Monday, November 13, 2017

The War Against Children

Yesterday's post, "The Charedi Master Plan," drew a lot of response, some appropriate and some less so. I regret if my post gave the impression that Rav Berkovitz is some kind of extremist. As I mentioned at the outset, he is most decidedly not so. He is a true ohev Yisrael, a stellar educator who teaches refined behavior and love for all, and generally a voice for moderation in the charedi world. Neither he nor any of his students would ever engage in any kind of extremist behavior. His shiur about Peleg was an aberration which took many people by surprise, and it would be tragically wrong to form an opinion of him based on that shiur alone. If you're going to be learning in a charedi kollel, there is probably no better place to be than the Jerusalem Kollel. (It goes without saying that I personally believe people to be better off in a non-charedi kollel, and that non-charedi synagogues should hire rabbis who are trained in non-charedi institutions - just as charedi shuls would only hire rabbis who are trained in charedi institutions.)

The premise of his talk, that there is a widespread desire in Israel to destroy the charedi way of life, is by no means unique to Rav Berkovitz; it is pretty standard in the charedi world. Others have taken a much more strident tone in this regard. A local shul rabbi told me that prior to the last elections in Beit Shemesh, he was invited to a meeting of community charedi rabbis in which the opening statement was a declaration that "there is a War on Torah" which they must fight. This was a constant theme heard not only in Beit Shemesh, but throughout Israel over the last few years. One of the commentators to the previous post raised an interesting question regarding this:
I think that it might be helpful if you explained whether you disagree with R' Berkowitz about his point that there is a "plan" to change Chareidi society, or if you instead think that there is some effort to integrate Chareidim but that such effort is necessary... Unless you are of the opinion that Chareidim leaving kollelim en masse to pursue a higher education and meaningfully join the workforce is not an existential threat to Chareidi society as it looks today, I'm not sure what your issue with R' Berkowitz's stance is. 
To respond to this, let's discuss another scenario: the War Against Children. This is the ongoing campaign by adults to destroy childrens' desire for freedom to play all day, by forcing them to attend school. Against their will, there is a "social engineering" project which is an existential threat to their desired way of life. They aren't going to be able to be children!

Of course, that's absurd. The existential threat would not be less playing; it would be a world in which children do not receive an education. There's a certain degree of social engineering, but this is wholly appropriate, since the children have no plan as to how to run society without an education. And there's no malicious intent involved; nobody has anything against play, it just has to be balanced with responsibilities. They can still be children with playtime. It would be ridiculous to describe it as a War Against Children; it would be a Desire For Everyone's Survival.

The same is true here. The existential threat to charedi society is not less people in full-time learning (which was the historic norm in Judaism); it's a society facing economic collapse, which will in turn lead the entire country towards economic collapse. There's a desire and effort to influence and change charedi society, which some might call "social engineering," but this is wholly appropriate, since charedi society has not itself formulated any plan as to how societies with large families will survive without people getting professional careers, nor as to how the country will survive with an ever-increasing proportion of charedim. And there's no malicious intent involved; nobody has anything against learning Torah, it just has to be balanced with responsibilities, for the sake of the entire country. Charedim will still be able to learn Torah, they will just have to also get an education and a job, just as many American charedim do and just as pretty much everyone did before the recent Mass Kollel Reformation. It's ridiculous to describe it as a War Against Torah; it's simply a Desire For Everyone's Survival.

66 comments:

  1. There is no war against Chareidim. There is simply a position: "If you're going to live here and expect benefits from society you better be prepared to contribute to that society"
    It must be stated clearly - a Torah lifestyle is not incompatible with being a contributing member of society. But if a group wants to come along and make being incompatible an ikkar emunah they need to be called on it.

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  2. maybe [since they are for the most part adults] , we have to let them take their desire to all its conclusions. if mass poverty is the outcome , they have declared the Abishter will help-- and the non-haredi communities can vote with their pockets whether they want to be Hashem's shlichim in this endeavor. It always seem the ribbono shel olam provides a solution to their problems. Even if the Israeli government would cease to support them , and attempt to draft them, G-d would send a solution--he always has: destroying the Lapid's of the world , whether in the hiloni or dati world....

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    1. Sounds great - midah k'neged midah. And what are we going to do about the hungry children? Children ten to a family living in a three-room apartment? Sick children? Children who don't have a coat to keep warm in the winter, and who live in an apartment with no heat? Children who have no choice in the matter at all but will suffer just the same. Simple punitive solutions tend to have a lot of collateral damage.

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  3. This all merely mimics American campaign slogans. Haven't you heard the left speak of "the War on Women"? And haven't you heard the right speak of "the War on Coal"? (Though in the latter case it was an accurate depiction.)

    I'm just an anonymous commenter, but I've said it here before. The Charedi PR has transitioned away from the old, discredited "Torah protects" business, and has now simply adopted the tactics of the left. That's why you heard the nonsense about "social responsibility" to support the charedim in R. N. Eisenstein's radio appearance. And that's why you're hearing now this business about a "War on Charedim." You're going to hear more of it, too. It's nothing new in Israel to employ American campaign tactics, the charedim were just a little show to get on board.

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    1. They're not looking for american campaign tactics. (Unless you mean tactics aimed at american charedi $upporter$.)

      But you (and rav slifkin in his post) ignore the political reality they (are) created, by threatening their use of the political power they developed.

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    2. Reading the comments here only reinforces my comment. One individual before attempts (badly) to argue that "the settlements" are more of a problem than the charedim. It's false and repulsive, but you see the desperate resort of left-wing arguments.

      Someone else below says that plenty of charedi women work, at unskilled jobs, and thinks he can shame people by suggesting that people are overlooking their contributions. Again, looking to attack opponents by calling them "anti-female", a classic left-wing tactic.

      And of course, the road blocks and the street demonstrations are straight out of current left wing MO.

      All these left wing talking points are discredited - part of the reason the left has been out of power in Israel for more than a generation - but its what we are going to be hearing.

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  4. The problem to me observing from the land of the free and the home of the brave, is the the condescending, arrogant mentality of "integrating the Charedim into Secular Society", and pretending that this is not social engineering and that it is something benign. How about not discriminating against the Chareidim for their opposition to joining the military and allowing them to get a secular education, and a secular job without compromising their ideals by not forcing them into the military? Integration is coded language for assimilation. What you are really advocating is for a forced change of Charedi culture and forcing them to accept different ideals.

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    1. Look up the Tal Law, which would have done exactly that, essentially allowing men to leave kollel and go straight to school or work.

      The Gedolim were against it.

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    2. Except that what the government currently does is discriminate. A secular 18 year old has to report to the army. An 18 year old Chareidi doesn't. What the secular public is demanding is an end to the Chareidi sense of exceptionalism - the one where a special set of rules applies only to them.

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    3. Nor is it OK to excuse them from military service just because they are haredi.

      So please stop acting as though it's a reasonable demand to be excused. It's not.

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    4. How about not discriminating against the Chareidim for their opposition to joining the military and allowing them to get a secular education, and a secular job without compromising their ideals by not forcing them into the military?

      In addition to what David said, are you proposing this only for Charedim or anyone else who doesn't want to serve?

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    5. Haredim in IL are not forced to serve. They can defer. This is getting BORING - Haredim DO NOT HAVE TO SERVE. This article is about the phenomenon of Haredi men not WORKING in a significant capacity.

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    6. Which Gedolim? I thought the mainstream litivishe Gedolim were in favor of it. When I was in Israel, I recall there being riots outside Rav Elyashiv's house because he supported the law. The Mir sent bochurim to protect him from the zealots when he went to the Kosel.

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    7. It's illustrative that you view charedei military service Israel as "compromising their ideals". Only a disordered moral outlook would characterize as idealism the phenomenon of men rejecting the honor of assuming the burden and risk of defending against monsters who want to creep into the bedrooms of 14 year old girls and slit their throats. Likewise, this disordered moral outlook characterizes men hiding from risk and mooching off society as "idealism".

      “Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here?"

      Marc Hess

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    8. To Marc Hess: I think you are not understanding the point. While it is certainly true that protecting the Jewish people against its enemies is a worthy ideal, that does not mean that being in the army does not compromise other ideals of the chareidi public, or even non-chareidi Orthodox Jews. I point you to this recent article about the issue.
      http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Why-some-religious-Israelis-are-saying-women-are-weakening-the-army-513769

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    9. True. But there should be a simultaneous acknowledgement that not serving compromises the ideals of the Torah.

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    10. There are competing ideals. How one weighs the benefits of one against the other is not a one-size-fits-all matter. Conscientious objectors weigh the value of protecting their country mates against their value of nonviolence. The article in the Post highlights the conflict here. So does this one.
      https://www.inn.co.il/Articles/Article.aspx/16754
      What to do about this particular conflict is complicated, both in the chareidi world as well as in certain parts of the dati world (Merkaz/Har HaMor). So saying that people who land on one particular side of the question have a "disordered moral outlook" is wrong.

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    11. to Yehoshua - thanks for your response. The IDF has gone to great expense (impressive given the demands on its limited funding) to set up charedei single sex units, so you are raising a red herring. BTW, one of the pleasures of a democracy is that things are not always my way. So, if the public wants some co-ed unts it gets them, even if that damages military performance. v/r, Marc Hess

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    12. Yehoshua - so running from, rather than defending against monsters who would "creep into the bedrooms of 14 year old girls and slit their throats" is not an example of a disordered moral outlook? What is the proper response to such a world view? "Yasher koach and now please dictate my standards for marriage, conversion, etc.?" v/r, marc hess

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    13. @Garnel & others, you have to brush up on Hareidi PR. Chovos Halevavos says that a Hassid met soldiers returning from war and told them, you finished the small war now come to the big war. They asked him what is the big war? He answered, Yetzer HaRa VeHailotav. Says Hareidi PR, this is done in the Yeshivot. Says Hareidi PR, those who leave Yeshivot & go to IDF are bigger draft-dodgers than those who stay.

      So as to the specific argument of exceptionalism, Says Hareidi PR, the law obligates *everyone* to go to war, the IDF to the small one & the Yeshivot to the big one.

      It should be noted that Rav Abramsky is claimed to have said that whoever plays hooky from Yeshiva must go to the IDF. The reasoning is as above.

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  5. Then the solution is clear: abolish the draft and privatize the army (as per Moshe Feiglins plan)

    But neither side will like it: the charedim will go out to get jobs or run businesses thus draining the the roshei yeshiva of their power

    The chilonim/left won't like it: it will mean admitting that the entire purpose of an army is defending the borders, not as a social engineering melting pot protectzia system

    Plus, the volunteer army will mostly be filled with true patriots with ideals and morale rather than people who would rather be anywhere else

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    1. As in other areas, Feiglin has no idea what he's talking about. The armed forces and police in the US and other western countries are volunteer yet are used as platforms for social engineering. Also, Israel already spends 5.2 % of GDP on its military (as compared with 3.5% in the US). If it had to compete with Israel's high tech private sector with much higher salaries for first term soldiers as well as reservists it would likely bust the budget.

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    2. The "melting pot" thing about the IDF is a concept from 60-70 years ago. That whole philosophy has been obsolete for a long time.

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  6. I don't believe charedim (or at least some of them) would want all of society to be full time learning without a career.

    However the belief is that a Torah scholar who simultaneously pursues a career will not have the same quality of "scholarliness" as one who does not pursue a career. They therefore consider it a responsibility of the community to support those with the aptitude and desire to study as their life's work.

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  7. For a second, I though that the title was "The War Against Chickens".

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  8. I'm surprised you used this analogy. Even many extreme libertarians argue that forcing your fellow man is not the same as forcing children. Two hundred years ago, some Western powers believed one could act toward primitive cultures just like one acts toward children since the people who live in these cultures are effectively "children-like." Are you advancing a similar argument?

    If you're not (and I imagine you're not, although I could be wrong), then one simply cannot force one's fellow man to act differently as much you one dislikes what he's doing. And the argument that charedim are dragging people down is the fault of the government. Stop giving them welfare and they'll stop dragging you down.

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  9. My understanding of Rabbit Berkowitz's position is as follows:

    Rabbi Berkowitz believes that there is a desire and a plan among many in the Israeli government to end the Charedim as a worldview and lifestyle. Not simply in the sense of turning them into American Charedim, but in turning them into daati leumi or secular. That the reason Yesh Atid and to the left wants charedim drafted is not because they think that the charedim can meaningfully contribute to the army, but because they think the army could be used to assimilate the charedim. He thinks that believing that they simply want everyone to contribute is naive.

    Rabbi Berkowitz, himself believes that most charedim should work and most should serve in charedi units in the army. But the key is to maintain charedi control over how they contribute. Rabbi Berkowitz worked on these goals extensively and considers the attempts of Yesh Atid and other groups to forcefully draft the Charedim to have undone a lot of Rabbi Berkowitz's work and goals in reforming Charedi society. Any reform has to come from within, because if it is enforced from the outside it will be rejected and there will be a backlash. Peleg, in Rabbi Berkowitz's view, is that backlash.

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    1. In that case, one must point out that Rabbi Berkowitz is straight out wrong.
      The 'war against Torah' is as wacky a conspiracy theory as any of them, and it's sad to see an otherwise wise community leader buying into it.

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    2. I don't think it is a wacky conspiracy theory. At various times and places, this sentiment has been stated straight out by those advocating for drafting Charedim (https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.780605) Whether and to what degree this is the driving force behind such efforts or just a fringe benefit in the minds of some, is unclear.

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  10. Your argument has two aspects to it which you seem tp be mixing into one. Your concern for the future of Israeli society is one that appears to be valid and should definitely be addressed. Your concern for the crushing poverty of the Charedi society and how they will deal with it does not seem to me to have any relevance to you. Passing laws to help other social groups deal with internal issued has a long history of bad results. I understand that the two issues (maybe) can be addressed similar actions. Still when it is phrased in the way that you wrote it it does come across as " The war on Chareidim".

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  11. Why do the leaders of the Charedim try so hard to make it difficult for their “students” to work? The answer seems rather obvious but no one dares say it. If those who want to study Torah could make a living there would be no need for them to get stipends from a Kollel. Hence, they would have no need to be in the Kollel. As a result, Kollel participation would drastically fall and with it the income and likely the jobs of those who run these institutions. The solution for the leadership is to deprive the children of job-related skills and make them dependent on Kollel and similar institutions as their only means of feeding their families. The Charedi leadership does have a “masterplan” but unfortunately this is it. Of course, this is unsustainable. The “miracles” they hope for to bail them out consist of convincing other people to give them handouts. Another unfortunate adverse effect of a culture of dependency is cowardice. As Aristotle long ago observed, courage is the most important virtue for without it no other virtue is possible (one fears too much to change).

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    1. Ahh, the Grand Chareidi Conspiracy theory...

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  12. The country is in better economic shape than ever in its history and is nowhere near to anything remotely close to falling apart; and MOST CHAREDI MEN WORK. Google רוב החרדים עובדים The numbers continue to rise and that is clearly the direction.

    If anything, the trend in the Chardal world is toward less secular education and more years of learning, with a recent monetary campaign run by Rav Neriah to support the Chardal Avreichim (granted, the monetary response to that campaign was quite pathetic; if you're consistent you must be thrilled about that).

    The settlements outside the blocs are further outside of the consensus than Charedim learning; are a greater drain on monetary resources and manpower; are the immediate cause of actual DEATH - RIGHT NOW - of soldiers and civilians; and there is NO PLAN on how to keep them under any circumstance. You have your messianic hallucinations on how things will work out, and that's all.

    One big patronizing sham.

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    1. "The settlements outside the blocs are further outside of the consensus than Charedim learning; are a greater drain on monetary resources and manpower; are the immediate cause of actual DEATH - RIGHT NOW - of soldiers and civilians"

      As usual, Haredim resort to outright lies to defend their heretical belief that they are entitled to extort money from people to learn "Torah".

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    2. Try again. The cost per person behind the security barrier is about 1,000 NIS higher than for Avreichim (4,500 to 5,500); the access roads and security maintenance are extremely costly and very dangerous; and the average secular Israeli is ambivalent about having Charedim in the army - but hates that his child is put in harm's way for ideological outposts inhabited by Dossim.

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    3. @Oh, please:

      I don't follow your logic. Perhaps both are bad ideas. Certainly, identifying one problem doesn't mean that the other isn't a problem.

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    4. I lived among charedi communities in Israel for a number of years. The only reason "most charedim work" is because the definitions used in those surveys are so loose as to include plenty of secular people.(and because a large number of women work in lower paid unskilled jobs).

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    5. Oh Please

      Try to pick a point to justify your life of sin. If you want to say settlements cause 'actual death RIGHT NOW', go with that. If you want to say roads are expensive go with that.

      The reality of Israeli public opinion is that about half of Israelis oppose any territorial concessions whatsoever and much greater majorities oppose them under present conditions. Conversely, there are perhaps two or three dozen Israelis outside your extortion racket who are content to be extorted by you.

      You are bad people. Every day you get up and bring shame on the Torah, desecrate G-d's name and live off the involuntary labour of others. Jerusalemites pay completely obscene Arnona and still great swathes of the city look like a slum because you won't pay your fair share, but demand unlimited free services. You lack even the elementary shame to not walk around shopping all day wearing hats and wigs that cost thousands of shekels while the rest of us work two jobs to buy them for you. To defend your life of crime, you lash out and attack Jews who do none of these things. Repent.

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    6. So "most charedim" doesn't include women??
      And a "lower paid unskilled job" isn't work??

      In other words, for a Charedi to be considered working he must be a male, highly-paid professional?

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    7. Skeptical Rationalist,

      You can't pose as a defender of women's rights by championing the Chareidi lifestyle which basically turns women into modern-day slaves.

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    8. @David Ohsie
      "Oh Please" can take his arguments where he pleases. I take them halfway. They (if correct)indicate hypocrisy in the anti- Hareidi camp and serve only, but DO serve, to make their views suspect.

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    9. Gavriel M,

      I want to get your view straight:

      Are all parties that take money for their constituents "extortionists"?

      All all those who use government money for Yeshivos and Kollelim "extortionists"?

      Do all Charedi neighborhoods look like slums?

      Do all Charedim walk around shopping all day?

      Do all Charedim wear expensive hats?

      Do all Charedim wear wigs that cost thousands of shekels?

      Do all the rest of us work to two jobs to pay for them?

      Are you a wretched anti-Semitic cur?

      On the question at hand, of whether the campaign to change Charedi society is over concern for the collapse of the country, or maybe just a wee bit out of hatred for it, you have Exhibit A right here.

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    10. I'm not going to answer all you questions because (i) it makes it look the issue is me attacking Haredim when the whole point is you started this by attacking observant Jews in a typically insincere attempt to deflect from the fact that your sect is based on crime. (ii) 'Other people do it too' and 'not all of us are that bad' are not valid defenses for a community whose founding principle is that they are categorically superior to every group on earth and therefore have the right to live at their expense. However, I will respond to one question.

      Do all Charedim wear expensive hats?

      Do all Charedim wear wigs that cost thousands of shekels?


      There is an old tradition among beggars of making themselves look poor by ripping up their clothes or making sores and whatnot. Often this is interpreted negatively, as a form of deception, and I suppose there is some truth to this, but it's also a form of politeness. If you want people who work hard for their money to give it to you, at least try and look like you need it. Haredim can't even be bothered to do this. Officially Kiryas Yoel is the poorest town in America and receives vastly disproportionate state aid, but anyone can walk around there and see signs of ostentatious opulence that no-one bothers to hide (in fairness to them at least they don't wear wigs). The reason for this is you have so little respect for your victims that you lack even the shame to bother to pretend that you actually need their money for food and clothing. You need it so that you can have a catered shalom zachor and you don't care about rubbing their face in it. But they notice and bide their time and, in the end, you will discover that my views are pretty moderate in comparison.

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  13. The heart of the this entire problem is the socialist state and social welfare programs that enable people to not have to work for a living and enable governments to exert undue influence and control over their people. If you look around the world you will find that social welfare programs are at the heart of most civil unrest as well as terrorism. If it were not for social welfare in Gaza which is funded by UNWRA as well as Europe and even the US, there would be no Hamas and there might actually be a chance at peaceful coexistence. The entire draft debate automatically is tied into Israeli government policy concerning war and peace as well as the Israeli Military industrial complex which is tied to the larger global military industrial complex. If the Israeli government would make peace with the Muslims, and Arabs,there would no longer be a debate over Chareidi draft, as it would not be needed in any conceivable form for self defense. If I am not mistaken, the left leaning Israeli Supreme Court ruled the Tal Law as unconstitutional and precipitated the current problem. I do not see discrimination against the secular public by exempting yeshiva students from the military. The secular public can make use of the same exemptions to study in yeshiva. The whole idea of a government forcing anything on its citizens is abhorrent to me particularly military service.

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    1. Your statement "The secular public can make use of the same exemptions to study in yeshiva" is silly. A yeshiva only has meaning for religious people. If the law was that any full time student was exempt from the draft then it would not be discriminatory

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    2. "Remember Kent state" figured the master plan out! The Israeli government perpetuates war with its neighbors in order to keep up a debate about the haredi draft! It was right before us this whole time, how could we not have realized? Thank you, "Remember Kent state"!

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    3. There are some irreligious Israelis who are studying Talmud in a yeshiva style setting. Saw it in a documentary done time ago. So yes, more could do that and gain some exemption of some sort, I suppose.

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    4. If only people wearing skirts, bracelets, long hair, and handbags were allowed to work would that be discrimination? After all, all people could choose to wear this stuff.

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  14. R Slifkin - Thank you for clarifying your previous post.

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  15. Private grammatical note: "The existential threat to charedi society is not less people in full-time learning ..."
    You mean "fewer", not "less".

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  16. Rabbi Dr. Nattan Slifkin (heretofore: RDNS) provides a valuable service to the Haredi community by pointing out various examples of dishonesty, problematic trends and unintelligent beliefs. Handled properly, these insights can benefit the Haredi community greatly by taking at least some of RDNS’s points as constructive criticism that can help refine the character of the community, and indeed Scriptures and our Sages bid us to love and appreciate our critics.
    In a recent post, RDNS has brought to the public eye the remarks of Rav Yitzchak Berkovits (heretofore: RYB). RDNS originally provided a link to the audio recording of RYB’s talk, though that seems to have been removed. RDNS also provided a summary of some of the more salient points from RYB’s talk. It is inevitable that many people will rely exclusively on a summary without listening to the recording, and as comments have indicated, this is precisely what seems to have happened.
    In the observations below, divided into separate comments to provide a less tedious reading experience, I have endeavored to make sure that RDNS’s summary accurately reflects what RYB actually said, and, where I perceived a substantial gap between fact and reporting or interpretation, have presented whatever I see as distortions of RYB’s remarks or beliefs. It should be obvious that I am not accusing RDNS of deliberately distorting RYB’s words. RDNS is, in my view, a man of integrity and absolutely above such suspicion.
    Though I am certainly no spokesman for RYB, I write from the perspective of someone with extensive and protracted exposure to his teachings, thought processes and ideas as well as to the goings-on in his kollel.

    For the record, I find myself uncomfortable with some of RYB’s remarks in the relevant talk, though the nature of my discomfiture differs in many respects from that of RDNS. It is not my agenda here to defend the things RYB said, rather to ensure that RYB’s talk is being reported accurately and objectively.

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  17. Before offering an analysis of the post, I would like to say a few words about what I perceive as the main point of the talk. First, though, some words of general introduction. RYB in general is an iconoclast, and his talks in the kollel challenge listeners to re-examine their assumptions and move beyond themselves. The dynamic this produces is an interesting one; RYB’s provocative ideas are often met with fierce, vocal and passionate resistance from the same people who adore him, confide in him and take guidance from him on the most important areas of their lives. Additionally, RYB is a master of moral dialectics. He can deliver a talk one day stressing a certain value, and weeks later deliver a lecture extoling the virtues of a seemingly conflicting value. What’s more, he can speak in the most absolute terms even though anyone who knows him knows that he does not think this way. Neophytes at the kollel can begin to doubt their own sanity, but after a while usually catch on to what RYB is (or at least would seem to be) doing: breaking down the arbitrary walls in his listeners’ minds that limit and constrict them. Thus, although many have expressed doubt as to whether an entire 40-minute lecture can ever be called “out of context”, it is important to realize that as far as RYB’s talks go, the “context” can be a much broader one than typically.
    In this particular talk, RYB’s objective seems to be getting his listeners to realize that our own discomfort at the in-your-face style of protests, while partly stemming from laudable concern for the integrity of Torah values, may also stem from an unjustified complacency about the future of the Torah world and its values, or from a desire for comfort at all costs. He decries the attitude that comfort, convenience and even “being a nice guy” are the most important or only values in life. When one perceives that his life or quality of life is jeopardized, he cries out and sometimes acts drastically, and if we were to see God and His Torah as the foci of our lives, we would understand some people’s decision to act in in ways that would otherwise be anathema to them and us. The issue of the propriety or lack thereof of violence or unruliness is at best secondary in this talk, contrary to the spin put on it by RDNS’s expose.
    Now, to proceed to the actual post:

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  18. In his talk, Rav Berkovits describes the entire situation as a legitimate dispute between Gedolei Torah. Chas v'shalom, he stresses, to disparage either Rav Shmuel Auerbach or the demonstrators! (Although, he later adds, it might be necessary to lie and pretend that one is opposed to their actions, for kiruv purposes.) The question is, as he describes it, are there merely haphazard and uncoordinated anti-Torah efforts, in which case rioting is unwarranted? Or is there a Master Plan (sic) by the Zionists to take over and destroy charedi society? If the latter, he says, then it is necessary to avoid even reporting for an army exemption, and one must take to the streets in violent protest. Because "nothing crucial has ever been accomplished by peaceful means and negotiation; it's either violence or political manipulation." He dismisses the problems caused to the general public as an insignificant inconvenience which is more than justified by the goal.
    Inadvertent Distortion: “Nothing has ever been accomplished…”
    RDNS’s presentation implies that RYB stated as a general rule, in a global sense, that nothing has ever been accomplished by peaceful means, etc. This is not what he said. He explicitly made this statement concerning the struggle of the Haredi yishuv in Israel throughout the history of the state. Furthermore, he makes it clear that it is the unique Middle-Eastern culture prevalent there that is the reason for this (alleged) reality. The distinction between what RYB actually did say and what he didn’t is major, and it has of course escaped many of your commenters who clearly relied on your reporting and did not hear the actual talk.
    It is also worth noting that RYB repeatedly stresses his discomfort with this (alleged) reality and how he wishes it were not so, but that alas, this is the reality.
    I stress that I do not know whether or not RYB’s actual claim, as is, is factually correct. But that is besides this particular point.
    Inadvertent Distortion: Political manipulation
    Secondly, it is noteworthy that Rabbi Berkovits mentions “political manipulation” specifically in order to state that in his opinion, such activity is even more reprehensible than violent protests. He goes on to say that for some reason the same people who see nothing wrong with political manipulation are up in arms about hooliganism, while in reality, in his view, the former is more repulsive than the latter. This, of course, is not reflected in your citation which leaves the reader with the impression that RYB was somehow encouraging or sanctioning political manipulation, while, in reality, the exact opposite is the case.

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  19. "He dismisses the problems caused to the general public as an insignificant inconvenience which is more than justified by the goal."
    I believe this is false.
    RYB talks about inconvenience in two contexts. Towards the end of the talk, he addresses (if only somewhat indirectly) the question of whether or not the inconvenience is justified. He states that if greatly inconveniencing the public is the only way to protect the future of the Torah world, it might be necessary to do this. (When asked whether it might not be a mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira, RYB responds “I don’t know if it’s a mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira,” then goes on to indicate that it is not, and could be justified.) RYB indeed portrays the disturbance of the public as significant but perhaps necessary nonetheless. The contention that RYB “dismisses” anything, or categorizes the problems as “insignificant” or “more than justified by the goal,” appears to me to be a (presumably inadvertent) fabrication.
    The other discussion of inconvenience occurs in the first minutes of the talk, but in an entirely different context. There, the issue is not an examination of the inconvenience caused to the greater public. Instead, RYB decries the fact that people who have themselves been inconvenienced become the most vociferous opponents of the protests on supposedly idealistic grounds. The rabbi urges such people to be honest with themselves and acknowledge that their opposition stems largely from personal inconvenience and frustration, not ideology. Listeners familiar with RYB’s teachings will recognize this as part of RYB’s general prodding to live life based on spiritual ideals, not personal comfort, and to at least be aware of what it is that motivates us.
    Inadvertent Distortion: “The Zionists”
    RDNS writes in RYB’s name about the master plan of “the Zionists.” It is unclear to me why RDNS uses the term “Zionists” here. It is not a term RYB uses in this talk or, to the best of my knowledge, in other talks.(There is one use of the word in this talk, in a completely different context, and in quotation marks, from the perspective of the British Mandate!) It seems to me that attributing this terminology to RYB casts the rabbi as something of a Satmar sympathizer, as someone still trapped in a war against “the Zionists” while it is unclear that such a category still exists at all. Zionism simply has nothing to do with this entire issue; RDNS might just have well talked about the plan of “vegans” or “soccer players” to take over the Haredi world.
    Inadvertent Distortion: “Take over the Haredi world.”
    RYB does not use this phraseology with its negative connotations. His precise wording is, rather, “is there a master-plan to slowly eat away at Haredi society till it crumbles and becomes part of the general society.” Language counts, and the nefariousness of “taking over” is completely absent from RYB’s formulation.
    To be sure, RYB uses the words “takeover” – in a different context. He talks about whether or not there is a “master plan to slowly take over the Haredi chinuch system.” Of course, “taking over” has completely different connotations in the context of an educational system. There is nothing evil or Orwellian about a government that wishes to take control of the educational system of a community within its realm of governance. While the consequences might be grievous to a given community, from the perspective of a government this is an eminently reasonable desire. Education is, after all, usually within the provenance of government.

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  20. “Rav Berkovitz does express a sort of sympathetic excuse for the anti-Torah Zionists. From their perspective, he says, they believe that there is a charedi Master Plan to take over their world, and they are afraid. It's a pity, he says, that there is no such charedi Master Plan! We should make a plan to take over the country! (UPDATE: One of his talmidim clarified to me that he certainly did not mean that everyone should be made charedi; rather, he simply meant that everyone should become shomer Torah u'mitzvot.) “
    Inadvertent Distortion: “Sympathetic excuse”
    This wording implies that the issue is that someone is doing something wrong, but that RYB expresses a “sort of sympathetic excuse” for them. I believe RDNS has once again misunderstood RYB. RYB offers this portrayal of the secular fear not as an excuse – his talk does not involve any discussion at all about whether the people behind the alleged master-plan are sinful or evil, or not – but as substantiation for his contention of the desire on their part to erode Haredi society.
    “Anti-Torah Zionists”
    The “Zionists” – that term never used by RYB but repeatedly placed into his mouth by RDNS – have now become “Anti-Torah Zionists.” The term “anti-Torah” is also a (presumably inadvertent) fabrication. I do not understand the need to embellish RYB’s words.
    Update
    This update is correct and important, but does not do enough to clarify the misconception RDNS’s quotation has created. RDNS seems to say that RYB wants Haredim to “take over” the country, and the update simply clarifies that in this putative “takeover,” instead of “making” everyone Haredi, RYB would suffice with “making” them observant. This is a distortion. While the alleged fears of the non-Haredim are indeed of a takeover by the Haredim, the master-plan whose non-existence RYB is bemoaning has nothing to do with “taking over” anything or coercing people to be even shomrei Torah umitzvot. It refers, rather, to bringing awareness of Torah and mitzvot to those who have not been exposed to that knowledge. His precise wording is “a master-plan to be mekarev the whole country.” The responsibility to afford Jewishly uneducated Jews the opportunity to learn about their heritage – and RYB’s frustration with many people’s complacency in the face of this responsibility – is a constantly recurring theme in RYB’s teachings.

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  21. “Let's not discuss the fact that Rav Berkovits takes it as a given that yeshivah students should not serve in the army (which is normative belief in the charedi world) and that there is no legitimate reason for others to be opposed to that. Let's also not discuss his claim that violence or political manipulation is the only way to achieve anything. Instead, I would like to address his basic premise, which he states emphatically, that there is an underlying inexcusable desire to destroy charedi society, with which the only question is as to whether it actually takes the form of a Master Plan. This is the same siege mentality that was expressed in the last elections in Beit Shemesh, where local Anglo-charedi rabbanim spoke about the need to be vigilant against the "war on Torah."

    Inadvertent distortion: “Inexcusable”
    I do not know from whence RDNS takes the description “inexcusable;” certainly not from RYB’s talk. Not once does RYB even address the issue of culpability or guilt or lack thereof. This is important because a lot of what RDNS has written in this and the following paragraphs, as well as the next post, revolves around analyzing RYB’s beliefs about the motivations of those who would (allegedly) like to see substantial change in the Haredi world. Yet motivation plays no role in this story. Indeed, RYB has on many occasions expressed his belief that contemporary non-observant Jews are not culpable for their lack of observance; they are, to use technical terminology, the halachic equivalent of the Talmudic “tinok shenishbah.”
    To someone who perceives certain putative changes as dangerous (and more on that later), the motivation behind efforts to effect such change is immaterial. Imagine you are a Cherokee Indian who believes that it is integral to preserve a certain lifestyle and heritage in your tribe. A local schoolteacher, say Miss Caroline Fisher, is concerned about the state of the Cherokee children and, out of truly altruistic and selfless considerations is attempting to give them an education that will allow them to mainstream into society but will at the same time erode their unique sense of identity. Her stellar motivations notwithstanding, it is safe to assume that you will perceive her efforts as a grave threat. It seems that RDNS has repeatedly read into RYB’s words entire dialogues about the wickedness or lack thereof of the people perceived as a threat, while in reality no such dialogue is present.

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  22. The reason why this is so preposterous, is that as Jonathan Rosenblum has written on numerous occasions in Mishpacha magazine, there is a very real problem with charedi society. And the problem is that there is no Charedi Master Plan!

    Rosenblum was not bemoaning, as Rav Berkovits does, the lack of a Master Plan to take over secular society. Instead, he was bemoaning, as do all sensible people, the lack of a Master Plan regarding how charedi society and the State of Israel as a whole is going to survive when a third of the population does not and cannot work in a professional career. (See my post "Rosenblum: We All Need Charedim To Get Academic Education And Professional Employment".) As he pithily asks, who will fund the IDF? Who will fund charedi society? How will the economy of the State of Israel survive?

    Rav Berkovits seems to be saying that if you are deeply concerned about such things, and you want the situation to change, then you are part of the terrible War on Charedim. And if you actually try to strategize and implement change, then this should be countered with violent protest. This is what he teaches to his audience of trainee rabbis, getting ready to lead pulpits around the world. It's very distressing.
    In telling us about what “Rav Berkovits seems to be saying,” RDNS has stepped out of the role of reporter and into that of interpreter. Actually, though, what he thinks RYB to “seem to be saying,” aside from being a rather spurious inference, is contradicted by explicit statements RYB has made on several occasion. Namely, RYB has stated that positive change had been happening slowly and quietly, and that he was an advocate of such change for certain people, but that once the issue had become the focus of a major showdown between the societies this had changed everything and ruined all the positive change that had been occurring over recent years or even decades. I believe he even alludes to this in the present talk. Attempting to guess at the opinion of a prolific and outspoken teacher on a given issue by means of dubiously extrapolating from his remarks on another, while his opinion could most probably easily be clarified, strikes me as irresponsible.

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  23. While we are on the topic, I would like to state that I believe RYB’s views on the issue of the future direction of Haredi society differ from both the traditional Israeli Haredi perspective as well as the more pragmatic observations you offer in the name of Jonathan Rosenblum. That is, RYB wishes to see neither a continuation of the present status quo nor a massive integration of Haredim into the work-force. As I understand it, RYB sees the primary challenge facing Haredi Jewry as what he perceives as a state of complacency, spiritual ennui, and herd mentality that has overtaken the Haredi community. He believes, I think, that this malaise is to be countered facilitating deeper understanding of, and broader exposure to, core Torah concepts and authentic connection to God and Torah which would, in turn, bring about a renascence of sorts, rejuvenating the Haredi community as well as empowering it to engage in meaningful and transformational interaction with other elements of the Jewish world. Financial issues are, in RYB’s general worldview as in his application of that worldview to the issue of the Haredi future in Israel, entirely secondary, though by no means negligible, and he believes that Jews passionately committed to furthering true Torah goals will usually find themselves financially able to do so. RDNS, I or others may or may not find this belief overly idealistic, but we would do well to refrain from pigeonholing RYB as either in the typical Haredi camp or in the Slifkin/Rosenblum/Adlerstein/Pfeffer camp.

    Returning to the issue at hand, though, I confess that I am confused as to how this has turned into a discussion of Haredi poverty. The topic at hand is the question of whether or not there are people in positions of power who would like to see, for whatever reason, the Haredi community with its unique set of values (whether or not RDNS agrees with all of those values is not the point here) shed its unique identity and values and assimilate into the general Israeli culture. If such an objective existed, it would surely be cause for concern for those who hold dear this community and its values. RYB says there may exist such an agenda, but that he is not sure. (I, for one, see it as extreme naiveté to deny the possibility that such an agenda exists.) The issue is not that of working vs. not working, learning full-time or not, but rather the perceived threat to the value system RYB considers important, i.e. a lifestyle revolving around doing God’s will with spiritual and ethical growth at its center. RYB does not see working as antithetical to Torah values, but believes that there may be elements happy to see an erosion of those values that are core to Torah life. RDNS has somehow dragged an imaginary RYB into an imagined dialogue about the place of earning parnassah in the Haredi community.

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  24. “It goes against our sensitivities”
    Absent from the summary is RYB’s emphasis at several junctures throughout the talk that we (clearly including himself) as Anglos indeed have a hard time with these demonstrations, that we’re deeply uncomfortable with them, that we see them as antithetical to authentic Torah values, that “it very much goes against our sensitivities.” In saying this he makes it clear that he is uncomfortable but that he can understand the position of those who feel this is necessary.

    “Kids having a good time”
    Also absent from the summary are RYB’s remarks about the inevitability of youngsters attending demonstrations not out of ideological fervor but out of a desire simply to have a good time, and whose presence adds negatively to the character of the demonstrations. He makes it clear that this is not the proper thing to do, and that it is not this type of behavior that he is somehow justifying.

    Is RYB dangerous?
    RDNS’s original post ended with a recommendation to think twice before hiring alumni of the Jerusalem Kollel. This was apparently removed from the post, however, and indeed in RDNS’s next post we read that “it would be tragically wrong to form an opinion of [RYB] based on that shiur alone. If you're going to be learning in a charedi kollel, there is probably no better place to be than the Jerusalem Kollel.” It is gratifying that RDNS removed the aforementioned passage. At the same time, it is not clear to me whether his opinion has changed between the original version of the first post and the second post. RDNS makes no mention of changing his mind, and, to the contrary, implies that this is what he meant all along. I am left with the question: Does RDNS feel that the emergence of this shiur should prompt concern about Jerusalem Kollel graduates, or not?
    If there is concern, what is it? RDNS states explicitly that there is no way RYB or any of his talmidim would engage in any kind of extremist behavior. This is an understatement; for those who do not know RYB I can only say that the day you see him hurling stones, look for the late Rav Aharon Lichtenstein burning garbage cans. It is clear that neither would RYB advise his students to promote or even justify anything resembling violence. What, then, would the concern be?
    If RDNS feels that there is no concern, why does he feel that this episode is newsworthy? Why do people need to know about RYB’s remarks? What is the scoop? What was the purpose of the original post? And if he thought originally that there is cause for concern, but later was convinced otherwise, why not acknowledge the about-face and put the entire issue behind us?
    These questions are, in my view, important because the publicity RDNS has drawn to RYB, certainly if my claims about inadvertent distortion have merit, do damage to RYB’s image and that of his students and followers. This is important not because RYB will suffer from a tarnished image – he is one of a handful of human beings I know of who care not a whit about career, prestige or anything not directly related to their responsibilities to God and the Jewish People – but because it has the potential to limit RYB’s influence in the Jewish world. As RDNS indicates repeatedly, by all accounts RYB is a major Torah educator whose efforts can have only positive effects on varied strata of the Jewish community, and unjustifiably limiting those effects would be tragic. I therefore eagerly await some clarification of RDNS’s present beliefs.

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    Replies
    1. Erm

      Surely, if RYB cannot clearly and plainly condemn the rioting. And if he finds a way to justify it, then YES everyone should have second thoughts about joining his kollel and about hiring it's graduates.

      It's not as complex as you make out. Although I appreciate the time and effort you put into all the thinking it through.

      Delete
    2. It's not as complex as you make out.

      Likely it IS. Step into his Kollel and check for yourself.

      Delete
  25. Violence
    The following observation has nothing to do with any characterization made by RDNS, but rather the general issue of the talk at hand. RYB seems, indeed, to indicate that there could be situations that would justify some form of violence. It seems that many people assume RYB to be justifying even the more extreme acts such as those alleged to have taken place at recent protests. Yet it is not at all clear to me that is the case. It remains somewhat unclear from the talk what type of violence he is talking about. RYB repeatedly references the massive inconvenience, but fails to address the more violent activities explicitly. Perhaps he includes them when he speaks ruefully about the participation of kids who have nothing better to do with their time. But why did not RYB offer a strong and explicit condemnation of such thuggery? Are we to infer from this that even such conduct could at times be justified? I hope not, and my familiarity with RYB leads me to believe that there is no way he would ever condone such behavior. True, he mentions people who had thrown stones in years past during demonstrations against buses driving through Meah Shearim on Shabbos, but those were different circumstances and it seemed to have been more of a loose association.
    It is actually not clear to me whether RYB was at all aware of recent acts of violence; he seems to be under the impression that the most serious accusations are those of severe inconvenience. RYB, after all, does not attend protests, and I do not believe he has access to electronic media outlets. If indeed he was unaware of thuggish behavior, it would emerge that he had never offered justification for this in the first place. Of course, many would criticize offering an opinion without full knowledge of the facts on the ground, but this is a far cry from legitimizing violence. These are important questions that remain to be clarified.
    I realize that this observation may be perceived by some as apologetics. I abhor apologetics, but am truly baffled concerning this last point. If you think this has no value other than apologetics, then by all means disregard it.

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  26. Perspective
    A closing thought. Once again, I am not here to defend or apologize for RYB’s statements, some of which I do not subscribe to and find troubling. But some degree of perspective is, I think, called for. Many, including myself, find themselves troubled at RYB’s apparent justification of violence, something which we feel is antithetical to Torah values. What is interesting is that least in my case, I harbor no illusions that I am even an equal to RYB when it comes to Torah values of interpersonal behavior. RYB’s track record of complete and selfless devotion to the community and to individuals, patience, and love of all Jews is one I could never in my wildest dreams never hope to match. It would be folly to dismiss him as someone who simply does not know what constitutes appropriate behavior. Do I therefore accept his sentiments against my own judgment? I do not. Yet my awareness of the greater context allows me to maintain full and uncompromising respect for RYB in spite of my discomfort with his remarks on this issue.

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  27. A call to RDNS
    To return to the thoughts with which I opened, RDNS has assumed the role of critic of Haredi society, and he is perhaps uniquely suited to this role. I claim no moral high ground over RDNS, and indeed regard him as a fine and upstanding human being and Jew. The call for integrity I am about to issue is not one of looking down at RDNS and demanding that he rise to my level, but rather one of looking up toward him and requesting that he climb even higher. Rambam writes in his introduction to the Mishna that the judge has an extra responsibility of ethical and moral purity, for his decisions and conduct affect the community at large. RDNS is someone whose message reaches and impacts many thousands of people, and this places a huge responsibility upon him. If RDNS is to serve in the role of judge, or at least critic, it is imperative that he take upon himself the task of adhering to the highest, most rigorous standards of accuracy, objectivity, purity of motive, and integrity. Only then can his observations be received with the respect and receptivity they deserve.

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  28. Just in case anyone is wondering, Anonymous and Seeker above are one in the same, I apologize if this caused confusion. I am unfortunately not as computer savvy as I would like to be, and I'm not sure how to get my name into the comments.

    Anonymous/Seeker

    ReplyDelete

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