that they are even leaders at all; as with Rav Elyashiv, much of the power seems to be wielded by shadowy figures behind the scenes.

In the past, Rosenblum has suggested (albeit not very convincingly) that [some] Gedolim do indeed want to change "the system", but are too weak to do so. Even if that is the case - and I'm fairly certain that Rosenblum knows it not to be the case in Israel - it would again refute his claim in this article that the charedi community has strong leadership that commands respect.

Jonathan Rosenblum and Mishpachah magazine are well aware that the Gedolim are not interested or not able to lead the charedi community through a transition - that's why, in Mishpacha's symposium on the topic of chareidim in the Israeli workforce, they did not interview any of the Gedolim or their spokesmen. So why does he declare otherwise? Presumably it's because in order to attempt to defray opposition to the societal reform that he is urging, he has to dress it up in Daas Torah clothing. But his columns have reached a point where you'd have to be very naive not to see what he really thinks about the leadership. His problem is that, unlike the situation with the US electorate, nobody in the charedi world dares say so explicitly. Hence his not-so-convincing subterfuge. Let's hope that he is successful!