Thursday, July 30, 2020

Determinedly Enabling Our Enemies


Is history repeating itself?

On Tisha B'Av, we mourn the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans. The Talmud states that this tragedy happened due to sinat chinam, baseless hatred among the Jews. That's popularly taken today to refer to things such as lashon hara (and then wielded to discourage any criticism which makes one feel uncomfortable).

But the sinat chinam being described is not an abstract sin; rather, it was some very real and very terrible actions taking place among the Jews of that period, which assisted their enemies. There was the most terrible infighting, with factions murdering each other, thereby giving a tremendous gift to the Romans. While the Jews of Jerusalem had considerable food stores to withstand the siege, some of them burned it all, making the Roman army's job all the easier and the death toll all the greater.

Today, two thousand years later, we still have Jews enabling our enemies. There are people trying to force Israel to give power to those sworn to its destruction. Peter Beinart urges for the State of Israel to be dismantled, and using lies and distortions to build his case. Seth Rogen tells the press (who are thrilled to hear it) that Israel is a mistake.

And even within the ranks of Orthodox rabbis, we have people enabling our enemies.

In the previous post, A Gift To Antisemites, I highlighted the shocking libel issued by Rabbi Yaron Reuven against the Jewish People. He claimed that Hitler had good reason to hate the Jews, because all the moral degeneracy of Germany was being run by the Jews, and they also destroyed the economy by greedily charging high interest. Reuven's video has naturally been eagerly seized upon by antisemites, to successfully prove to people that even rabbis admit that Jews ruin their host countries.

Naturally, after reading my post, people were suitably outraged. Criticism of Reuven, already building as a result of his previous hateful videos, is reaching new levels. You'd expect that having been exposed for doing such a terrible thing, Reuven would frantically backtrack.

But no. Instead, he's doubled down. 

His latest video, addressing the storm over his Hitler justifications, is titled "Baruch HaShem Even AntiSemites Learning Torah From Rabbi Reuven." He begins by finding humor in the entire matter, thrilled that his material is receiving hundreds of thousands of views, and joking about the great publicity. Ah yes, it's so funny!

Then, he says, "joking aside," he sees it as being a tremendous thing that his video attracted such attention among non-Jews. And he launches into a lengthy explanation of how it's important for non-Jews to see that we are willing to call out wrongdoing among our own.

I fear that many people are going to be fooled by this.

Yes, he is absolutely correct that it's important for us to call out wrongdoing among our own. We mustn't sweep things under the carpet. We must actively call out fraudsters and molesters and all kinds of crimes. This is what the Prophets did, and it's what we need to do.

But this is not what Reuven did! Instead, he fabricated crimes!

Reuven claimed that the morally degenerate clubs of Berlin "were all run by Jewish people." No, they weren't! To be sure, some of them were. And Jews may even have been over-represented in this area. But that would be just as Jews were over-represented in many areas. And they certainly weren't running "all" or even most such clubs! That was propaganda, spread by antisemitic opponents of the Weimar Republic.

Even more problematically, Reuven claimed that it's "absolutely true history" that the Jews destroyed the German economy with their financial greed. No, it isn't! Again, see this article for the real explanation of why the German economy collapsed, and how the Nazis manipulated this against the Jews. It's a lie - and one with devastating consequences. If you're making a video, to be shown on YouTube and available to the entire world, you have to be absolutely accurate in what you accuse the Jews of, when you're doing something as insane as trying to justify Hitler's claims!

Reuven is also buying into, and thereby legitimizing, another aspect of Nazi and general antisemitic propaganda. He is presenting the approach that Hitler hated the Jews because of the Jews' crimes. But in fact the opposite is true: it was because Hitler hated the Jews that he fabricated these crimes.

We can and should tolerate a range of views. But when they are extreme to the point of encouraging hatred and inciting violence towards mainstream rabbis, and providing libels to our enemies, this is far beyond the pale. Yaron Reuven must not be representing Judaism.

There is already some progress in this regard. Torah Anytime has removed his videos (unfortunately they have not yet done so for the videos of Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi). The Forward just published an excellent article, "Alarmed by 'death threat' video, Orthodox Jews try to de-platform fiery 'folk preachers'." The pressure is mounting.

But we need to do much more. We need to try to get YouTube and Facebook to delete the videos and the accounts of these inciters. We need to stop Reuven from drawing legitimacy from the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a.k.a. Igud HaRabonim of America (the more religiously right-wing alternative to the RCA). After I exerted some pressure, his latest video now includes a brief disclaimer stating that it does not represent the views of the RAA. But this follows a video clip of the RAA logo, and a certificate from the RAA announcing that Rabbi Yaron Reuven is a respected member in good standing!

As a prominent rabbi wrote to me in astonishment: "The Igud purports to be the organization for solid, yeshiva- and chassidish- trained rabbanim, organized to protect the banner of authentic Torah. One would think that they would rush to purge themselves of a moron doing as much damage to Torah and to Jews as Yaron Reuven." But when I tried to tell this to my contacts at the RAA, I got nowhere. I was told that the organization "prides itself on having a lot of tolerance for diverse opinions," and that they "only draw the line at members committing crimes or being insufficiently Orthodox." Not for producing videos stating that prominent centrist rabbis are resha'im who deserve execution, or stating that Hitler had good reasons for hating the Jews.

Perhaps, this Tisha B'Av, instead of just making ourselves feel fulfilled by mourning the consequences of the terrible and dangerous behavior of some Jews two thousand years, we can actually do something about the terrible and dangerous behavior of some Jews today. On the RAA website, there is a list of rabbis and executive leaders of the organization. I urge people to contact them.


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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Gift To Antisemites

Raed Majali was born in London, studied at UCL, and is now at the University of Exeter.

He has 42,703 followers on social media.

He hates Jews. He really, really hates Jews. He spreads the most vile antisemitic claims. He posted a "picture worth a thousand pictures," of a lone Islamic warrior facing off against all the evils of the world, controlled by a spider-legged Jewish monster.

And Raed Majali was given the greatest gift, the most powerful way to justify and spread his terrible message.

He has Rabbi Yaron Reuven's video about the Jews of Germany. A video which has been shared by numerous antisemites on YouTube and Facebook. (You can watch it on YouTube at this link.)

In this video, Yaron Reuven explains that Hitler had two good reasons for hating the Jews.

First was that "Berlin was the Sodom and Gomorra of the day... homosexuality, pornography, bestiality, all the garbage of the world... Hitler closed all the bars, all the gay clubs, all the productions - which were all run by Jewish people."

Second, explains Reuven, is that the Jews destroyed the German economy, by charging high interest. (Of course, this isn't actually true; see this article for the real explanation of why the German economy collapsed, and how the Nazis manipulated this against the Jews.) Reuven states: "Hitler wrote that 'the Jews destroyed Russia, and now they are destroying Germany, so I have to destroy them.' It doesn't make it right, but the point is that it's absolutely true history."

A bearded rabbi, lecturing in a synagogue, endorsing all the worst accusations about how Jews destroy their host countries with moral corruption and taking their money.

Majali shared an extract from this video on Facebook, with Arabic subtitles, under the heading, "See what they say about themselves." He is one of only many who have shared this video on Facebook and YouTube. Facebook and YouTube have procedures for removing antisemitic propaganda, but these are difficult to activate - especially when the person spouting the antisemitic propaganda is a rabbi.

In the last month, Majali's video alone has been viewed TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN THOUSAND TIMES.

If you want to get into the mood for Tishah B'Av, you can read some of the hundreds of comments on the video at Majali's Facebook page. They are all in Arabic, but Facebook provides an automatic translation. As one can imagine, they are horrific.

There's nothing that can be done to repair the terrible damage to our nation that Yaron Reuven has wrought. It's too late.

But we have to stop him from causing any more.

Yaron Reuven's YouTube and Facebook videos and accounts must be removed for spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and inciting hatred and violence. He needs to be ousted from the Rabbinical Alliance of America (of which he proudly declares membership and legitimacy). He needs to be denounced, defrocked and condemned.

Yaron Reuven is a menace to society.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Extraodinary Apologies

Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi and Rabbi Yaron Reuven have both issued apologies!

Well, sort of.

First, a recap of the back story: For years, Mizrachi was publicizing statements about various suffering being due to specific sins (Downs Syndrome children are being punished for their sins in a previous life, blind people are being punished for watching pornography in previous lives, people contract cancer as a result of sexual licentiousness and "dirty thoughts," etc.) As a result, sixteen rabbis, from a broad spectrum of Orthodoxy, signed a public letter (not a ban) urging shuls to think twice before having him as a guest speaker. In response, Mizrachi hurled abuse at them, calling them "evil wicked haters of G-d." Subsequently, he and Reuven came up with a "Black List" (sic) of fourteen rabbis who are reshaim and heretics, including some of the 16 rabbis who had criticized him, along with several others - among them, the former and current Chief Rabbis of Britain. Mizrachi and Reuven produced (with the Igud HaRabbonim symbol) a notorious video, "Erev Rav Inside Anglo Judaism," in which they thundered about people who deserve to be stoned to death and segued to the "Black List of 14 Heretics."

And now the story continues. Mizrachi, in a video uploaded to YouTube last week, recounts a phone conversation that he had with Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, the outstanding leader of Boca Raton Synagogue. (You can see Rabbi Goldberg's take on this conversation at this link.) Brokered by a senior rabbi from the OU, the conversation was aimed at reconciliation. Rabbi Goldberg apologized for not reaching out to Mizrachi before issuing criticism, and Mizrachi conceded that he should attack ideas, rather than attacking people, but claimed that because his audience is so unlearned and won't recognize heresy when they hear it, he had to spell out for them which rabbis are spreading heresy(!). Nevertheless, he said that he won't do it again, and things should be kept respectable. Extraordinary!


Yet there are two serious problems with this so-called "apology." First is that Mizrachi evades all responsibility. He introduces it by saying that "sometimes when two rabbis are arguing, they don't get punished; the ones who get punished are all the fools who constantly spread poison to the argument and make it worse." But it wasn't his followers (that he calls "fools") who spread the poison - it was Mizrachi himself! He was the one who referred to his critics as "evil wicked haters of G-d" whom "it is a big mitzvah to hate" and who deserve the death penalty. As my friend Rabbi Scott Kahn put it, "As if he didn't pour the gasoline and light the fire. Only the "fools" who actually take him seriously are going to be punished!"

Second, if Rabbi Mizrachi truly regrets referring to respected rabbis as "evil wicked haters of G-d" and "heretics who deserve the death penalty," then it's not just Rabbi Efrem Goldberg to whom he should be apologizing - it's all the people in the lists of 16 and 14 rabbis.

Still, for someone with such an inflated and fragile ego as Yosef Mizrachi, I think that this apology does represent progress. It remains to be seen whether there will be a significant change in his lectures. It's not very promising that just a few days ago, Mizrachi posted a video on his Facebook page, co-produced with Reuven, about "The Final War Against The Erev Rav," even though he doesn't mention any specific names.

Meanwhile, Yaron Reuven, the self-styled "Speaker of 100% Backed-Up Truth," was called out on two specific and very blatant slanderous statements. One was his false claim that Rabbi Sacks had denied the historicity of the Exodus, and the other was his false claim that I had personally been put in cherem. He responded by releasing a video about "apologies," in which he admitted that he might not have been correct!

And yet his apologies were likewise severely lacking. First of all, while admitting that Rabbi Sacks did not actually deny the Exodus, he stresses that Rabbi Sacks is nevertheless a heretic for other reasons, and comes up with whole new piece of slander: that Rabbi Sacks described Chava, Adam's wife, as a prostitute! (This absurd slander results from his misunderstanding a statement by Rabbi Sacks about the Mitochondrial Eve of 200,000 years ago; what Rabbi Sacks actually said was that this Eve was not the Chava of the Torah, because, to paraphrase a medieval play, the wench is long dead!)

His "apology" to me was also deeply problematic. Although he describes what he did as an apology, he didn't actually apologize. What he does is admit that it might not actually be true that I was put in cherem. But this is accompanied by a lengthy insistence that his accusation is unlikely to be false, because if Rav Elyashiv had indeed said that I'm not in cherem, then there would be evidence of that. Not much of an apology! And of course it goes without saying that his argument is absurd. First of all, he can simply contact Rav Aharon Feldman, who heard the details explicitly from Rav Elyashiv. Second, his claim that a "denial from Rav Elyashiv that I am in cherem would be accompanied by a detailed halachic pronouncement" is upside-down - rather, it is putting someone in cherem that would be accompanied by a detailed halachic pronouncement! Reuven can't produce one, and never saw one - because it doesn't exist.

And here's the greatest irony. Earlier in this video, Reuven stresses the seriousness of the punishment for heresy - nidduy/cherem - so that people will take his condemnations of various rabbis more seriously. He says that it's so serious, that if you say that someone is in nidduy, and it's not actually true, then you yourself have to go into nidduy! Well then, Rabbi Reuven, you have hereby declared yourself to require being put in nidduy!

But it gets even wilder. The title that Reuven picked for this video in which he is forced to retract his slander against Rabbi Sacks and myself? "Apologies to Resha'im"!

These two rabbis attract thousands of followers. They indoctrinate them with sickening theodicy and hatefulness to others, and incitement to violence. If they do not change their ways, they should be condemned and shunned.


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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Rambam's Zealous Heresy-Hunting


Does Judaism believe that rabbis who issue certain problematic statements are wicked heretics who should be executed?

Rabbi Yaron Reuven and Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi have been broadcasting that view to their thousands of followers. And they have been issuing the label of heretic to a "Blacklist" of figures as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, myself, and others, including people who challenge their lectures. In a previous post, "Laughable Lunatics or Dangerous Inciters?" I harshly criticized them for this. While I'm not at familiar with many of the rabbis on the list, the ones that I do know are certainly not heretics! But even from Mizrachi/ Reuven's perspective on the opinions shared by these rabbis, it's completely unacceptable to brand them as wicked heretics who deserve to be executed. And it's effectively incitement to murder (and it is naive to think otherwise, when you never know who is watching YouTube videos).

On the other hand, with regarding to the claim of Reuven and Mizrachi that they are merely accurately presenting the authentic Jewish approach to heretics, several people claimed in the comments that they are actually correct. Some have written to me with grave concern about this possibility. And, when you look at certain statements in the classical sources, there is indeed reason to be troubled.

We tend to associate Rambam with the concept of freedom of thought. This is due to both Rambam's liberal/ radical approach to many topics, and the efforts to ban Rambam's rationalist approach (both 800 years ago and in our own generation). But the truth is that Rambam himself was not only opposed to freedom of thought - he was actually a harsh zealot against it. Just take a look at these shocking paragraphs from Rambam:
"...The apikorsim - and those are the ones who deny the Torah and the prophecy from Israel - it is a mitzvah to kill them. If one has the power to kill them with the sword in public, one kills them; and if not, one should approach them surreptitiously to bring about their death. For example, if he sees one of them that fell into a well, and there is a ladder in the well, he should rush to remove the ladder, and say that he needs it to take his son down from the roof and will return it, and suchlike." (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rotze'ach, 4:10)
"Someone who does not acknowledge the Oral Torah... is a heretic, and his death is at the hands of anyone... he is lowered into a pit, and not raised out... there is no need for witnesses (to his deeds) or for warnings or for judges. Rather, whoever kills such a person has done a great mitzvah, and removed a stumbling block." (Hilchot Mamrim 3:1-2)
There you have it! Rambam states that heretics are liable for the death penalty, and moreover that this is to be executed outside of the judicial system!

Well, the good news is that there are a number of responses to be made to this, which I will now provide. (An excellent thorough treatment of this topic can be found in Gerald J. Blidstein, "The 'Other' in Maimonidean Law," Jewish History 18:2/3 (2004), pp. 173-195.) This post will conclude with a very appropriate lesson for the week of Tisha B'Av.

I. Rambam's Novel Approach to Intellectual Beliefs


This website is an exploration into the rationalist approach to Judaism, most prominently advocated by Rambam. Most of us strongly identify with his approach to many topics - the non-literal approach to Tanach, the willingness to accept the truth from whatever the source, the respect for science, and so on. Many aspects of Rambam's approach are grounded in earlier writings of the Geonim (and Chazal), and are supported by other Rishonim.

On the other hand, there are some aspects of Rambam's worldview which are a novelty and completely at odds with the rest of rabbinic thought. As the Vilna Gaon pointed out, this is because Rambam was strongly influenced by his Greco-Islamic environment. The Vilna Gaon saw this as solely negative; while others of us might see aspects of it as positive, there are also aspects that we might indeed agree to be negative. But, whatever one's opinion of these views, the Vilna Gaon is certainly correct that they were influenced by  Grego-Islamic philosophy and are not part of traditional Judaism.

In particular, Rambam's position that intellectual perfection is the ultimate purpose of existence is at odds with normative Judaism. Traditional Judaism, both before and after Rambam, places far greater weight on what a person does than on what a person thinks. The Torah, Mishnah and Talmud are very concerned with all kinds of details regarding a person's actions, but nowhere is there a list of required and/or forbidden beliefs. We might speak about the "kosherness test" of people adhering to Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith, but that's really just out of convenience; the real criteria are whether people are loyal to the halachic community and do not publicly undermine its treasured beliefs. (See part two of my review/critique of Menachem Kellner's Must A Jew Believe Anything? and my article in Hakirah, "They Could Say It, We Cannot: Defining the Charge of Heresy.")

II. Rambam's Placement of Punishment in Human rather than Divine Hands


The Mishneh Torah may appear to be simply a codification of the laws found in the Talmud, but this is far from the case. For example, Marc Shapiro's fascinating Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters documents the many cases in which Rambam modified and adapted Talmudic rulings in order to remove superstitious aspects. Heresy is another striking example. When the Mishnah condemns certain specific heretical statements, it states that those who espouse them have lost their share in the World-to-Come. There is no mention of any consequences or punishment by Beit Din, let alone authorizing retribution outside of Beit Din.

Now, it might appear that Rambam is simply following the ruling in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 26b) about certain people who are to be "lowered into a pit." However, first of all, this is a strange rule, which is not found in the Yerushalmi, nor mentioned anywhere else in the Talmud's many rulings about dealing with problematic people. Second, the Gemara states this rule with regard to sectarians, informers (note - this does not mean people going to the FBI about child molesters or whistle-blowers on Ponzi schemes), and mumarim (ideologically committed sinners), not to people with deviant beliefs.

As Blidstein points out, Biblical and Talmudic law punished unacceptable behavior but not intolerable ideology. Rambam was making an innovation which deviated strongly from classical Judaism (and which may have been influenced by Islamic philosophy, which advocated force to compel belief). Contrary to Yaron Reuven's claim, the Sanhedrin would not put people to death for heretical beliefs.

III. Rambam's Moderation of his Harsh Stance


Rambam's harsh approach to heretics was primarily targeted towards Karaites, the heretical sect of his day who rejected the authority of the Oral Law. And yet, as Rambam grew older, he dramatically softened his approach and re-wrote parts of his works. He redefined the ruling about killing heretics to make it effectively both prohibited and inappropriate; scholars have shown that these are later changes to his works. Rambam's way of nullifying his ruling was to argue that descendants of the Karaites are not accountable for their false beliefs, since they are equivalent to the tinok shenishbah, the child captured by idolaters, who has been raised to believe false doctrines and is rated as anus (sinning under duress).

Fascinatingly, Blidstein observes that this is flawed as legal comparison, since in the actual case of a tinok shenishbah, Rambam does not rule him to be an anus but rather a shogeg (inadvertent sinner). Furthermore, the leniency for a tinok shenishbah is usually not applicable once the person has been freed and re-educated, whereas Rambam is willing to extend this leniency to Karaites who are exposed to rabbinic thought. However, since Rambam's initial harsh approach to Karaites was not founded in Talmudic law, it's easier for him to walk it back!

IV. Seeing Heresy Everywhere


There is another major problem with Mizrachi and Reuven championing their heresy-hunting as merely continuing the tradition from Rambam. While Rambam himself applied the status of heretic to new areas of philosophical beliefs, Mizrachi and Reuven go much further, attempting to disqualify as many people as they can.

Every belief with which Mizrachi and Reuven disagree, every action by a rabbi that they object to, turns the rabbi into a rasha and a heretic! The rabbi invited a Christian or Muslim as a guest speaker to a panel discussion? He's a rasha and a heretic! The rabbi has views on Biblical figures that you disagree with? He's a rasha and a heretic! Now, obviously from the perspective of many of us, there's nothing at all wrong with such things; but even from the perspective that something is indeed incorrect, even if it is wrong, this does not necessarily mean that is actually heretical, that it renders one disqualified from the Jewish community.

Incredibly, Mizrachi and Reuven even apply the status of heresy to beliefs held by Rambam himself! Their accusations against Rabbi Sacks and myself are based on the charge that it is heretical to read portions of the Creation account allegorically, or to say that Chazal erred on statements about the natural world. And yet both of these positions are, of course, advocated by none other than Rambam himself!

V. The Living Tradition vs. the Book Tradition


Finally, there is a more fundamental problem with Mizrachi and Reuven seeking out people to identify as heretics and labeling them as deserving of execution, and claiming this to be nothing other than presenting a truthful picture of traditional Judaism. As Haym Soloveitchik famously explained in Rupture And Reconstruction, there is a world of difference between the Book Tradition and the Living Tradition.

To be sure, if you search the writings of Chazal and the Rishonim, you can find various extreme statements. But these are not part of the Living Tradition. With the rare exception of the occasional zealot, the general rabbinic community did not (and does not) go around trying to find ways to disqualify popular and accepted rabbis as heretics who should be killed. They didn't issue "Blacklists of 14 Heretics." Perhaps Mizrachi and Reuven's mistake is due to their being late and recent returnees to observant Judaism who are not sufficiently grounded in tradition.

The normative approach is perhaps best illustrated by considering the case of the Chazon Ish. He himself was certainly towards the zealous end of the spectrum, and had highly conservative views on theology. Nevertheless, when it came to discussing Rambam's rule of "lowering heretics into the pit," the Chazon Ish says that it simply isn't applicable. He writes that when there is no open proof of God's presence, those who deny the Divine cannot be held accountable. Attempts to destroy such people, says the Chazon Ish, do not solve any problems, but rather are themselves a serious problem. Instead, he writes, one is simply to reach out to heretics with love, and attempt to influence them positively.

Note that the Chazon Ish is not presenting a legal argument to nullify a legal position. Instead, he's presenting a common-sense approach to nullify something that was never a legal position or a historical practice in the first place. It is wrong and makes no sense to be hostile to people who have beliefs that you consider incorrect, since these beliefs were innocently reached. Contrast this with Mizrachi and Reuven labeling rabbis with beliefs they consider unacceptable as "wicked resha'im"!

Let us conclude with the words of the Netziv, in his introduction to Sefer Bereishit, where he explains why it is also referred to as Sefer Ha-Yashar, "The Book of the Just":
During the Second Temple, there were tzaddikim and chasidim, as well as those who toiled in the words of Torah; however, they were not yesharim in their dealings with others. Due to the baseless hatred in their hearts towards each other, they suspected that those who disagreed with them on religious matters were Sadducees or heretics. This brought them to bloodshed under false pretenses and many other evils until the Temple was destroyed... And this was the praise of the Patriarchs, that besides their being chasidim and lovers of God in the most perfect way, they were also yesharim; that is, they conducted themselves towards others, even towards despicable idol worshippers, with love; they cared about providing for their benefit, as that keeps the world in existence.
It's fine to disagree with others' opinions, even strongly. But we should not be rushing to disqualify people as resha'im, as heretics, and certainly not as worthy of execution. It's wrong; it's dangerous; and it's not traditional Judaism.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Igud Irony


On July 15, Rabbi Yaron Reuven posted a video on YouTube. He ranted against Lord Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, myself, and others, insisting that we are resha'im and heretics. And, as we know from his previous videos, he believes that heretics deserve to be executed, and he says that if it wasn't illegal, he would kill them himself.

At the beginning of the video, there is an animation of the logo of the Rabbinical Alliance of America (RAA), otherwise known as the Igud HaRabbonim. I don't know whether this means that the video is officially co-produced by the RAA, but it certainly is intended to look that way. It's followed by a picture of Rabbi Reuven's rabbinic ordination from the RAA. And in the description of the video, it highlights that Rabbi Reuven is a proud member of the RAA, and gives a promotional announcement for this organization.

On July 16, the RAA issued the following statement:
For Immediate Release
The Rabbinical Alliance of America Issues an Urgent Call for the Restoration of Civility and Respect in These Challenging Times
The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis — issues an urgent call for the restoration of civility and respect in New York City in these challenging times. Disagreement, even vehement disagreement, must take place within the boundaries of constructive debate. In order to improve society, we must make a future in which we can live together. Violence moves us farther away from that goal.
 Oh, the irony!


(Igud HaRabbonim can be contacted at Rabbi@Igud.US)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Does Rabbi Yaron Reuven Speak The Truth?

Rabbi Yaron Reuven - the person infamously denouncing numerous prestigious rabbanim as heretics, and declaring that those who challenge his lectures deserve execution - claims that truth is very important to him. And he makes some very grandiose claims about his loyalty to truth and its results: "The amount of people that do teshuvah from our lectures every single day is more than almost every speaker in the world... Why? Because they like truth. And there's not many people that speak the truth." And just how much truth does Rabbi Reuven speak? According to him, 100%. "Everything I say is 100% true. If I ever said something not true, you show me what I said, and I'll fix it. Everything I say is backed up."

Unfortunately, but hardly surprisingly, this is not at all the case.

Here's one striking example. In one of his tirades against Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Reuven claims that Rabbi Sacks said the heretical statement that "Yetziyat Mitzrayim was a parable." But Rabbi Sacks never said any such thing!

Reuven presents a video clip of Rabbi Sacks that he has completely misunderstood (or willfully distorted). In the clip, Rabbi Sacks is asked why there is a difference between Adam and Eve (which Rabbi Sacks explains as a parable) and the Exodus. Rabbi Sacks proceeds to explain why they are different. Now you might dispute his explanation, but one thing is indisputable: He does not state that the Exodus is a parable; in fact he explicitly explains why it isn't.

A friend of mine, Rabbi Scott Kahn, wrote to Reuven to point out that he falsified Rabbi Sack's position. You'd think that someone who is committed to 100% truth, to saying only things that are backed up, and to fix it if he made a mistake, would welcome the opportunity to issue a retraction. But instead, Reuven continually refused to admit that he was wrong, and eventually responded to Rabbi Kahn that since Rabbi Sacks is a heretic, anyone who seeks to defend him needs to "learn more Torah."

Clearly, Reuven is not interested in truth. As far as Reuven is concerned, if he rates someone as a heretic, then he can issue slander about him, and he doesn't need to back up his allegations.

Here is another example, which I find of more personal interest. In a recent lecture, Rabbi Reuven issues the following astonishing claim about me:
Natan Slifkin, shem reshaim yirkav ("the name of the wicked should rot")... he came out with a book about animals, pretty much saying that the Torah made mistakes, Chazal made mistakes. Rav Elyashiv, and many other Gedolei Olam, said... "These books should be burned, he is in public cherem permanently... you're not allowed to count him in a minyan, you're not allowed to do business with him, you're not even allowed to be within four feet of him!"
Of course I'm familiar with people falsely claiming that my books "pretty much" said that "the Torah made mistakes." But Reuven also issues an extraordinary lie that even I haven't heard before. Yes, the charedi rabbonim said that my books should be burned. But there was never, ever any cherem on me personally! I've never even heard of anyone at all claiming otherwise. In fact, Rav Aharon Feldman publicized an account of his meeting with Rav Elyashiv in which Rav Elyashiv was explicit that he was not saying anything at all about me personally, and was only banning the content of my books (since the rationalist approach of various Rishonim and Acharonim is forbidden to be studied):
Dear ***, My short visit to Israel last week was, among other reasons, to ascertain Rav Elyashiv's reason for the issur on Nosson Slifkin's books. Contrary to rumors, I did not travel on anyone's behalf.
Rav Eliashiv felt that the hashkofos of the books regarding Chazal and the age of the universe are forbidden to be taught, and this despite the fact that others, even great people (such as R. Avraham ben HaRambam, Pachad Yitzchok and, in our times, Rav Dessler and R.Shimon Schwab) may have said similar things. "They were permitted to say these things, but we may not," he said. In other words, the halacha is not like them.
Most important, Rav Eliashiv said that by his signature on the public announcement regarding the books he did not mean to rule that the author is a min or kofer. As far as he is concerned, Rav Eliashiv said, "the author could be one of the lamed vov tzadikim"; the books nevertheless are forbidden to read. He was surprised when he was shown that the announcement described the books as kefira and minus. He then dictated a statement to me,in the presence of his secretary, Rav Yosef Efrati, and one of his grandsons, which read as follows:
כוונתי כשהצטרפתי לקול קורא  היתה רק בנוגע שהספרים אסורים לבא בקהל
or, "My intention when I added my name to the public announcement [regarding the issur] was only regarding that the books should not enter the Jewish community." The word "only" was meant to specifically exclude the implication that the author is a heretic.
With best wishes,
Aharon Feldman
I don't care so much about people claiming my books to be heretical - it says more about them, and their disregard for the Rishonim and for truth, than it does about me. But claiming that the Gedolim ruled that it is forbidden to do business with me, count me in a minyan or even stand in my presence is a whole new level of slander. (I wrote to Rabbi Reuven, pointing this out and demanding a retraction; needless to say, I did not receive a response.)

But Reuven issuing this staggering falsehood does have a benefit. It provides irrefutable proof that for someone who claims to speak 100% truth, with everything backed up, Rabbi Yaron Reuven is actually... something else.


See too the earlier post: Laughable Lunatics or Dangerous Inciters?

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Monday, July 20, 2020

Laughable Lunatics or Dangerous Inciters?

How should one respond to the crazy rantings of "Rabbis" Yosef Mizrachi and Yaron Reuven?

I've always thought that these two narcissistic clowns are nothing more than a great form of entertainment. Yosef Mizrachi, with his ridiculous theological claims about divine punishment, his messianic delusions about himself, and his conviction that any other rabbis who criticize him are the greatest enemies of the Jewish People. Yaron "Ron" Reuven, with his shady claims of having been a Wall Street superstar, fanatically obsessed with "wasting seed," and his preoccupation with suffering and punishment. What a pair of jokers!

Last week, the dynamic duo posted a video in which their hellfire accusations against myself and thirteen other rabbis (including Lord Rabbi Sacks and Chief Rabbi Mirvis) were set to a rousing cinematic score and a mixture of film clips from various apocalyptic Hollywood movies. I thought that it was hilarious! I loved it, and the first thing that I did was download it, in case it was ever removed. When, after a day, they removed it (evidently they got too much heat about it), I promptly re-uploaded it to YouTube myself! Their rantings against myself and my colleagues doesn't hurt us; it just discredits Mizrachi and Reuven, while providing the rest of us with great entertainment. (Alas, Yaron Reuven filed a complaint to YouTube and they deleted it. It's kind of odd that he protested my usage of his video of other people's videos!).

But I'm beginning to think that I am mistaken. These two jokers are no laughing matter.

First of all, while you can't believe their own absurd claims about having hundreds of thousands of followers, there clearly are a lot of people who are infatuated with them. This can be seen from the Facebook and YouTube comments on their posts, in which people gush over their teachings, and revel in the thought of how their critics will suffer terribly in this world and the next. This influence needs to be countered.

Second, Mizrachi and Reuven often not-so-subtly call for violence and even execution of "heretics." Now, I don't think that the two of them would ever actually act on it; Mizrachi wants to do nothing more than speak to his sniggering fans, and "Ron" Reuven already had one run-in with the law and is probably afraid of another one. But their groupies are a different matter.

Some of the most devoted followers of Mizrachi and Reuven are of poor character – crass people, hateful people, violent people. Mizrachi himself has boasted of criminals and murderers who are followers of his; he once laughingly described how he had a criminal devotee who wanted to actually murder one of his critics. Mizrachi says that he talked him out of it, but will these inciters of hatred always be able to put out the fires that they light?

In the notorious video shared previously, Reuven describes how the law of mesis mandates that someone who inspires another to worship idolatry must be put to death, and immediately follows that with a clip of Mizrachi denouncing fourteen rabbis as being such heretics; the implications are obvious. In another shocking shiur, when someone challenges the outrageous theological claims that Reuven makes, he replies to the audience that people who criticize the shiurim of rabbis such as himself are trying to spiritually murder us all, that they are worse than Hitler, that we pray for such people to die, and stresses that "if it was legal, I would kill him." It's not difficult to imagine that some of their more bloodthirsty members of the cult might actually decide to act on it. And in the longer run, the idea of Orthodox Judaism developing a violent, apocalyptic cult is troubling.

The third problem is that the warped theology that they publicize on YouTube can have devastating consequences for the Jewish People when it falls into the hands of antisemites. Mizrachi's notorious denial that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust plays right into the hands of Holocaust deniers. Reuven is even worse - he has a truly sick video in which he claims that the Jews of Germany genuinely ruined the country with their financial greed and sexual perversions, which is why Hitler wanted to kill them. Needless to say, this video has been enthusiastically shared by endless antisemitic website, for whom it's a dream come true to have a bearded Orthodox rabbi state that Germany's hatred of Jews was justified.

It's time to take these clowns seriously as a threat to society. To that end, a number of people are working on a multi-pronged campaign, which you can help with.

First is the accumulation of evidence. Both Mizrachi and Reuven are constantly releasing videos of multi-hour shiurim, which are excruciating to watch, but we need people to scour them for incriminating statements. Such extracts can be used to discredit them, to get them banned from YouTube, and potentially to report them to the authorities for incitement to violence and even for antisemitism.

Second is to protest. In the last few days, protests were successful in getting the TorahAnytime website to remove Yaron Reuven's videos, but Yossi Mizrachi's videos are still there. You can write to info@torahanytime.com to complain. Meanwhile, Yaron Reuven's followers tout his being a member of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, so it would be a good idea to write to Rabbi@Igud.US and protest that. (It's a very right-wing group, so saying that he badmouths Rabbi Sacks etc. won't do anything, but they might be more receptive to complains about his inciting violence, enabling antisemites, and giving Orthodoxy a bad name.)

The third way to help is to try to limit their influence as much as possible. Mizrachi's CDs are given out all over the place. While many shuls and yeshivos won't host Mizrachi or Reuven as speakers, some still do. This has to be fought.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Know Your Enemy

Previously, I presented a gallery of crazy examples of frum publications omitting pictures of women. Most (but far from all) of the readers here are of the view that erasing women is ridiculous and/or terrible. But is that really the case?

When people would hear that my books were banned for being heretical, they would often immediately extend words of support to me, saying things like "Rambam was also banned!" and ridiculing my opponents. This always made me uncomfortable. Yes, Rambam was also banned, but this doesn't mean that every banned book is as worthy as Rambam's works.  As the saying goes, they laughed at Columbus, they laughed at the Wright brothers, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. How could these people, who had not read my books and had not examined my opponents' objections, automatically assume that I was correct?

The notorious and extremely painful ban on my books was a growth opportunity in a number of ways. One of those is that I learned to appreciate the importance of understanding one's opponents. It would have been all too easy to just dismiss the ban on my books as sheer nonsense, utterly unjustifiable and absolutely incomprehensible. This was especially since the justifications that were being given for the ban were indeed sheer nonsense. But, after spending many, many months trying to understand what was fundamentally going on, I finally grasped it - even better than my opponents did - and I was able to write a defense of my opponents that was far superior to anything that my opponents had to offer. This didn't mean that I believed that they were ultimately correct. But only by understanding their legitimate concerns could I properly address why my works were ultimately justifiable.

And I took a larger lesson from this. In any disagreement, one shouldn't just dismiss one's opponents as "crazy." There's a reason why people take the positions that they take. It might not be the reason that they are consciously aware of. It might not be a very good reason. But there is a reason, and it's important to know what it actually is.

The same is true with the issue of erasing women. Many people - including warriors for the cause of putting women back in the picture - simply don't understand why erasing happens and dismiss it as baseless nonsense. This hampers their ability to fight for their cause, since their opponents recognize that these people just don't get what it's all about.

I saw this problem vividly demonstrated recently when I unwittingly caused a storm (again!). I am part of a discussion group on these issues, mostly consisting of women, and I posted a picture of a sheitel advertisement that I was surprised to come across in a parasha booklet in shul. Here it is:


To my mind, the problems with the picture on the left were so obvious that they didn't even need to be spelled out. The facial expression, the pose, the camera angle, the careful use of a fan together with a fast shutter-speed to get the "hair blowing in slow motion" look - it's all professionally designed to be sexually alluring. Aside from it making a mockery of the concept of modesty (the very thing that it is advertising!), surely it's simply not an appropriate picture for a parasha booklet.

Yet incredibly, some of the women in the group couldn't (or perhaps wouldn't?) see any problem with it! Some of them denied that the picture was intended to be alluring in any way; one said that it's simply showing how "REAL women" look in "REAL weather conditions of windy days." (I dryly responded that I don't know why the photographer even bothered setting up the shoot in his studio; he should have just gone outside and made use of whatever the weather was that day!) Another said that if I rate it as distracting, it means that I am a "sexual pervert." (I pointed out that if a woman is trying to be sexually alluring, then surely it's not perverse to be attracted!) The backlash against my post was so heated that many of the women who did agree with me had to write to me privately to say so; they were too afraid to face the wrath of others in the group.

Others had more serious arguments against my disapproval of the picture. Some said that it's deeply unpleasant to start policing which kinds of pictures can and cannot appear, and it's a slippery slope that can lead to the erasure of perfectly suitable pictures, and therefore it's best to make a "lo plug" (blanket policy) and allow all pictures. I'll return to that argument later, but meanwhile I would like to observe that this is the exact same argument used by those who do not print any pictures of women - that it's too unpleasant to start policing which kinds of pictures can and cannot appear, and it's a slippery slope that can lead to printing unsuitable pictures, and therefore it's best to make a lo plug and ban all pictures.

Another argument against my disapproval of the picture was that since the woman is following the letter of the law and covering all the parts that are required to be covered, there is no room for criticism. Ironically, this too is a mirror image of a problem that occurs with the modesty zealots, who transform tzniyut to a matter of centimeters and inches rather than being an attribute.

Unfortunately there are people who are unaware of some basic scientific truths that underlie the principles and laws of modesty. There are those who believe that there are absolutely no differences between men and women with regard to being attracted and distracted by the opposite gender. But the truth is otherwise.

It's basic biology - something that I see in the live animal collection at the Biblical Museum of Natural History every day - that males are more attracted and distracted by the opposite gender than the reverse. It's a simple scientific fact, for which there are biological and evolutionary reasons. Those who deny any difference between men and women are going against biology. (Ironically, this is a case where the charedi mindset is more scientifically grounded than certain non-charedi mindsets!) And if you want a striking example from the human species, there is the hacking of the Ashley Madison adultery website. It turned out that the active female users numbered just fifteen hundred, whereas the active male users of the website numbered over twenty million!
Men are indeed very susceptible to being attracted to, and distracted by, pictures of women. And given Judaism's emphasis on sexual attraction only being legitimate in the context of having (or trying to obtain) a marital relationship, this means that printing alluring pictures of women is a problem. But here's where the picture-erasers go wrong.

Yes, women can be distracting to men, more so than the other way around. However, that does not mean that it's best if women are minimized as much as possible, for three reasons.

First of all, once you substitute the traditional code and policy with an approach of "let's be more strict than our predecessors," then people will naturally apply this approach even further. And the logical consequence of that is the new phenomenon of charedi women wearing burqas. The "Burqa Babes" were too much even for the extreme Charedi Rabbonim here in Beit Shemesh; they issued a condemnation of them, citing the passuk of "Do Not Be Overly Righteous," pointing out that it leads to disrespect for parents, and causes others to have an aversion to tzniyus. But in a society in which it is forbidden for women to be seen even in pictures, it is hardly surprising that women start to wear burqas so that they will not be seen in real life either. And another natural end result is that women will eventually see it as an ideal not to leave the house at all, and it will ultimately become an imposed stringency.

Second, saying that women should be minimized as much as possible neglects the responsibilities that men have. Judaism does not believe that all the responsibility for avoiding inappropriate thoughts lies with women. Women have a responsibility not to try to be alluring, and men have a responsibility to try not to be allured. The principles of modesty make certain demands of women, but when they fulfill those (sometimes challenging) demands, it's then up to men to do their part, not to expect women to do all the hard work.

Third, aiming for a "higher standard of modesty" and "enacting safeguards" does not take into account all the problems that come with minimizing and erasing women. As the saying goes, every chumra comes with a kula. In this case, it brings a multitude of problems - causing financial disadvantages for women in certain professions, making Orthodox Judaism look crazy, turning women into sex objects, depriving frum girls of modest role models, teaching women that no matter how modestly they dress they will always have to erase themselves as a sexual temptation, and making women feel that they lack full existence in Orthodoxy, which causes all kinds of depression and resentment, and even causing people to leave Orthodoxy. Is all this worth it, just so as men won't have the challenge of seeing a picture of a modest woman?!

Finally, with regard to the "slippery slope" argument that it can lead to images such as the sultry sheitel advertisement, there are lots of things that can potentially lead to hirhurim, and yet Chazal did not prohibit them. This can lead to difficult judgments on a subjective case-by-case basis, but Chazal held that those judgments should indeed be made on such a basis, rather than simply broadly prohibiting everything. (This argument also works in the reverse; the challenges of making judgments on a case-by-case basis does not mean that frum publications should always print any photo of a woman who is covered according to the letter of the law. This does not mean that attractive women should not have their photos shown; but it does mean that photos which are intended to be alluring, such as the one above, should not be printed.)

Modesty is an obligation in Judaism. It is an obligation for both men and women, though it plays out differently for them. But taking it too far ends up costing a lot more than it gains. It's time to put women back in the picture.


For further resources, see www.chochmatnashim.org and www.frumwomenhavefaces.com

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Monday, July 13, 2020

An Awesome Video Shiur

If you have 17 minutes of your life to waste, there is an awesome new video shiur to watch. Set to thundering music and eye-popping visuals, it features Rabbis Yosef Mizrachi and Yaron Reuven explaining why the great sufferings of our era, including the tragic deaths of innocent children, are the fault of the entire Jewish nation. Their sin? Not fighting zealously enough against fourteen wicked infidels, including Lord Rabbi Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain Ephraim Mirvis, my friends Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Toronto and Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton, and yours truly! Packed with Oscar-worthy special effects, the video also features guest appearances from Thor and some Kryptonian spaceships! You can watch it on YouTube at this link: https://youtu.be/1KiL6d8aes4

(The video is tremendously entertaining; but the comments which appear on it, from their followers, are truly tragic.)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Guest Post: Modesty or Travesty?

After my post on The Invisible Women, a reader, Rina Goloskov, sent me her master's thesis on this very topic. I asked her to summarize it for a guest post, and I present it here:

Modesty or Travesty? Understanding the Symbolic Annihilation of Women in Orthodox Jewish Media 

By: Rina Goloskov 

I remember learning about hilchos tznius in tenth grade back in the early ‘90s. It was presented in a very matter-of-fact manner – cover this, don’t behave like that. Kol kevudah bas Melech pnimah. But over the past two decades, tznius has evolved beyond dress and behavioral guidelines; it has transformed into an ultra-Orthodox ideology.

This metamorphosis was catalyzed by 1998 publication of Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk’s book, Oz veHadar Levusha/ Modesty: An Adornment for Life. In his introduction, Rabbi Falk explains that the book was a response to the “moral decay” of the outside world and its “relentless assault of the media on human decency and morality” that was permeating the Jewish community, diminishing Jewish women and girls’ instinctive knowledge of how to dress and behave modestly.

As Emmanuel Bloch observed in his 2018 paper, Immodest Modesty: The Emergence of Halakhic Dress Codes, Rabbi Falk’s book is the first attempt to codify the laws of tznius to such a minute degree – dictating the fabrics, colors, necklines and hemlines that are acceptable for a frum woman’s wardrobe. The book presents the laws of tznius “as the quintessential commandment incumbent upon women” – the female equivalent of the study of Torah for men.

Within a decade of its publication, the dominance of the tznius ideology became most apparent where it was completely invisible: ultra-Orthodox Jewish media. Several Charedi publications in Israel, including Hamodia, Mishpacha, and Yated Ne’eman, either blurred women’s photos or stopped printing their images on their pages altogether. As this practice became commonplace in Israel, American ultra-Orthodox publications followed suit.

When Charedi publishers are asked to explain this practice, they cite a sensitivity to the laws of tznius, as directed by both their rabbinic oversight panels and their readership. According to these publishers and editors, many of their readers would cancel their subscriptions should they publish photos of women. This second rationale – eliminating visual representations of women in Charedi magazines to ensure alignment with the supposed communal modesty ideals and, therefore, maximize the publications’ profits – exemplifies the theory of the symbolic annihilation of women, put forth by Brandeis University sociology professor and author Gaye Tuchman in 1978.

The theory goes like this: media executives aim to develop programming that appeals to the broadest possible audience to maximize profits. To do so, the programming must reflect dominant social values and ideals. The programming they produce contains symbolic representations of American society, not literal portrayals. This representation in the fictional TV world symbolizes the depicted group’s social existence, conveying to the audience that they are “valued and approved.”

So, if being depicted on television means you are valued and approved by your society, then being misrepresented on television – or not represented at all – makes you invisible in your society. Tuchman also explained that mass media not only reflect dominant societal values and attitudes, but they also act as agents of socialization, teaching young children how to behave. The symbolic annihilation of women in the media creates an absence of positive female role models in professional settings, or only depicts women as victims or consumers. This discourages girls from entering the workforce when they reach adulthood, or from reaching their full potential in the workforce, diminishing both their earning capacity and the national economy.

Symbolic Annihilation of Women in Frum Media 

How do frum women perceive the impact of their symbolic annihilation in their community’s media outlets on themselves and their children? Do they believe that their erasure from frum media is consistent with the halachos of tznius? I conducted a textual analysis of several threads in frum Facebook groups and discussion boards with hundreds of comments on each thread to find answers to these questions. The core themes that emerged were:

1. Erasing women is a distortion of the laws of tznius 

Those who oppose erasing women in often describe it as a distortion of Judaism, of halacha, and of tznius. They believe it is unrelated to Judaism and is veering into religious extremist territory. Many express that they do not believe there is any rabbinic involvement in creating or enforcing this policy. Some of the women expressed more neutral attitudes – they either do not think it is a big deal, or they do not care enough about it to take any action in response. Those who expressed support for erasing women either appear to truly believe that it is consistent with tznius, or they believe that it is simpler for the editors to have a blanket policy against publishing women’s photos than to have to decide which photos are sufficiently modest to publish on a case-by-case basis.

2. Tznius has transformed from modest dress guidelines to a distinct religious ideology 

Discussions about tznius depict it as an ideology that has tremendous influence over how community members conduct their daily lives. The word “tznius” itself takes on an ideographic quality, invoked to justify symbolically annihilating women. Citing tznius also evokes a conditioned response from Orthodox women and girls that their observance of tznius is a requirement for communal inclusion, and failure to comply has both social and financial penalties for them and their families.

3. Frum media publishers are symbolically annihilating women to maximize profits

Regardless of whether they support or oppose erasing women, most commenters acknowledged that the policy is a marketing decision designed to make Charedi publications acceptable to the largest swathe or Orthodox community members as possible. By accommodating even the strictest interpretations of tznius laws – not printing women’s photos or blurring out women’s faces – publishers believe that all Orthodox Jews will be comfortable reading their publications, thereby increasing their profits. This meets Tuchman’s definition of symbolic annihilation: the elimination or misrepresentation of a population in the media for the purpose of appealing to the broadest audience in order to maximize profits. Those who support the practice express that since these are private businesses, it is their prerogative to decide who their target market is and how to appeal to them.

4. Erasing women has dangerous physical and emotional ramifications 

Many women believe that erasing women has the opposite effect of its purported intent. They claim that it is disrespectful to women and objectifies women, rather than preserving their modesty and honor, as those who support the practice believe it does. In addition to the extreme measures of gender segregation in the Charedi community, the absence of modest women’s photos in frum publications hypersexualizes women in the eyes of frum men, making the women nothing but creatures available for their sexual satisfaction. Others observe that the practice also dehumanizes men, treating them as lustful animals with no control over their own sexual urges.

Another stated consequence is that frum women and girls are deprived of healthy, modest frum role models. If they do not see women like themselves in frum media, their only role models will be those they see in secular media, which is typically not modest. Those who support erasing women do not consider this an issue, as they maintain that they have many modest role models in real life. Erasing women also impacts female entrepreneurs negatively. Not allowing women to include their photos in display advertising is a form of economic discrimination which gives their male counterparts a competitive advantage

5. There is a need for more vocal responses 

Many of the women who object to the practice of erasing women are aware of existing grassroots efforts to combat this practice: Chochmat Nashim and FrumWomenHaveFaces.com. Additionally, many of the women have cancelled their subscriptions to these publications and voiced their objections directly to the publishers. Possible additional methods include coordinating a community-wide female “strike” against publishers who erase women – a month where women do not write articles, buy advertisements, or buy copies of these publications. Another option is to pursue litigation against these publishers, either in a Beit Din (rabbinic court) or a civil court.

Fortunately, the movement against erasing women in frum media and in support of more authentic, less extremist definitions of tznius continues to grow. When the Orthodox Union, the flagship organization of centrist Orthodox Judaism, recently ran a print ad with only men’s names and photos for an event that had both male and female speakers, discussions in numerous online groups prompted swift responses. But greater awareness of this practice and its consequences is needed, as it continues to evolve from exclusion in frum publications to other areas of frum life, attempting to make Orthodox women entirely invisible.

And sometimes, they literally take their lives. In response to literature from an Israeli women’s health clinics refusing to use terms like “breast cancer,” Chochmat Nashim founder Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll recently wrote, “Why then, do we recently – and increasingly – find euphemisms in place body parts when discussing women’s health? Why are health clinics, using vague phrases such as ‘women’s cancer’ or ‘the cancer found among women’?” (Jaskoll, 2019). She recounts a story told to her by a doctor who found evidence of cancer in a patient seeking antibiotics for mastitis, despite her being “far beyond her breastfeeding years” (Jaskoll, 2019). Both the patient and the doctor she had previously seen were Orthodox – never did the doctor offer to conduct a breast exam, and the patient never knew to ask. These things just were not talked about.

It is imperative that Orthodox community members advocate for women’s visibility. To do so, they must counter the narratives claiming that erasing women is consistent with tznius. They must push back against this dangerous extremist ideology, before their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters disappear altogether.

Additional comments by Natan Slifkin:

I want to add that aside from the problems mentioned in this study, another damaging aspect of the new trend of refusing to print pictures of women (which I have heard from several people) is that it makes them feel that their very existence is fundamentally devalued.
In a future post, I plan to discuss why this phenomenon exists, and the justifications that are offered for it (which are stronger than some opponents to this practice believe). You can subscribe to this blog via email using the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Invisible Women

The phenomenon of Charedi and Yeshivish magazines refusing to print pictures of women is well known. Still, perhaps people do not realize the extent of this absurdity. I've been collecting examples of this over the years, which I am sharing in this post. Before doing so, I would like to point out two things.

First of all, while for men this may be amusing or frustrating, for women it can be a source of immense pain, as well as other harmful effects. Do not make the mistake of underestimating how much harm this phenomenon causes. Devaluing a person's existence is one of the most painful things to do to a person. I've had a taste of what it feels like to be erased, and it's something that I wouldn't wish on anyone (well, maybe on some people).

Second, for a number of reasons, it's important to understand both why this phenomenon exists, and what precisely is wrong with it. I will be addressing this in a future post.

And now, for the photos:

1. At Least You Can See Her Chair?


2. These Women All Look Strangely Similar


3. Even Playmobil Females Must Disappear!


4. Someone Missed Their Own Wedding 
5. The Horror Movie


6. Who Can Find A Valorous Woman? Nobody, Apparently.


7. My Two Dads



8. The Midwives' Accessories



9. Happy Homosexual Family


10. Goodbye Shoes


11. Where's Hillary?


12. Those Sure Are Strange-Looking Women


13. Don't Mothers Give Advice To Their Daughters?


14. It's All A Blur



As I mentioned, I will soon be publishing posts on both what exactly is wrong with this phenomenon, and also why this phenomenon exists. You can subscribe to this blog via email using the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.

(Meanwhile, there are plenty of resources on this topic available at https://www.chochmatnashim.org and at https://www.frumwomenhavefaces.com.)

The Black and White Problem

The charedi community has a tendency to extreme black-and-white thinking. Biblical figures are either holy righteous people whose spiritual ...