Friday, July 30, 2021

Hamas' Useful Idiots

Although there is a widespread perception that Jews are clever, sometimes they can be extremely stupid.

Consider Hamas, and all the others who seek the destruction of the State of Israel (which necessarily includes the massacre of countless Jews). You'd think that Jews would make every effort not to assist them in this goal. And yet, there are countless Jews who unwittingly benefit their cause.

One such case is with Rabbi Yaron Reuven, a.k.a. "Hitler's rabbi." In one of his apocalyptic teshuva rants, he notoriously spoke about how Hitler had good reason to hate the Jews, who were corrupting German society. Now, as it happens, his claims about Jewish life in Germany and Nazi antisemitism are false. But even if it were to be true, as Reuven believes, what he doesn't seem to grasp or care about is that by producing such a YouTube video, he's not just stimulating Jews to improve their ways; he's also licensing antisemitism of massive proportions, with this video being shared and viewed by antisemites literally hundreds of thousands of times. 

Another case of this occurred during Operation Guardian of the Walls. A number of Jews (or as Natan Sharansky called them, un-Jews), scholars in academic Jewish studies, signed a public statement. They decided to condemn Israel for using "state violence" to try to stop Hamas from firing rockets. Of course, this is innately foolish in that they didn't actually present any explanation of how Israel is supposed to stop thousands of rockets without engaging in military action. But an additional layer of folly is that although at least some of them believed that they were equally condemning Israel and Hamas, the bottom line that they were clearly effectively strengthening Hamas. After all, their criticism of Hamas was only obliquely mentioned at the end of the second paragraph, where they referred to the rockets being "unjustifiable and indiscriminate," whereas their condemnation of Israel was touted explicitly and strongly in the very first sentence of the very first paragraph. They might not believe that they are out to strengthen Hamas and those who seek to destroy Israel, but that's unquestionably the effect of their actions.

The most recent case of useful idiots for those who seek to destroy Israel is, of course, the Ben & Jerry's affair. A number of Jews, sincere supporters of Israel, also quite reasonably believe that controlling Judea & Samaria, with its huge number of Palestinians that are not being accepted as citizens of Israel, is an enormous problem. Rather less reasonably, they also believe that Israel is primarily to blame for this, and that pressure on Israel will lead to a solution (of course, they never explain what this solution entails and how it would play out). And very foolishly, they do not realize that joining the Ben & Jerry's campaign has the effect of strengthening those who are trying to destroy Israel entirely.

It's all about the context. If you believe that Israel should be making greater efforts to achieve a withdrawal from the West Bank, then there are ways to fight for that; you could support Meretz or something like that. Joining a global effort led by, and supporting, those who wish to destroy Israel entirely is not the way to do it. The distinction between Israel and the West Bank might be very significant to you, but it is of absolutely trivial significance to the haters of Israel, the BDS activists who want to destroy the country, all of whom are welcoming the Ben & Jerry's decision.

The most blatant display of such folly is by none other than Ben and Jerry themselves. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield declared that they are fully in favor of the action, and that there's clearly nothing antisemitic about opposing Israel's settlement policy in this way, because they are strong supporters of Israel. Apparently they know nothing at all about the director of the board of the company that they founded, who is opposed to Israel's very existence. While Cohen and Greenfield themselves state that they support the State of Israel, their company is not saying any such thing. The company did not put out a statement saying "We support Israel against those haters and activists who seek its destruction, but we do not support the control of Judea & Samaria."

The Haniyahs and Nasrallahs and Omars and Sarsours of this world must be laughing with incredulity when they see how well-meaning Jews latch on to efforts to destroy Israel, piping up with their little spiel about they oppose the '67 occupation and thinking that they are part of the same fight. When will these Jews wake up from their little bubble and see what their actions are doing in the larger context?


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Sunday, July 25, 2021

The BDS Error

There are mistakes being made by people at both ends of the political spectrum regarding the Ben & Jerry's action.

I saw a post from someone who seems to consider himself an enlightened liberal Zionist, declaring a Gotcha! on those who are opposed to B&J. The argument was as follows: If you consider the B&J withdrawal from Judea & Samaria to be BDS, the same as a withdrawal from Israel, then you're saying that Judea & Samaria are properly part of Israel - in which case you're admitting that there is apartheid, because the Palestinians can't vote!

It's a foolish argument, but some people are getting the reason wrong as to why it's a foolish argument. (And it's entirely separate from the fact that even if Israel was claiming that Judea & Samaria are part of Israel, the situation still wouldn't be one of apartheid; not every human rights inequality is apartheid.)

Judea & Samaria are historically part of the Jewish homeland (just like Lebanon is and Eilat isn't). But, contrary to what some people on the right claim, they are not part of the State of Israel. Israel has not annexed these areas, and Israeli law does not apply there. You're not allowed to keep a pet king cobra in Beit Shemesh, but you are allowed to keep one in Efrat, though I would most definitely not recommend it. 

This is basically obvious and agreed upon by everyone (at least, as soon as they give it thought). And so boycotting trade in Judea & Samaria is obviously not exactly the same as boycotting trade in Israel proper. (Technically speaking, it might not even be BDS. As my friend Rabbi Scott Kahn has pointed out, BDS refers specifically to boycotting Israel. If someone were to boycott trade in Jaffa, due to claiming that it was stolen from Palestinians, that might not be BDS.)

Nevertheless, although the B&J boycott of Judea & Samaria is not the same as a boycott of Israel proper, it must still be opposed and it is still wrong (and perhaps more insidiously so). Because (A) it comes from the people who want to boycott all Israel, (B) it is a precursor to a boycott of all Israel, and (C) it is wrong for the very same reason as boycotting Israel is wrong. 

Regarding point A, by now it is fairly well known that B&J wanted to actually boycott all Israel, and were only reined in by Unilever. The board is headed by Anuradha Mittal, who has posted over 100 anti-Israel tweets, including one describing the creation of Israel as a "catastrophe." This action was not about Israel pulling back to the 1948 borders.

Even more significant is point B. As Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has written:

BDS is an irritant, a mostly failed attempt to harm Israel economically which has not put a dent in the growth, B”H, of the Israeli economy. The B&J/Unilever gambit is more dangerous. It takes a large, well-liked company with name recognition in practically every US family, and associates that good name with a finding that Israel is a huge human rights violator – perhaps the worst in the world. Making that horrific label stick, possibly in the minds of tens of millions of Americans, can indeed wreak havoc with Israel’s standing in the world community. If it goes unchallenged, it makes it that much easier to heap all the other epithets on Israel: apartheid, brutal, inhumane, Nazi-like. It would make it so much easier for the next business to do the same. And the next. And the one after. It will make it easier for school curricula (beyond the college campuses, which have been lost for years) to lump Israel together with the truly brutal regimes of the world. It can put every Jew on the defensive for being on the wrong side of history. The fact that a true corporate giant – Unilever – would not cry foul at this misstep will greatly solidify the impression that Zionists/Israelis/Jews are evil and expendable. 

And finally, the B&J boycott of trade in Judea & Samaria is wrong for the very same reason as boycotting Israel is wrong. It places all the blame on Israel for the creation and/or perpetuation of a situation which is at least as much the fault of the Palestinians, if not much more so (and which further disincentives them from seeking compromise). And it obsesses over a purported terrible crime against the Palestinians while ignoring vastly greater injustices elsewhere in the world, not to mention the far greater suffering caused to Palestinians by other regimes. The fact is that the vast majority of people only get fired up about Palestinian suffering if they can blame the Jews for it.

It's perfectly legitimate to be upset about various deficiencies in human rights suffered by Palestinians. It's perfectly legitimate (although possibly mistaken) to think that Israel made a huge mistake by not relinquishing control of Judea & Samaria. It's perfectly legitimate (albeit probably futile) to try to pressure the Israeli government as well as the Palestinian Authority to try to reach an agreement. But joining an antisemitic campaign is antisemitic.


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Friday, July 23, 2021

This Is Amazing!

We just produced an amazing music video! Watch it on YouTube at this link, with the volume up!

I would like to ask something of the 95% of the readers of this blog who read it in order to benefit from it (as opposed to those who read it in order to hate it!). Please can you express your hakarat hatov by forwarding this video to several other people? Thank you! 

(Here, I'll make it super-easy for you, just copy and paste the following into an email/WhatsApp:)

Hi, check out this terrific music video, I really think that you'll enjoy it! https://youtu.be/zBFzJOZh_ag


 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Beneath the Hysteria around Ben & Jerry's

While hysteria erupts surrounding the Ben & Jerry's boycott of Judea & Samaria, some people are wondering if it's really so terrible. I've seen two types of questions/ points being made:

1) Plenty of Jews - liberal Zionists - object to the occupation. Some refuse to buy products made in the West Bank. Why should a non-Jewish company be any different?

2) The claim is often made that it's only antisemitic to oppose Israel, not any particular government policy. That claim is surely being undermined by blasting Ben & Jerry's as antisemitic, since they are not opposed to selling in Israel, only in the West Bank; they are not part of BDS.

Here's why these points are off-base - and why they are generally being made only by people who do not live in Israel. 

Yes, Israel is engaged in a form of occupation - although the Jewish People have a historical and moral claim to the land (since it was won in a defensive war), even the State of Israel itself does not consider Judea & Samaria to be Israel. This has various bad consequences. 

However, in fact you will find that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis - including many of those that pushed for years for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank - do not believe that any form of boycott is appropriate. The reason is very simple. After the political events of the last twenty years, and the Gaza withdrawal and its consequences, most Israelis realized that no matter how bad the problems of the occupation, no matter how much they may want to leave the West Bank, there's simply currently no way out. 

What would people, such as the directors of Ben & Jerry's, actually have Israel do? Let's recall that Israel acquired the territories in a defensive war, fought against people who have repeatedly tried to wipe Israel off the map. Withdrawing from the territories under a negotiated peace agreement may sound ideal, but the reason why it hasn't happened has very little to do with Israel and a lot more to do with the Palestinians. Serious offers were repeatedly made by Israel and were rejected by the Palestinians. They're not actually even proposing anything or even willing to discuss it. And it's pretty clear that there is no Palestinian leadership that is interested in a final resolution (which is actually quite understandable, because they'd rather be a hero to their people for opposing Israel than get a bullet in the back for making compromises for peace). So why blame Israel for the situation?

The other alternative is for Israel to unilaterally withdraw. But this is likewise not viable. It wouldn't be long before there were rockets fired into Tel Aviv. And then Israel would be handicapped against defending itself, just as with the Gaza war, because the international community believes that Jews have no right to take the necessary military action required to prevent rockets from being fired. 

It's all very well to be upset about the situation and to fervently wish for peace. But at the moment, there's simply no way to make that happen. And it's wrong to place the blame at Israel's doorstep.

With regard to the second claim - that since Ben & Jerry's are only opposed to selling in the West Bank, then they shouldn't be described as anti-Israel/ antisemitic - the response is as follows. Although Ben & Jerry's should not be confused with Unilever (from which they have full independence in this aspect), the fact is that Ben & Jerry's have no problem doing business in countries whose moral challenges are far greater than those of Israel. 

Ben & Jerry's pulled out of Russia solely for financial reasons. They operate in the United Arab Emirates, which is an authoritarian state with no democratically elected institutions, no formal commitment to free speech, and in which there are systematic human rights violations, including the torture and forced disappearance of government critics. They have no objection to the Palestinian Authority, which is itself condemned by Amnesty for stifling free speech, torturing detainees with impunity, and various other abuses of human rights. And so when Ben & Jerry's singles out the Jewish State for boycott, then yes, this is anti-Israel and antisemitic.

(Note too that it was Unilever that said that they wish to stay operating in the rest of Israel; Ben & Jerry's itself then objected to that statement. The board of directors of Ben & Jerry's is led by Anuradha Mittal, a dedicated anti-Israel activist who has described the creation of Israel as a "catastrophe.")

On a lighter note: Since the Israel franchisee of Ben & Jerry's is losing his license as a result of refusing to cooperate with the boycott, I propose that he continue manufacturing ice cream under a different name, one that projects Israeli political strength; he could call it "Bennett & Ya'iry's"!


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Sunday, July 18, 2021

Do The Ends Justify The Means?

It's unfortunately very easy to get into the mood for Tisha B'Av this year. Aside from all the external threats to Israel and the Jewish People, and the rise and legitimization of antisemitism, there are also serious problems and dangers caused by Jews. There's the group of academic Judaic scholars who whitewash the threats posed by Hamas and others and condemn Israel's actions to defend its citizens. And here in Israel, the political internecine strife has reached disturbingly extreme levels. But before elaborating, I would like to first discuss the question of whether the ends justify the means.

Twenty-eight years ago, during a Yiddish shiur at my yeshiva gedolah in Manchester that I couldn't understand, the Rosh Yeshivah suddenly inserted the English phrase "the ends don't justify the means." This took me by surprise, because only the previous week it was parashas Toldos, in which Yaakov lies in order to get Eisav's brachos. I asked the Rosh Yeshivah about it and he explained that the means were not wrong, as Yaakov didn't lie; "truth" is whatever is the right thing to say, not whatever is accurate. Shortly afterwards I moved to a yeshivah in Israel, where the Rosh Yeshivah told me that of course Yaakov lied. He added that the ends do indeed justify the means, as we see from the principle that you can break Shabbos to save a life, and in the verse and principle Eis la'asos l'Hashem, heferu Torasecha.

This left me very perplexed. But after a lot of further thought and analysis, I realized that the entire concept is misleadingly phrased. It's more precise to phrase the question as "Does the attainment of high priorities justify overturning low priorities?" And the answer to that question is that in theory, absolutely, but in practice, it's often very difficult to implement, for several reasons.

First of all, if we're discussing mitzvot, then it's not necessarily obvious which things are a high priority and which are a low priority. As the Mishnah states, Be as careful with a lesser mitzvah as with a greater one, since we do not know the reward for each. How exactly does one weigh Shemirat Shabbat against Bein Adam LeChavero? 

Second, there could be all kinds of other priorities that one is not taking into account. In particular, the very act of overturning any priority is one with potentially very damaging consequences, because it has desensitized one to overturning priorities! Suppose one tells a lie for a noble purpose. This may sometimes indeed be  permissible and even obligatory, but it should not be overlooked that the cost is not a one-time act of dishonesty; it's a general weakening of one's commitment to the truth. This is not to say that it is necessarily wrong; it is just to stress that the cost-benefit analysis may not be as it first appears.

And then there's a third reason why it can be problematic to overturn low priorities for the sake of higher ones. Sometimes, achieving goals take on a significance which leads people to forget about the reasons why they were important to begin with. The pursuit of these goals leads to rationalizations in which a true evaluation of priorities gets shunted aside. This is something that is being tragically played out in Israel.

The Bibi Bloc, consisting of Likud, Smotrich's party and the charedim, proclaim that the Bennett-Lapid government is a "dangerous Leftist government which will harm Israel." They proclaimed that their single overriding goal to bring down the government. And because they defined "bringing down the government" rather than "protecting Israel's interests" as the goal, this became a way to rationalize causing all kinds of harm.

First, they voted against the Citizenship Law - the very law that Likud itself originally instituted for reasons of national security. They gleefully joined forces with the Arab Joint List to actively enable countless thousands of Palestinians to obtain Israeli citizenship (some of whom likely do so in order to make it easier to carry out terrorist attacks). For the sake of the goal of weakening a government that is harmful to national security, they harmed national security.

When I wrote about this a short while ago, some Bibi-fans claimed that this wasn't actually what happened; that the law which they opposed was a changed and harmful law. This happens not to be true. And another event last week proved beyond all doubt what is happening. 

When, God forbid, a woman is assaulted, any DNA from the attacker is held as evidence for three months, after which it is disposed of. The government proposed a bill to ensure that all samples would be stored permanently. This is particularly important because sometimes it can take a while for victims to summon the courage to come forwards. Such a bill is of obvious importance, and has absolutely no downside whatsoever. And yet it was voted against by all 51 members of the Bibi bloc.

There wasn't even any attempt to claim that there was any innate reason to vote against the bill. It was simply done because of a policy of opposing whatever the government proposes. In an interview, Likud MK Miki Zohar said “It is a pity that I had to oppose, it is a very important thing. But there is something more important than anything – that the State of Israel be led by people fit to do so.”

It is a tragic, insane situation. 51 MKs, representing right-wing and religious communities, vote against national security, against protecting women from rapists, all because it's more important to save Israel from a "dangerous" leadership! Is there no point at which it becomes apparent that the opposition are themselves the ones inflicting the actual harm?

(Sadly, this craziness is also beginning to affect the government coalition. In response to the Bibi bloc voting against government laws out of spite, some coalition members have decided to do the same to bills proposed by the opposition.)

There's nothing wrong with harshly criticizing and opposing those that you believe to be wrong, but it gets to a point where it becomes a matter of partisanship and tribalism rather than genuinely trying to fix society. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish State was destroyed because different groups of Jews were so obsessed with defeating other groups that they were driven to betray their own morality and harm their own cause. We need to put the brakes on this behavior.


 

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Friday, July 16, 2021

From Bais Yaakov to MD, part II

(Please note that this was written before the new Netflix series "My Unorthodox Life" came out)

From Bais Yaakov to MD: 

A Post-Charedi Bais Yaakov Graduate Speaks Out 

Guest post by Dr. Efrat Bruck

Part Two (read part one here

 

2. Stop pretending that your women are fine.

They are not. They are not fine. They are resentful, angry, and simmering beneath that amazingly cool exterior they pull off so gracefully. I would not be surprised if there was formally organized push-back from charedi women sometime in the near future. 

As a mother, wife, and physician, I assure you that I’m well-aware of the challenges modern life has brought upon women - all women, across all cultures and societies. I can appreciate the instinctive reaction the charedi world has had in pulling inwards and trying to “protect” the family unit by shunning “feminism” (despite the fact that the existence of Lakewood and Kollel owe thanks to feminism). But for goodness’ sake, you need to acknowledge your women and start having conversations about the issues. 

Your women handle an enormous burden. They are respected in their fields and in the boardroom, yet come home to a society that won’t let them speak in front of men, won’t print their pictures, and certainly won’t take their Torah scholarship seriously. Your hypocrisy is not lost on them; it is okay to get out there into the world and pursue a career to support the husband in kollel because YOU decided it’s fine, but not okay to do it for your own satisfaction or goals, because that’s “feminist”. So long as your endeavors benefit the goals outlined by your leaders, it’s ok. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact, that after all, “kol kevudah bas melech…:”, in other words, you are a woman under our jurisdiction. For those of you who think I am exaggerating, read this about the asifah held in 2015 in Israel. (Jew in the City will help you decode what the rabbonim actually meant – no sarcasm here) 

I will not pretend like I have all the answers or that I am fully satisfied with the treatment of women regarding Torah scholarship and leadership in the society I’m currently part of. But where I am, the questions are asked, the conversations are happening, and the men don’t crack jokes publicly about these very serious and very raw concerns. Your women deserve to be respected for their Torah scholarship, their pictures deserve to be printed, and they belong in positions of (gasp!) leadership, alongside men. 

I find it so stunningly ironic that so much of our whiny high school and seminary questions of “why can’t women do this and why can’t women do that” were answered with: “women are more emotional…it’s a good thing… they daven better”, when every few months the media explodes with yet another man in a position of leadership who was led astray by his “emotions” and got involved in some form of impropriety. To be clear, I’m not opposed to men being in positions of leadership. But spare me your platitudes about men being more level-headed.

Also, if you are worried that by taking your women more seriously, they will abandon their families and adopt cats instead, rest assured, women don’t – women almost never – abandon their families. The vast majority of women want to establish families and we are biologically and evolutionarily wired to put our children first, always. And the women who do not fall on this spectrum should not be forced into it anyway. This leads me to #3:

3. You need to start teaching your women Gemara

Or at least make it acceptable for those who want to without accusing them of doing it “for their own ego”. Before you start throwing tomatoes, hear me out.

Why would a charedi woman want to learn Gemara? Some people jump immediately to the rebelliousness. It’s because we want to be like the men! We are unhappy with our tafkid. “If a woman really knew the greatness and importance of her tafkid, she wouldn’t feel the faintest desire to learn Gemara,” I was repeatedly told. It’s because we are tainted by contemporary feminist ideologies that have seeped into our homes and minds. It tricked down from the women who want to wear tefillin. It’s a side effect of the Bais Yaakov system. We needed to start educating women because it was a hora’as sha’ah, but now they are all confused and think it’s their right to know everything. 

I went to a right-wing Bais Yaakov High school that was considered to have a strong Judaics curriculum. I then spent a year in the affiliated Seminary and following that, began teaching Judaic subjects at a high school. Three of my first summers teaching were spent at Neve’s most advance learning program for women. I was also fluent in Hebrew (thanks to my parents) and easily able to read and understand primary sources. Thus, I had basically maximized, to some extent, the learning available to women my age within the charedi framework. 

Oddly enough, all it took was 1-2 year of college to realize that the majority of my prior Judaic studies education fell into one of three categories: memorization of facts, developing textual skills, and learning to think the way the teacher thinks. (And then I completely understood why the charedi world is generally wary or discouraging of college and higher education.)  

This is not to negate or undermine the knowledge I acquired; I am thankful to have been fortunate enough to have robust Jewish education. But the critical thinking skills were just not there.  I was missing so many links. I could tell you what the halacha in a particular case was, but if you asked me why I would go blank. “Because it says so in the Shulchan Aruch?” Despite knowing the halacha and the “correct” hashkafah, I was actually ashamed of how little I knew about the process of its development. 

The gap between my ability to think critically in secular subjects versus Jewish subjects grew larger and larger and it dawned on me that probably what I was missing was contained in the Talmud. There were also many Judaic concepts that started to seem elementary and superficial, but then again, I knew that I couldn’t draw any significant conclusions when I was missing such a central portion of Jewish learning. 

It also didn’t help that when I started working at a research lab, no one questioned my “sincerity”, or if I was there for me “ego, or if I was a “feminist” – all things that were thrown at me when I tried to engage people in explaining why women aren’t taught Gemara. The contrast of being in an environment that was driven by meritocracy versus one where your every move was questioned, simply because you were a woman, was highly frustrating. Today I understand quite well why the charedi world doesn’t teach women Gemara; and I think they are very wrong. I think many women in my place would have just called it quits and given up on the Jewish part. It’s a shame. 

When you purposefully omit Talmud from women’s education, you are sending a very clear message and we hear it: your scholarship is only important insofar as it serves a very specific and narrow purpose outlined by the (male) leadership. Don’t be too ambitious when it comes to Torah, religion, or anything related. It will not bode well for their Judaism when these same women are taken seriously elsewhere. In the same way that Sarah Shenirer saw the need to formalize women’s education, charedi leaders today should see the need in incorporating Gemara into women’s chinuch.  

4. Your obsession with “tznius” is a big, big problem. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.  

We drill into women the importance of tznius - of wearing the right thing, of not wearing the wrong thing (with an attention to detail, that ironically, is quite untznius, definitely when spoken by a man). Why? Because it’s the pnimius that counts. Right? When you’re less focused on the outside, your inside character traits can shine. But is that the case? 

I spent four years ghostwriting divrei Torah for a local shul. I was very proud at the time. Here I was writing divrei Torah that were being read by some 100 men around the neighborhood, my name not once appearing on the papers. In fact, my brother who initially pitched my work to the Rav of the shul said it was my father writing the divrei Torah, because who would take a 21-year old “girl” seriously? 

I never had very strong feelings on the matter until I became a mother. Something about being parent makes you see things in a different light. Never, ever, would I stand by and let my daughters hide behind their work for no reason other than the fact that they are female. It is morally wrong on so many levels.  And say we even go along with the concept of “tznius”, isn’t the point to focus on women’s internal qualities, among those, their Torah scholarship? Or is that just a convenient excuse to erase women? My point in mentioning this story is that I had internalized the true message of charedi tznius, which is, just disappear totally, on the inside and outside, and be proud of it. 

If you are reading this and scratching you head, I urge you to read “Oz V’Hadar Levushah” which tells women not to play musical instruments in front of men, not draw in front of men, and not to discuss divrei Torah with men at the Shabbos table.  Charedi tznius is just as much about erasing women’s internal qualities as it is about erasing their physical presence.

An example of stunning hypocrisy that unveiled the true colors behind the charedi idea of tznius (i.e. control of women) was demonstrated by the Hatzolah/Ezras Nashim fiasco. Judge Ruchie Frier approached Hatzolah and requested that a division of female EMTs be set up to be deployed for emergencies relating to childbirth and other sensitive medical emergencies in the female population. Hatzolah did not agree and reiterated their long-held policy of not allowing women to join Hatzolah. Their reason? It would be inappropriate for men and women to fraternize in high-adrenaline settings. Riding in an ambulance together, delivering acute care, sharing intense experiences together – all these may lead to inappropriate work-place-initiated relationships. Ruchie Frier then went on to start Ezras Nashim, a separate EMT organization, and when Ezras Nashim applied to get a license for an ambulance, Hatzolah actively opposed them. 

Anyway, I think we can all agree that it isn’t universally accepted halachah that men and women cannot work together. Also, there are plenty of ways to mitigate the mingling of men and women in this particular setting, especially since the women coming on board would be serving a very specific subset of the population. Yet, Hatzolah and its Rabbis stood their ground; we must respect their sensitivities and approach, even if it isn’t the universal letter of the law.

How ironic, then, that in defense of Hatzolah rejecting Ruchie Frier and then opposing their ability to get a license, suddenly the letter of the law became very important. You can see Rabbi Kaufman explaining here that when it comes to emergencies, the gender of the medical professional does not matter. He also mentions that none of the rabbis who banded together to oppose Ezras Nashim actually spoke to anyone from Ezras Nashim (Rabbi Dr. Slifkin, does this sound familiar?) because “I believe the rabbis…are well-versed in the situation… and they have a very detailed knowledge of what’s going on…” How profound. They know what’s going on so they do not need to speak to anyone at Ezras Nashim before testifying at a hearing. The questioner then goes on to ask Rabbi Kaufman why he is only considering Jewish law and not the requests of women, given the cultural context, and how can a group of men make a decision in such a sensitive area for their entire female population?

I want to digress for a moment. Rabbi Kaufman, and the other 49 Rabbis you are speaking for, I’m looking at you. Suppose you needed to get medical care from a urologist. You show up at the clinic and find that the entire staff is female. You kindly request a male provider and you’re told there are none in this town. The female powers that be have decided that it’s ok to have all-female providers. Oh, and by the way, the provider that will see you is Chanie from down the block. But don’t be so sensitive. It’s medical treatment after all.

Ezras Nashim was born when women in the community were tired of having Chaim and Yanky from down the block emergenc deliver their babies. Hatzolah is so successful, partly due to the geographic advantage of having volunteers at every corner; the people most likely to respond to your call are those who live nearby. How can it be that rabbis that put such a high emphasis on tznius, on the spirit of the law, is suddenly so tone-deaf to women at their most vulnerable time? How can it suddenly be about halacha, when they so firmly defend their right to exclude women from Hatzolah, which is absolutely not universally accepted halacha? (Besides, even if they didn’t want to include women in Hatzolah, what business do they have launching a crusade against Ezras Nashim doing their thing and applying for an ambulance??)

And speaking about halacha, a woman giving birth is a choleh she’yaish bo sakanah, and one can violate Shabbos for her. No, it is not absolutely medically necessary for a women to have someone accompany her to the hospital in a car on Shabbos, yet the halacha, recognizing the woman’s vulnerability, allows for it. How can these rabbis oppose setting up a female response team that would make women feel safe and without loss of dignity in their most vulnerable moment? These are the same women that have zero to minimal contact with men till they are married and the same women that adhere to the strict tznius guidelines drawn up by men. Yet these same men don’t think the women should have a problem with local men delivering their babies. Looks like tznius has nothing to do with how women think or feel about anything; it’s all about the men. I suspect that the reason there was such a colossal resistance from Hatzolah and their Rabbis to something seemingly so innocuous was because the initiative was fully-driven by women.

Getting back to the questioner’s inquiry, about how can a group of men decide for a group of women… Rabbi Kaufman responds by saying that Jewish life revolves around Jewish Law, as interpreted by the rabbis. What a great way to end the discussion. As a follow-up question, he is asked why Hatzolah doesn’t allow women to join. First he cracks a joke (reminiscent of Rabbi Brudny in the Agudah convention speech) and then he completely evades answering. With this lack of transparency, it’s hard to imagine the deep, meaningful answer he would give if he had that “hour and a half”. I think Rabbi Kaufman’s speech broke the chillul Hashem meter. If I had still been charedi at the time, this incident alone would have been enough to blast me out like a cannon ball.

By the way, do you know what happens at the Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC when a chashuva rebbe is on the floor? It’s two am and the entire hospital is being turned upside down to find a male nurse because the rebbe needs his blood drawn. It’s pas nisht for a female to do it, despite the fact that he in only semi-conscious. What do you think would happen if chas v’shalom a female nurse came in to change a urinary catheter? Think your bnos-melech, tznius-is-your-crown-princesses, kol-kevudah-bas-melech, special-diamonds-and pearls-hidden-away deserve the same respect and dignity? 

 

To be continued. If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you. 

About the Author: Efrat Bruck, MD, graduated from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and is now an anesthesiology resident at the Mount Sinai Hospital. Before medical school, she taught Judaic studies, Hebrew, and Biology to 1000 now-alumni of Be’er Hagolah Institutes, in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Bruck has worked as a content specialist for Khan Academy and created over 30 MCAT preparation videos on topics in molecular biology, DNA, and genetics that have also recently been translated into foreign languages.  Her videos have been published on the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) website, Khan Academy, and YouTube, accruing millions of views on the latter. Dr. Bruck has published research in Nature, the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Bruck founded and leads the JOWMA PreMed Society that aims to advance Jewish women, from all backgrounds, in medicine. Dr. Bruck is a fierce advocate for premed students from insular and underrepresented backgrounds and strives to provide them with the resources and tools necessary to compete. (www.jowma.org/pre-med). She was among two out of 200 graduating MDs, PhDs, and MD/PhDs at Sinai’s recent commencement to be awarded the Patricia Levinson Award for the Advancement and Inclusion of Women in Medicine. Dr. Bruck, along with her colleagues at JOWMA, is also currently in the process of constructing a cultural competency curriculum that will help healthcare professionals in New York City hospitals provide culturally sensitive medical care to Jewish populations across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy.   

Dr. Bruck’s experiences in education, acceptance to nearly 10 US MD programs, and service on the admissions committee of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have led her to have a highly successful track record helping premeds navigate the medical school application process. She is the founder and CEO of MDInspire, a medical school admissions consultancy that provides professional consulting for fees that are reasonable and a fraction of the standard costs. Dr. Bruck specializes in helping people weave their stories seamlessly through their application, building stellar personal statements and activities sections, interview preparation, and coaching students on how to study smarter, not harder. For more information, please visit: www.MDInspire.com.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions or positions of JOWMA.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

From Bais Yaakov to MD

From Bais Yaakov to MD: 

A Post-Charedi Bais Yaakov Graduate Speaks Out 

Guest post by Dr. Efrat Bruck

Part One

I surreptitiously angled my test paper so that light would filter through and I would be able to see the question. I was in the 9th grade, and we were taking the NYS regents biology exam. A giant white sticker covered question #19. Luckily, it was a sunny day and faint rays of sunlight filtered through. I could just make out a diagram of male anatomy with an arrow pointing to the vas deferens. Funny how the topics our school avoided teaching us ended up seared into our minds. “The arrow is pointing to which structure?” I filled in the correct answer knowing it wouldn’t help. We would all automatically get that question “wrong”. That was my high school’s policy. 

It wasn’t surprising to us. After all, they tore out of our textbooks all the chapters covering evolution and reproduction. The former, perhaps is understandable, but the latter still baffles me; some of the students were literally 3 years away from getting married and starting families. I recall feeling anxious and angry. Somewhere, is some recess of my mind, I wanted to become a doctor. Would there be another five questions on reproduction or evolution causing my baseline score to tank? Would it affect my chances of going to college? My older sister had started the exam off with a 90% and I had even heard of one class that sunk to the 80’s. 

But I shouldn’t have been so worried. There were only two “bad” questions on our exam and we started off with a 99%. In addition, it would be a while till I would actually pursue medicine and by then, this particular score wouldn’t matter that much. What should have worried me more was how the philosophical underpinnings of my environment would affect me in the coming decade. For example, the time a seminary teacher spent an entire lesson telling us a story of a graduate from our school who went to Touro College in Brooklyn (a college that is set up to serve the frum community, with separate classes for men and women and professors staying clear of topics that would be considered inappropriate) and then went on to marry her non-Jewish professor and become irreligious. The teacher then paused, closed her eyes dramatically, and said: “Then she got cancer. May it be a kaparah for her.”

I’m writing this essay in a format addressing those who are part of the charedi leadership. I’ll be using “you” when referring to the charedi world/leadership and “we” collectively to address myself, as if I am part of the charedi world, simply because this makes for easier writing. If you are curious to know why an otherwise successful product of charedi chinuch chose not to continue in this path, read on. If you are a charedi leader, you probably care to know why people are “leaving”, and rest assured, they are. Some make a lot of noise or go OTD. Some just want to live their life peacefully and make a quiet, graceful (I hope!) exit, finding other branches of Orthodoxy. 

I see myself as part of the latter group, but having reached a number of milestones in my life lately, and having had some time for self-reflection, I’ve decided that I didn’t come this far to hide in the shadows and leave my people behind. Despite my personal choices, I am very connected to the charedi world and I care deeply about it; my roots lie there, forever. I still read their publications, have many charedi friends, and my immediate and extended family is, for the most part, all charedi. My purpose in writing this is to bring awareness to issues so that they are addressed and the lives of those in the charedi world are improved. But if you don’t like to hear criticism about the charedi world, please just stop right here. 

The contents of this article notwithstanding, if you are in the hospital, or if you are a premed trying to get to medical school, I will be your fiercest advocate. I want to make it very clear that my overarching criticism of charedi ideology and practice does not translate into disliking charedi people. Especially since most of them have had nothing to do with constructing the system they were born into. I’m happy to talk to people about my personal choices, in the appropriate setting and context (so not on the operating table please). But no, I will not try to convert you to my brand of Judaism or try to pull you away from yours. 

Are you part of the leadership in the charedi world? And even if not, are you someone who wants to help minimize shedding from charedi society and improve the lives of those living there? Here’s a checklist for you. 

1. Please stop selling the charedi lifestyle as the happiest, most fulfilling, most satisfying life.

This one really bothers me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it is people who have never lived other lifestyles, people who have only peaked surreptitiously and superficially at other streams of Judaism, who so arrogantly proclaim that being charedi is the “best”. In full disclosure, I want to publicly apologize for doing this as well during my work in kiruv. I did not know any better at the time. The modern orthodox, reform, conservative, secular, OTD, non-jewish-fill in the blank with whomever you’d like-many of them live very happy, fulfilling lives and are actually happy not to be charedi. 

This is something I would never believe when I was 20. I believed that if they were only exposed to our world, if only they knew the “truth”, they would surely see that charediism is the best, the only authentic path, even if they weren’t “brave” enough to join us. I think this is something that was hammered strongly into the girls’ chinuch and not so much on the boy’s side, probably because this tactic is not effective on men. My brothers (I have a lot of them) don’t recall lectures about how “frum Bais Yakov girls make the best wives and charedi children are raised in the best way”, but I can write a book about how Lakewood boys make the best husbands, career women regret how their children turn out, and modern orthodoxy is a “dying movement”. The charedi leadership often speaks as though they have a copyright on both happiness and authenticity of religion.

Since I’m already confessing my sins, I’ll go into some more detail. I have been involved in kiruv formally for close to a decade. I cherish those years. My students were everything to me at the time, an no doubt the experience of teaching and mentoring gave me an edge in the application process to medical school and helped catapult me into a career of service. But I was guilty, first subconsciously and then perhaps consciously, of “selling” the charedi lifestyle. 

Let me be clear; I happen to think that living an observant lifestyle, one that follows halachah, can definitely enhance one’s life; that’s just my opinion. But it’s not the case for everyone, everywhere, at all times, under all circumstances. Whether or not this is of any significance is a totally separate discussion. 

Getting people to believe that the charedi lifestyle is superior and leads to more happiness and fulfillment is a staple of many kiruv endeavors. We can have just as much fun, we are more emotionally healthy, our children are happier, and our souls are not empty. In my case, there was somewhat of a status differential between myself and my students that made it easy and natural to portray this message. But I had skeletons in my closets just like them; I was just better at hiding them. Oftentimes, people who join the charedi world are utterly surprised to find out that being a baal teshuvah makes them second-class. The same people who were mekarev them would never consider them for a shidduch and familial dysfunction can hide behind glittering shabboss tables. I’m not here to say that there is any more or less dysfunction in the charedi world than anywhere else. I’m here to say that it’s dishonest to sell the charedi lifestyle as superior as it relates to happiness, fulfillment, and relationships.

The ”our life is better” argument is often deployed when serious questions are brought up - questions with no good answers, questions with answers that make people feel uncomfortable, or questions that, the power that be, don’t really want to address. Consider this clip (1:00:00) from the 2019 Agudah convention where the moderator poses the following question to Rabbi Elya Brudny and Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky: 

“I work at Mishpacha…we don’t print pictures of women’s face… every year we get more antagonism and pushback to that decision…hurt and confusion from people connected to the torah world, from people in our tent who send their sons to Yeshivas and their daughers to Bais Yaakovs… we’ve seen this again and again, pushback to dinner ads featuring pictures of men or men addressing women’s events and not vice versa. However, most of these decisions are based on halacha, which delineates the role of men and women. Is what we’re seeing based on the rise of liberal values in general society? Does it mean that we failed in conveying the glory of bas Melech p’nimah? Does it mean that we went too far with chumros and maybe have reason to assess on a case-by-case basis?  What is the position of the roshei yeshiva on Orthodox feminism?”

Every sentence in this paragraph is a gem and represents a deeply-held charedi value. From seeing the outside world as an ever-constant threat, to declaring a copyright on halacha (not printing pictures of women is halacha, for sure), to using “kol kevudah” as a battle cry for men to decide what exactly women should and should not be allowed to do. 

But the answers of the rabbis tell us even more. Rabbi Brudny does not have any answers and cracks jokes. There are businesswomen whose advertising options are directly affected by these policies; I’ve heard of countless people who won’t read these publications because of the hurt at being obliterated. It really isn’t something to shrug off and laugh about. 

Rabbi Lopiansky had the courage to answer. He starts to talk about the #metoo movement and then says that not printing pictures of women is a “geder tznius”. Can someone please explain to me how not printing pictures of women equals the prevention of men acting inappropriately? Am I missing something here? Somehow, when there is a problem with men, the answer always has to do with further limiting women in some capacity. 

Rabbi Lopiansky then goes on to say that “some women on a case-by-case basis” – I’m not sure what he is referring to. Perhaps learning torah, gemara? But we have to check “is it real or is it an ego thing”.  Are the men also subject to this scrutiny, to see if they want to learn gemara for “real” or if it’s an ego thing? Funny that we automatically assume that men have pure intentions but women are doing it for their “ego”, whatever that means. Then he says “we don’t have those stories that you have… and if we have them occasionally it’s one in a thousand ”. Truly ignorant - those stories are unfortunately not uncommon - but fine. 

But then Rabby Brudny chimes is with some highly scientific pearls. “This is probably scientifically fact… take 100 bnei torah types… what we authentically consider bnei torah (aka charedi) and 100 non-bnei torah (aka non-charedi)… which are treated with more dignity b’derech klal? If we would do a scientific assessment, it would stop the conversation in its tracks. Bnei Torah, by definition, there are always exceptions, will treat the women in their lives with dignity... I don’t think it’s a safek… wives of bnei torah are treated with more dignity…” 

So interesting. We’re back to square one, with the ultimate argument being, that the charedi way of life is superior, happier and has better marriages. Well, Rabbi Brudny, I have some upsetting, but actually scientific news for you right here. But according to Rabbi Brudny, charedi men treat their wives better, so…. who cares if we don’t print your pictures. Having a husband who respects you is so much more important, right? Plus, did you know that erasing women from our literature is a form of dignity meant to prevent men from acting inappropriately? Charedi men are still teaching and lecturing women though. Because they have the purest of intentions. Don’t worry about all the scandals; they’re one in a thousand. 

You know what might actually prevent things that gave rise to the #metoo movement? 1. Not concentrating all the decision-making power solely in the hands of men and 2. Not perpetuating large power differentials between your men and women. (Women can’t speak in front of men, but it’s ok for men to lecture large groups of women. Your magazines splash successful men on the covers and your women are lucky that their names are printed.  The message about power and influence is crystal clear.) 

To be continued. If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you. 

About the Author:

Efrat Bruck, MD, graduated from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and is now an anesthesiology resident at the Mount Sinai Hospital. Before medical school, she taught Judaic studies, Hebrew, and Biology to 1000 now-alumni of Be’er Hagolah Institutes, in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Bruck has worked as a content specialist for Khan Academy and created over 30 MCAT preparation videos on topics in molecular biology, DNA, and genetics that have also recently been translated into foreign languages.  Her videos have been published on the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) website, Khan Academy, and YouTube, accruing millions of views on the latter. Dr. Bruck has published research in Nature, the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Bruck founded and leads the JOWMA PreMed Society that aims to advance Jewish women, from all backgrounds, in medicine. Dr. Bruck is a fierce advocate for premed students from insular and underrepresented backgrounds and strives to provide them with the resources and tools necessary to compete. (www.jowma.org/pre-med). She was among two out of 200 graduating MDs, PhDs, and MD/PhDs at Sinai’s recent commencement to be awarded the Patricia Levinson Award for the Advancement and Inclusion of Women in Medicine. Dr. Bruck, along with her colleagues at JOWMA, is also currently in the process of constructing a cultural competency curriculum that will help healthcare professionals in New York City hospitals provide culturally sensitive medical care to Jewish populations across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy.   

Dr. Bruck’s experiences in education, acceptance to nearly 10 US MD programs, and service on the admissions committee of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have led her to have a highly successful track record helping premeds navigate the medical school application process. She is the founder and CEO of MDInspire, a medical school admissions consultancy that provides professional consulting for fees that are reasonable and a fraction of the standard costs. Dr. Bruck specializes in helping people weave their stories seamlessly through their application, building stellar personal statements and activities sections, interview preparation, and coaching students on how to study smarter, not harder. For more information, please visit: www.MDInspire.com.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions or positions of JOWMA.

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