Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday 30 May 2011

A Giant Amongst Men

In a world where the word "gadol" has lost most of its religious meaning and has instead come to be defined as "leading political authority in the Chareidi community", it becomes difficult to remember that there are still many great men whose greatness makes them stand distinguished in the annals of our people.
One of these real gedolim is Rav Adin Steinsaltz, shlit"a, a man with unparallel intelligence and the burning passion to use that intelligence for the sake of educating the Jewish world in Torah.  Whether it be the many books he has published or his iconic version of the Talmud Bavli, Rav Steinsaltz has changed how people learn and made the greatest work in Judaism accessible to many who might otherwise never get a chance to learn the wisdom of our Sages.
But for me what makes Rav Steinsaltz truly great is his ability to transcend politics.  His love of Torah supercedes any desire to become involved in a specific political movement.  If he believes in the necessity and value of the modern State of Israel it is because he has, using his Torah knowledge, concluded that such a thing is pleasing in the eyes of God.  He can work with folks across the entire Orthodox spectrum since what he has in common with them, an unabashed love of Torah, cannot be pigeon-holed into one segment or another of Orthodoxy.
In a recent interview with TabletMag he reveals another level of complexity, his status as a chasid of Chabad.
They way I see Chabad, there are essentially two movements that claim the title.  The first, which I call Chabad Classic(tm), is the original movement before it became a kiruv-based, cult of personality based empire.  It is the Chabad of Europe which was admired by Chasidim and even some Misnagdim across the board for its depth of thought both in halacha and mysticism.  It is the Chabad that produced great poskim and mekubalim and whose influence through is various works continues to guide the Torah community today.
The second group I call Lubavitch Incorporated.  It is the movement as it exists today, what Rav Shach, zt"l, called the world religion closest to Judaism.  It is a movement obsessed with kiruv and deification of the last Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z"l.  As opposed to Chabad Classic, it is the public face of the movement today.
For many, Lubavitch Inc. is annoying or irritating.  Certainly many of us are troubled by the meshichism that has taken over the movement and which guides many of its important leaders.  Almost as an involuntary counter-reaction to claims about the Rebbe's greatness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. we try to diminish him, to render him as flawed and human as possible.
This is wrong.  For all that he may have done that the rest of the Torah world disagreed with, the Rebbe was a great leader in the Torah and general Jewish world who used his influence to bring people closer to Torah, even if only to the narrow Chabad version of it in some cases.  His life was dedicated to bringing a successful conclusion to Jewish history by working to bring Moshiach.  His was a first class mind even if some may disagree with the conclusions that mind came to.
Rav Steinsaltz, it seems, is able to understand this. In answer to the question:
What do you think about the movement within Lubavitch where some people say the Rebbe is a semi-deity or is still alive?
It’s like the stories people tell about Elvis Presley. Maybe they play cards together. If they are alive, they are alive in the same realm, I am afraid.
For too many Lubavitchers, the only way to show proper respect to the Rebbe is to acknowledge that he was/is nasi doreinu and b'chezkas Moshiach and anything less is considered the same as implying his father was a marauding Cossack.  For Rav Steinsaltz, however, the difference is clear.  One can quietly reject all the hoopla that Lubavitch Inc. created in the closing years of the Rebbe's life while still acknowledging his intellect, piety and influence that made its mark on the Jewish world.
For me this ability of Rav Steinsaltz, his way of being passionately dispassionate in how he approaches a subject and which allows him to see the beauty of something without getting involved in its petty politics, is a significant mark of his godlus.  Perhaps if more Jewish leaders left their parochial concerns behind we would be in better shape as a nation.
My only quibble is a small one: Playing cards with Elvis?  Who's the dealer, Jim Morrison?

Sunday 29 May 2011

Close To Getting It

In his latest column on the Morethodoxy Blog, Rabbi Asher Lopatin makes an excellent point that is worth repeating: the Israeli-Arab conflict is not the only source of trouble in the world and it is nowhere close to being the most important.  The anguish he is feeling comes through loud and clear:
How can anyone excuse talking about the plight of anyone in the world – whether it is the Palestinians or anyone else – when there are 400,000 women being raped in one area in one year. Shameful! We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on helping a unknown group of rebels in Libya while we are ignoring millions of women being raped, and thousands of men, women and children being killed,per year?
If you are Jewish, whether on the Left or the Right, you have every right to obsess on Israel – that is your religious, cultural and national obligation. And if you are Palestinian, by all means you can complain about Israeli checkpoints which are forcing people to spend hours in traffic getting to work, or a security fence which is separating you from your friends and relatives. But if you are not either Israeli, Jewish, Arab or Palestinian, then you have no right to focus on Israel and Palestinians or even Libyans or Syrians or Bahrainis while hundreds of thousands are experiencing death and rape and genocide in sub-Saharan Africa. It is morally repugnant for our first African American president to be ignoring the worst humanitarian crises in our world, simply because the Arab world and the Palestinians, and many Jews, are “dreying his kup” – are distracting him – for their own interests. President Obama needs to set the moral agenda of America and prioritize the areas that truly need our humanitarian attention: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan – not Israel or the Middle East.
I don't know if Rabbi Lopatin knows the obvious answer to his question as to why President Obama hasn't done anything about Darfur but I'll state it quite easily: No Jews Involved (NJI).
See, when it comes to how high a news story should rank or how seriously the US State Department should take a disturbance somewhere in the world, problems get divided into to categories: Either Jews are involved or it's NJI.  If it's the former, that seems to automatically vault the story or issue to the top of the priority list.  If it's a NJI story then it drops further down. 
Did some Arabs get delayed for an hour or two in the hot sun at an Israeli checkpoint?  Top of the list.  So-called Palestinian suffering!  Outrage!  A vote to condemn from the United Nations and reports on all major Western TV networks with the newscasters taking care to frown extra hard while reciting the story of Israel's latest "crime against humanity". 
Did a thousand black women get raped in the middle of the southern Sudanese desert by Arab tribesmen?  Yawn.
Chazal tell us that Eisav hates Yaakov.  On the other hand, he doesn't seem to care a bit about Cham.  This pattern is clearly seen over and over again.  How else to explain that while the Syrian government is mowing down its own citizens while the Bahrain and Yemenite governments teeter on the verge of collapse, the press seems more interested in Mahmood Abbas' repetitive statements about how Israel is all at fault for the collapse of the "peace process"?  Because Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are NJI issues.  Once again: Yawn.
Rabbi Lopatin's final jab, however, is his best:
And to the Jewish community I have a message: If we want the Administration to continue to obsess on Israel-Palestinian peace, we just need to remember that we are being selfish; we need to remember that for every hour Obama has to meet Netanyahu to pressure him, that is an hour that hundreds of more women are being raped in the Congo and another hour closer to finishing the genocide in Darfur.  We may feel that getting Israel out of the West Bank is worth it, or ending the occupation for West Bank Palestinians is worth it, but when the tally of deaths and rapes in Africa is taken, I hope it is not on our heads that the leader of the free world ignored his own homeland and left them to continue living in a hell of rapes, killings and destruction.
It's about time someone told Peace Now, J Street, the New Israel Fund and all the other Jew Hating Jews out there what their priorities should be and that if they truly value their credentials as secular Western Liberals then it's time the took up the causes they profess to care about.
Unfortunately it's far more likely that they'll act like the hypocrites they really are.

Thursday 26 May 2011

The Korean Talmud

Several weeks ago a story starting flashing around the Jewish blogosphere about how Koreans learn the Talmud.  In typical fashion and through the use of the time-honoured "broken telephone" method the story quickly morphed into "Koreans learn the Talmud and they all have a set in their homes, something two!" Some blogs were amazed that it was easier to find Koreans learning the Talmud than Jews!
Of course, this was a tempest in a teapot.  The Koreans, in fact, do not learn actual Talmud.  After the story broke I contact one of my Korean patients and asked them about "the Talmud".  "Oh yes!" came the reply.  "We have a copy.  You want to see it?"
So a week later they brought it in.  It was a slim paperback of medium size paper, all in Korean script of course, with a picture of a stereotypical religious Jew (wearing a black fez!) reaching up with both hands on the front.  Leafing through the book I guess from the format that instead of actual Talmud what I was holding was a collection of stories, a sort of "greatest hits", something my Korean patient quickly confirmed.
Then, as a treat, I showed him a volume of Talmud that I have on my office bookshelf.  There was a look of awe and reverence on his face as he opened "the real Talmud" only to change to disappointment as he realized he had as much chance of understanding my book as I had of reading him.  "But it has all the stories, right?" he asked and of course, I nodded.
As this article from JIDaily notes, there is an obvious reason why a strong connection between Judaism and Oriental culture would exist.  In short, Orientals strive to be everything the stereotypical Jew (many of them have never even met a real one!) supposedly is.  There is a love of learning, a history of surviving under oppression, a respect for the elders and a respect for intelligence that links us to them.  Halevi that we still valued those characteristics as much as we're rumoured to!
Ultimately what can we take away from stories such as this?  As opposed to other places in the world where the stereotypical Jew is a repository of evil or undesirable traits, in the far East it seems we're legendary for the exact opposite reason.  Perhaps we can take it upon ourselves as a people to once again rise to that challenge and become the nation that they believe we are.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

All In The Name Of Toirah!

(Hat tip: Failed Messiah)
(Corrected as per tip from the Wolf)
By now word has spread across the Jewish blogosphere about how a butler of the Skver Rebbe recently attacked one of the inhabitants of the village, New Square, with a Molotov cocktail-like device.  The man, one Aron Rottenberg, was guilty of joining a breakaway minyan in the small village.  This was considered a crime after the Rebbe decreed at some point that there must be only one shul in town and everyone must daven there.  Apparently (although I have yet to see the chapter and paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch) this is the accepted penalty for joining a breakaway group after the Rebbe says it's not allowed.
From the various articles it seems that this was also only the culmination of a long campaign of harassment by the followers of the Rebbe against those who would not walk in lock step with his rule.  Again, I'm not sure where in Shulchan Aruch it's written that it's okay to behave like a common thug when people disagree with you.
That this episode should be viewed with revulsion goes without saying.  That those involved should be subjected to the full penalty of civil and criminal law goes without saying.  That this behaviour makes a mockery of what Torah-observant Judaism stands for goes without saying.  However, it apparently needs to be said anyway because of who isn't saying anything.
Matzav, for instead, doesn't seem to have picked up the story, concentrating instead on Netanyahu's recent Congress speech and, of course, taking another cheap shot at the Magen Tzedek.  Neither, it seems has TheYeshivaWorld.  Don't hold your breath waiting for CrossCurrents to put up anything on it.  All these websites will probably avoid the story to prevent anything from bursting their "We Chareidim are all tzaddikim" bubble.
However, here's where the silence should be broken.  I have noted before that the relationship between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism is like that of a victim and a bully.  The bully frequently does whatever he wants to push the victim around but the victim, scared of "escalating" the situation, never responds.  Even though real life shows that this concern is foolish and that all it does is prolong the victimization, people still seem to believe that deference to the bully to avoid aggravating anything is the best course of action.
This is a chance, however, for the victim - Modern Orthodox - to strike back against the bully - Chareidism.  For far too long, Orthodox Judaism has suffered from a branding issue in that one segment of the Torah-observant community, the Chareidim, have perpetuated the image that all "Torah-true Jews" are Chareidi and that any other form of Orthodoxy is a deviation from that highest standard.  Through various foundations, organizations, yeshivos and publishing companies, there has been a concerted effort for decades to create an image of what an "real" Orthodox Jew looks and acts like while delegitimizing or marginalizing the other forms.
The problem is that in concert with this monopolizing has come a great level of degeneration within the leadership and cultural ranks of the Chareidi community.  What does it say when the two biggest opponents to a bill against child abuse in New York state are the Catholic Church and the Agudah?  What does it say when pictures of Orthodox organ smugglers in Deal, New Jersey feature black hats, suits and long beards?  What does it say when a man with a black hat tries to murder another man because he chose to daven somewhere else against the orders of the Skverer Rebbe?  What does it say when the Skverer Rebbe refuses to issue a condemnation or any statement at all?
Let us be clear - there is much that is positive about Chareidi Judaism but, chalilah, much that is negative and it is the negative which seems to be dominant in this day and age.  For all the genuine, pious Chareidim out there there seem to be just as many, if not more, whose Judaism is defined by selfish and righteous indignation, whose acceptance of Torah law is limited to external things like clothing and looking for the best hechsher while purposefully ignoring any rule involving ben adam l'chaveiro in their lives.
This might be why Chareidim don't learn Nach.  What would Yishiyahu say at such behaviour?  How much would he condemn the falsely pious who pretend to be the inheritors of Moshe Rabeinu while aping the style of Don Corleone?
Honestly, a man throws acid on another man out of fealty to the Skverer Rebbe?  Is the Rebbe a godfather?  Is he just a Jewishly dressed mafia boss with a good chunk of gemara memorized?  This is not Judaism!  This is not Torah!  And as no one in the Chareidi world seems like they're going to stand up and shout it, then it now falls to Modern Orthodoxy to point this out!
Judaism is not about mutilating people, or about trying to humiliate or demean them.  It is about kindness, learning that leads to ethical and proper behaviour and developing a nation that is a positive example to the world, not an incarnation of all the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes from centuries past.  This is what Modern Orthodoxy should be shouting about.  The leadership of Yeshiva University should be announcing it from their lecterns that this behaviour is not Jewish, that if the Skverer Rebbe does not condemn this behaviour then he is a rasha just like his servant, that Torah Judaism rejects any pretenders who think that a shtreiml and Yiddish accent make you more religious and give you a heter to be a savage primitive without ethics or manners.  They should be working hard to redefine the image of what a proper Jew is so that the next time the guy with the long peyos and 1950's glasses shows up in the press (and you know he will before too long) people don't automatically think "Wow, he's really frum" but look at him with a more jaundiced eye.  Modern Orthodoxy has been bullied long enough and it hasn't benefited one bit.  Might this be a straw that breaks that camel's back?

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Reform Commitment?

Years and years ago I heard a speech at the local Conservative synagogue near where I lived given by some bigwig from The Jewish Theological Seminary.  What I remember best about his talk was his insistence that Conservatism was inferior to Orthodoxy in one important way: passion.  I recall him pounding on the lectern and shouting that he wanted to see "Conservative Chasidim"!  He wanted Conservative Jews to be as passionate, as emphatic, as in love with their version of Judaism as Chasidim were with theirs.  And he was dead serious despite the ridiculousness of his position.
As a recent article from JTA notes, Reform seems to have discovered it needs to do the same thing, create some kind of passion and commitment amongst its members.  For too long Reformers have emphasized "personal Judaism", a religion in which each personal custom-makes his or her own observances while calling this myriad of approaches based on nothing more than personal values and secular liberal  values a "stream" of Judaism.  The problem, as the Reform leadership has finally figured out, is that this is like herding cats.  It leads nowhere when no two people can present identical visions and work on them together.
The problem with trying to create a "community before individual" approach is that such a vision is the antithesis of Reform's founding values.  Being Reform (and Conservative nowadays for that matter) is all about the "me".  What do I think Jewish values should be?  What do I think God should be in favour of?  What do I gain spiritual satisfaction from?  There may be some concept of surrendering to a greater set of values but inevitably those values are secular liberal ones that the person already believed in.  Sacrifice, saying to oneself that what one feels isn't the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, is simply not in the Reformative lexicon.  How then can HUS figure a way around this and remain true to what makes them Reformers?
Unfortunately the author of the article chooses to duck the idea with the following statement:
A 21st century Reform Judaism can no longer afford to have “personal choice” as its core principle because it eclipses other more central Jewish values that are needed now more than ever. Rather, personal choice must been seen simply as a given and the starting point for a variety of commitments we make.
So personal choice remains the foundation for one's approach to Judaism.  The community, the Nation of Israel, remains secondary even with this new vision.  Where's the change?  Of course, I learned something new in this part of the article:
It is noteworthy that even the official standards of the Reform movement itself are routinely disregarded because “personal autonomy” trumps them. Volumes of thoughtful responsa and guides to Jewish practice, mostly unknown to Reform laypeople and too seldom consulted by the rabbis, gather dust in libraries because Such literature is often at odds with a Reform Judaism for which personal choice is the central value.
Reform has standards?  I mean, I was aware of the JTS' A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice.  Heck, as a kid I even read the thing.  As others have noted before me, if Conservative Jews en masse read and practised everything in that tome, then Conservativism wouldn't be the near-shade Reform that it has become today.  I was unaware, however, that other than a vague belief in an impotent God who approves all our actions to keep us happy and a commitment to social justice, that Reform had any other standards.  As for thoughtful responsa, as Rav Avi Shafran once opined, don't they all end in "Yes, you're allowed"?
The author further notes one of the core difficulties Reform would have in defining itself:
Put more simply, a disproportionate emphasis on personal choice has “dumbed down” our movement. While sometimes marketed as “informed choice,” this rarely has meant more than learning a snippet of a classic text about a particular issue rather than the kind of immersion and wholesale commitment that ongoing learning requires.
In general, we Reform Jews have not yet distinguished ourselves as sufficiently conversant with the vast literature of our biblical and rabbinic past. An increased commitment to Jewish study that leads to greater practice would build upon and greatly expand the many opportunities for “lifelong learning” that have flourished in Reform synagogues over the past two decades.
Well yes, when one of the founding decisions of Reform was to chuck the Shulchan Aruch and, along with it, any Jewish texts that actually demanded commitment to "archaic" values, you can hardly be surprised at the depth of ignorance of actual Jewish lore that the average Reform Jew possesses.  Snippets, random quotes and mistranslations of legal terms with actual meaning such as tikon Olam are about as deep as Reform lets its people get.  Even the "lifelong learning" has to be taken with a grain of salt.  When Reformers open the Talmud, they aren't interested in the Rashba or Rif on a subject.  They're still just looking for those snippets to justify their social justice and other liberal approaches.  This is completely the wrong way to approach Torah study but they simply aren't aware of that.
Finally, the author concludes by showing that he doesn't really understand the true purpose of Reform:
While Reform has distinguished itself in its commitment to social justice, now it must meet the challenge of grounding those commitments within a broader religious life that joins together the ethical and the ritual, the global and the local, the societal (repairing the world) and the interpersonal (repairing oneself). And for all of Reform’s emphasis on creativity, an increased commitment to study and practice will deepen and expand the creative impulse, allowing for a flourishing of new commentaries, music, art and poetry.
The word "distinguish" is completely misplaced.  Reform isn't about being distinguished.  It's about the exact opposite: creating a secular liberal movement with a token colourful set of "rituals" just like other ethnic groups.  It's about being as American as Americans (at least those that vote Democrat come Hell or high water).  It's about not standing out, about speaking up on topics that already are considered politically correct and never, never going against the liberal grain.
The upcoming Jewish festival in Montreal also nicely demonstrates this ignorance of what real Judaism is as it encourages its members to adopt a "Do it yourself Judaism".

The June 5 Le Mood festival — which carries the tagline “This ain’t your father’s religion” — will feature more than 60 workshops exploring the food, culture and quirks of the Jewish world.
“We’re trying to reach out to people who have a connection to Jewish life but haven’t been satisfied with the ways they have of interacting with it,” said festival organizer Mike Savatovsky. “We just want people to connect and do whatever is Jewish for them.”

"This ain't your father's religion" is a great tagline since what these folks are promoting really isn't Judaism, the religion of their fathers and their fathers' fathers before them.
Derech agav, anyone ever notice how the people dedicated to creating "personal" Judaism where everyone's defintion and mode of practice are unique are the first ones to scream about the threat to Jewish unity when the Chareidim suddenly announced "Do such-and-such our way or else!"?
Judaism, real Judaism, requires one to put aside one's personal feelings in many cases.  It requires one to submit to higher authority, to spend one's life learning the requirements God has placed on us.  It is not about "finding oneself" but about finding God in this World through the learning of his Torah.  It has been this way for over 3500 years in all its various forms.  One needs commitment and to put one's views second in order to become "Chasidim", something antithetical to Reformatives.  That's why there can never been any "Conservative Chasidim".  Until the Reformatives realize this and come home to that approach, any changes they make will be window dressing only.
And all of this is a shame because as this article by Andrew Silow-Caroll notes, there are many amongst are brethren who feel a strong attachment to the "Jewish" part of their identity even in the absence of any knowledge of what Judaism is.  As the Chumash predicts and many recent thinkers note, there is a spark of Jewishness in each of our souls that cannot be extinguished no matter how much bacon fat and atheist gravy gets poured on it.  It manifest and guides a Jew's behaviour, often in strange ways in the absence of any Torah to guide it.  How else to explain the plethora of Jews in social movements and Nobel prize laureate get-togethers?  The faint echoes of Sinai are there but need to be fanned in the proper direction. 
This is actually a tremendous opportunity for Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism, if either movement was interested in committing itself to outreach.  Perhaps they may yet grab the opportunity.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Finally Some Red Lines Of Our Own

As opposed to many who were disappointed or enraged by President Obama's recent MiddleEast policy speech, I took the part about the Israeli-Arab conflict with a grain of salt.  For one who has been paying attention since the late 1970's, there was actually very little in his speech that came as a surprise.
For example, there was much a-twitter about his mentioning of the 1967 armistice lines as the basis of a border for a 23rd Arab state but is this really so new?  Let's say that the nationalist aspirations of the Arabs of Yesha were legitimate and not the product of the Arab League's desire to create a fifth column against Israel on truly Israeli land.  Well then, if you wanted to come up with borders where would you start from?  Given that you've already accepted the fiction of the existence of a Palestinian people then you probably also believe that the borders of this "Palestine" were something along the 1967 lines. (You'd be completely ignorant of history but there's no shortage of that to go around unfortunately)  Therefore if you're starting history from 1967 it makes sense to use that border as your starting point.
In addition, Obama specifically mentioned the possibility of land swaps.  Again, this is nothing radical.  Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert (no more prime ministers with that first name please!) both proposed exactly what Obama said in his speech - a 23rd Arab state roughly based on the 1967 borders but with modifications to include densely populated Jewish areas in Yesha within Israel and densely populated Arab areas within Israel but near the border within the new state.  Both Israeli prime ministers were prepared to publicly sign such a deal so why are people outraged when Obama says it?
Having said that, Binyamin Netanyahu's speech (you can find it on Youtube or here) really brought me to my feet cheering.  For far too long, Israeli prime ministers and their representatives have hemmed and hawed when it came to defining Israel's inviolable needs in the so-called peace process.  I recall listening to a radio debate six or seven years ago between the local Israeli consul-general and an Arab speaker from the local Palestine House.  The Arab was well-versed in his talking points and quite articulate.  The Israeli?  Not so much.  While the Arab pounded away with his accusations and fabrications, the Israeli generally responded with "Emm, well, emmm, we know we want to share the land, emmm, we want peace".  It was so frustrating that the host of the debate, a well-known pro-Israel celebrity, finally jumped in and said "I can't take this anymore!" and started attacking the Arab speaker on all his points.  How embarrassing!
But not this time. Not since Menachem Begin told an American senator that Jews do not bow to world opinion but to God alone has a Jewish leader stood up in the face of tremendous adversity and stated "Ad kahn!  Until here and no further no matter what!"
Really, this was a tremendous opportunity that Bibi could not let go to waste.  The glow from the execution of Osama bin Laden has already started to fade in the face of widespread condemnation of America's actions not just from its expected enemies but from many of its allies in Europe.  Bibi was therefore able to emphasize the "we're just like you!" angle when it comes to fighting terrorism.  In addition, the Congress is extremely pro-Israel in its composition right now as well as ticked off at Obama for not asking its permission to go to war in Libya.  If Bibi was hoping to walk into a situation where he could tell off the president of the US and expect the rest of the government to back him up publicly, he couldn't have asked for a better set of cards than this.  And he played those cards expertly.
Look at this red lines and you can see how he chose each to emphasize Israel's vulnerability and its reasonableness in demanding them: no retreat to the 1967 borders because of security and demographic concerns, no negotiating with a government that includes terrorists that condemned America for killing Bin Laden, and no swamping of Israel with descendants of bogus refugees.  One by one he went through each point and emphasize "It's not going to happen!" with the same firmness the Arabs use in insisting that the clock can easily be turned back to 1966 without any major inconveniences.  None of his points were surprising.  We who support Israel have been saying them for years but finally an Israeli prime minister has stood up in the face of the most hostile US president since Jimmy Carter and said "Screw off!  We're not committing national suicide because they want us to."
I don't know if Israel is any safer this morning because of Bibi's forthrightness but at least now the world has more grist to grind their teeth in frustration over.  If they thought that Israel could be bullied into unilateral surrender of its safety, they have to wait a while longer year.
Kol hakavod.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Question About An Idea

Right now one of the big stories in Europe is about the move against shechitah by the animal rights crowd.  As of this writing Holland and the United Kingdom have moved towards demanding that all animals slaughtered under their aegis first be stunned.  At this time they are still allowing shechitah but only if the meat packages are clearly labelled that the animals were not stunned before being slaughtered.
Naturally the big problem with this is that animals are not allowed to be stunned before being slaughtered al pi  normative halacha.  Yes, I know there's the famous (and really, really long) responsa of the Seridei Eish, zt"l but no one holds by that.  Even he didn't.  So what to do to get around this if the next step is simply to ban all unstunned meat?
So right now I'm learning through hilchos shechitah in the Aruch HaShulchan and an idea occurred to me.
See, there's this thing called the bein paku'ah.  If a mother animal that is full-term pregnant is slaughtered, the foetus inside, the ubar, does not require shechitah according to Torah law because it's considered sachut agav imo, pre-slaughtered by virtue of its mother having been properly slaughtered.
The ben paku'ah has other special rules.  By gezeirah it does have to be slaughtered properly because of maaris ayin, to prevent folks from thinking that it's okay to not properly slaughter an animal.  However, it still has it's already-slaughtered status because if you mate one with a normal animal, the offspring are forbidden to undergo shechitah because they're considered already half-slaughtered by virtue of the ben pakuah parent and you can't half-shecht an animal.  If you mate one ben pakuah with another one, however, all its offspring are automatically considered pre-slaughtered just like the parents.
So here's my thought: yes, there is a gezeirah to shecht the animal because of how it looks.  However, according to Torah law you don't have to and you could even stun the animal before killing it.  Can a ben pakuah be stunned before slaughter?  Do we say that since the need to shecht it is a gezeirah and we generally don't make a gezeirah to another that stunning should therefore be allowed before slaughter?  Or do we say that the underlying reason for requiring the animal to be ritually slaughtered, maaris ayin, applies to all activities around the killing of the animal equally and therefore just as shechitah is requiring, so too stunning is forbidden?
Because if it's the former, it would only take a few years and some good timing but entire herds of bnei pakuah could probably be bred in special locations.  If stunning is allowed, that might help get around the seemingly inevitable ban coming in Europe.
Does anyone have an answer?

Sunday 15 May 2011

Another Closed Minded Individual

I'm always amazed by how Rav Natan Slifkin is inspire so many people to take a vehement and aggressive stand on his beliefs.  How many guys out there can claim to have been the reason for not one, not two, but three blogs whose very existence is based on attacking him?
(In response to Rav Kornreich's request, I will note that there are currently only two blogs dedicated to attacking Rav Slifkin.  However he will likely acknowledge that his first blog was dedicated as well before being "splintered off" so perhaps one might say "there have been three blogs...")
The latest, the one belonging to Rav Simcha Coffer, exemplifies what is wrong with the anti-Slifkin approach and why it fails to appeal to anyone outside a specific part of the Orthodox community.  Let's start with the masthead:
Laypeople tend to exalt scientists as being the model of rationality just because they are scientists or have published in the scientific literature
This is generally untrue.  In fact, other than a few celebrities like Stephen Hawking, most scientists toil in obscurity outside their immediate circles.  Quick, name me a scientist working on the Hadron acceleration in Europe without using Google.  Go on, who's the most prominent biologist at Yale University? 
In fact, laypeople tend to exalt science because it is based on the rational scientific method and, by extension, trust scientists when they present the results of their experiments because they assume that method has been used to produce those results.  Furthermore, there is very little exaltation involved, other than at awards ceremonies.  Most dedicated scientists don't have very active social lives and rarely step out to look for adulation from non-existent adoring crowds.  I did biology research in undergrad so trust me, I know.
Rav Coffer then follows up with this statement, obviously missing the irony of what he's written:
 Let them prove their case. Examine, test, reason, and question. Are they being open about untested assumptions. Are they careful to distinguish between data and interpretations of the data? 
Yes, absolutely. That's the entire point of the scientific method.  No scientist goes in front of his peers and announces "I've found the cure for cancer and no, I'm not showing you the data!"  Take a look, for instance, at the controversy surrounding Dr. Paolo Zamboni (no really, that's his last name!) and his "liberation" procedure for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. There are currently two fights going on over this procedure.  The one being waged in the popular press can be safely ignored as it is there only for its sensationalist value.  However, the fight in the genuine scientific community over its efficacy, safety and whether is qualifies for funding through government health systems is exactly what Rav Coffer challenges science to do.  No one is taking Dr. Zamboni's personal testimonials about how the procedure cured his wife as authoritative.  Scientists want data, raw hard data before they'll issue their conclusions and those conclusions will have to be presented with specific analysis of the data and how they drew those conclusions from them.  Does Rav Coffer not know how the scientific method works?  Is he so ignorant of science that he's prepared to make such outrageous statements?
Rav Coffer's most recent post, dealing with Rav Slifkin's own post on a posek who became Orthoprax after being exposed to the secular world, is also full of incoherent and slanderous statements.  For example:
 The gemara in Chagiga (15b) relates that the great sage Elisha ben Avuya went off the derech because he was influenced by Greek culture 
While this is true, it must also be noted that the Gemara gives a handful of other reasons that Acher went off the derech.  Who is to say that the reason Rav Coffer brought is the pivotal one?  Who is to say that in the absence of the others that Acher would have not stayed frum?
Secular books are, for the most part, anti-Torah; they contain the attitudes of the gentile nations which are diametrically opposed to the attitude of the Torah.
This statement makes no sense.  The term "secular books" has such a wide meaning as to be essentially meaningless in the way Rav Coffer uses it.  Are math books anti-Torah?  Are physics books anti-Torah?  How about children's books that teach moral lessons?  It is not reasonable to make such a sweeping statement and expect anyone rational to take it seriously.  
One might respond that the rational crowd is not the one Rav Coffer is speaking to but that's not accurate either.  Consider his advice for the potential rationalist:
I guess that depends. If these people are vocal with their doubts, if they routinely undermine our mesorah and its torchbearers in public venues, then yes, they should be vilified. If they maintain private doubts, then no, we should not be hostile towards them. Rather we should enjoin them to seek assistance from competent individuals. Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz
Rav Avigdor Miller was a pillar of the Torah community during his life with tremendous conviction and passion for Torah Judaism.  He was an inspirational and fiery orator as well as a first rate talmid chacham.  He was also vitriolic and venomous against anyone and any opinion that deviated from his narrow vision of what proper Torah observance should be.  His "it's my way or you're just another stinkin' kofer" approach to complex issues is not one that might inspire people with genuine questions about serious issues in Judaism.
To return to the subject of the recent post, Rav Coffer then concludes by doing what he accuses scientists of doing in the masthead of his point.  Consider these two statements:
A conference on evolution is populated one hundred percent by atheists, Bible critics, and every other form of human degradation. Everyone there is no doubt an avowed enemy of Hashem and His Torah.

Does Rav Coffer have any evidence to back up these contentions?  Has he ever attended a conference on evolution to see if his accusations are accurate?  He is maligning tens of thousands of people.  What does he have to back himself up other than a well-developed sense of self-righteousness?  What about frum scientists who work to understand how evolution is compatible with what the Torah tells us about the creation of the world or who toil in other branches of science?  Are they really secretly kofrim because they disagree with him?  Is it the way of Torah to attack people like this just because they don't hold by his specific approach to Torah?
It is clear that Rav Coffer's approach to science is one guided not by Torah, despite his protestations, but by hatred.  As Chazal tell us, hatred makes a personal irrational.  How else to explain this statement?

If an innocent ben-Torah makes the tragic mistake of attending a conference on evolution, it is like attending a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined! He would have been better off visiting a house of ill repute!

So not pedophile yehiva rebbes.  Not financial scam artists.  Not illegal body part/organ traders.  No, evolution is so awful that learning about it is worse than committing two of the three cardinal signs in Jewish law: arayos and avodah zarah.  Astounding!
Each post on the blog seems to be the same: My way of understanding the gemara is the only proper way.  If you disagree with me, you're wrong.  Slifkin!  Slifkin! Slifkin!  Oy that Slifkin!
I don't agree with Rav Slifkin on everything he says but, on the other hand, I recognize that he has a consistent approach that generates his statements and that he always is careful to use proper sources to back them him.  Perhaps this is frustrating for the "do as we say and otherwise shut up" crowd that Rav Coffer seems to be representing but that does not change the legitimacy of many of his positions.
It is one thing to disagree with someone, quite another to first conclude that one's opponent is wrong and then shower selective gemaras and slanderous statements on that opponent to support that conclusion.  Perhaps Rav Coffer would be taken more seriously by the rationalist crowd if he were to use a scientific method-type approach in his opposition to Rav Slifkin.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Revising and Photoshopping

By now the "oylam" has read about how two (and counting) Yiddish newspapers recently published the famous photo of Barack Obama and his senior staff watching Osama bin Laden get taken down by the Navy SEALs  (Kol hakavod, by the way) but used Photoshop to remove the two women that were in the picture, in particular Hillary Clinton. 
Naturally there has been a storm of controversy over this decision.  On one side are the people who note that this kind of hypersensitivity to images of women in public, especially neutral ones in which the women in question are modestly dressed and supposed to be part of the picture, is not part of traditional Jewish sensitivities.  On the other side are the folks who say the opposite, that this is in fact a very mainstream Jewish sensitivity and if those on the first side think they're so religious why don't they know that?
Here's my thoughts on the issue.  On one hand, this matter did not have to go viral the way it did but the blame for that happening can be fixated on all the blogs that made the photoshop issue a headline one.  Yes, the decision to print the altered photo was stupid but had important Jewish blogs not picked up on it and given it all the publicity they did the outside world would not have discovered it either.  It would have remained the domain of the Yiddish speaking extremists these papers cater to.  If there is any ridiculing of Torah Judaism going on out there then the mainstream Jewish blogosphere has to take some of the blame.
On the other hand, there is the issue of photoshopping in the first place.  First of all, the photo was released by the White House to be used "as is".  Adjusting it was a breach of law as well as of establish protocol.  The newspapers in their apologies claimed that their right to religious freedom trumps everything and gives them the right to photoshop at will but claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny through the simple rejoinder: if you don't like the photo as is, don't print it!  In addition, the impression the rest of the world gets from these self-declared standard-bearers of Judaism is that our religious side is simply a shtreiml-wearing version of the Taliban, minus the suicide bombers.  All the protestations from the newspapers that they don't hold women to be second class citizens rings hollow.  They see them as lust objects that have to be kept out of sight lest their pure neshamos become tainted. (Judging by the idea that they consider Clinton a lust object, their standards are pretty damned low)  Do they not see the damage they are causing?
However, there is one more thing I'd like to consider.  Given the hyper-politically correct atmosphere in North America these days there are very few religious groups one can mock with impunity any more.  In fact, other than Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Jews most other religions and ethnic groups guard their turf quite jealously to avoid being insulted.
All this makes me wonder: if the Yiddish newspapers were actually written in Arabic and catered to a Wahhabist population in the New York area, would the same photoshopping have come under such scrutiny and ridicule or would all the mainstream media outlets that picked up on this have looked the other way the better not to insult Islam?
Any way you look at it, this is a mess.

Friday 6 May 2011

The Reality They Live In

I've not been shy about my views on the shortcomings of the new Conservative hechsher, the Magen Tzedek.  In short, I don't think it'll make much of a difference in the kosher food market.  The vast majority of exclusively kosher consumers are Orthodox and stop looking once they see a hechsher they recognize.  Many groups might further avoid buying anything that looks like it has a Conservative "seal of approval" on principle.  As for the Conservatives themselves, 95% of them are either entirely non-kosher or not exclusively kosher even if they do care. Of the remaining 5% how many will look for the seal?

Then there's the issue of standards.  Magen Tzedek promises If you care about workers, animals and the planet Earth, you are a supported of Magen Tzedek. Magen Tzedek states that food tastes best when it is prepared with integrity which is all well and good but when it notes that it ensure food is prepared according to "the highest ethical standards" it still begs the question: who decided that those standards, admirable as they are, are the highest and ethical?  What's more, what will stop the Magen Tzedek from being coopted by leftist elements?  Might at some point the requirement for unionization or a certain type of drug plan for workers become part of Magen Tzedek?  After all, both the Conservatives and Reform have had no problem in the past taking in secular liberal values that are at odds with Torah ones and declaring these values to be "authentically" Jewish.
However, I do recognize Rabbi Morris Allen's intent behind this initiative and certainly it indicates his heart and Jewishness are in the right place, even if I disagree with some of the methods.  Others, however, see this as a graver threat, amongst them our good friends at the Agudah and their defender of the true faith, Rav Avi Shafran:

A new seal for kosher products and establishments being promoted by the Conservative movement is reportedly about to appear alongside those of Orthodox kashrus agencies. The “Magen Tzedek” certification is intended to signify adherence to certain standards regarding labor, treatment of animals, safety, environmental concerns and corporate integrity.
Such issues are worthy ones but they are well covered by governmental regulations and other areas of halacha, as determined by recognized Torah authorities. They have nothing to do with kashrut.
The goal of “Magen Tzedek,” however, is nothing less than to redefine kashrut. Magen Tzedek is the symbol of an entity called the “Hekhsher Tzedek Commission.” Its exclusive purview is food. In its own literature, it calls itself the “gold standard of kashrut”; prominently claims to offer “kashrut for the 21st century”; and states its objective: to “improve our consciousness, understanding and practice of kashrut by extending the definition beyond ritual to reflect ethical, environmental and social concerns.”
There is no such thing as “ritual.” There is only halacha – the holiness we are enjoined by our Creator to embrace. To in any way change halacha is to corrupt the essence of the concept of mitzvah, Divine commandment.
The brazen effort of Magen Tzedek to change the Jewish mesorah, or religious tradition, should come as no surprise, considering its source. The Conservative movement has repeatedly shown that it harbors no respect for the very concept of halacha as it has been carefully preserved with great sacrifice by observant Jews through the ages. For a movement that does not subscribe to halacha to suddenly inject itself into a complex halachic realm like kashrut – with the avowed purpose of “extending the definition” of kashrut – should strike any informed Jews as unmitigated chutzpah.
We Jews have a responsibility to not only ethics but to the entirety of the Torah. All of us who recognize the Divine nature of halacha, along with our established kashrut organizations, should regard the new seal for what it is, a falsification of the Jewish religious heritage, and treat it accordingly.
Where to begin?  While it correct to note that many of the issues regarding "labor, treatment of animals, safety, environmental concerns and corporate integrity" are covered by existing government and halachic regulations, the regular onslaught in the news of Orthodox owned businesses being exposed for fraud or cruelty, the classic example being Rubashkin's, show that the existence of these standards is simply not enough.
In addition, Magen Tzedek is not about redefining kashrut.  The Magen Tzedek website clearly notes in several places that a product needs to be kosher ab initio to be considered for their seal.  The most ethical pork sausage plant in the US will not qualify under the current guidelines.
See the defence of the Rubashkin supporters all along has been that the products they produced were kosher and therefore there was nothing wrong with the plant.  Yes, they were right.  Every rule regarding kashrus was probably followed but halacha has more to say about how we behave than just about the fitness of our food according to dietary law.  Magen Tzedek is not about kashrus, it's about acceptable Jewish behaviour as defined by Magen Tzedek.  The food could be kosher but the people preparing it might not be.  
Look at veal, for example.  Veal calves are raised under abominable conditions, conditions that would be considered torture if used on human beings.  Yes, the animal is slaughters, salted and rinsed al pi halacha but might someone not be disturbed about how the animal lived before dying "properly"?  Magen Tzedek is for those people who aren't simply satisfied that the shochet's knife was sharp enough.
The statement "For a movement that does not subscribe to halacha to suddenly inject itself into a complex halachic realm like kashrut – with the avowed purpose of “extending the definition” of kashrut – should strike any informed Jews as unmitigated chutzpah" should also be of concern.  Excuse me but what has Orthodoxy been doing over the last 70 years if not extending the definition of kashrus?  Mehadrin, mehadrin min mehadrin, Lubavitch vs Satmar vs Beis Yosef shechita.  How about the Chareidi modesty squads that threaten kosher restaurants in Yerushalayim that allow mixed seating?  If the only unmitigate chutzpah the Agudah can see is Magen Tzedek's, then they need to buy a mirror and look it in really closely.  Magen Tzedek won't drive Jews from kashrus like the rising prices of "more kosher than thou" food has. 
It is with this final statement "e Jews have a responsibility to not only ethics but to the entirety of the Torah. " that Shafran's statement shoots itself in the foot.  Yes, we have a responsibility to the entire Torah which includes those laws that Orthodox organizations routinely flout.  Magen Tzedek's goal is to remind Jews that how your food got to your plate has rules just like the food itself.  I might disagree with some of their definitions but the general ideal is laudable.  How the Agudah can criticize this organization when it should be trying to outdo them is beyond me.
Why is it that when it comes to kashrus we have no hesitation to try and out-machmir anyone, but when it comes to ethics we don't do the same?

Thursday 5 May 2011

Is It Badly Done On Purpose

One of the challenges of  being a small town Rav is to maintain a momentum of growth in the community despite limited numbers with which to work.  This is important not only to fill the pews on Shabbos morning but also to ensure a functioning daily minyan and a reliable source of dues with which to pay the bills that pile up.
Naturally one way to attract people to shul is through kiruv.  There are, of course, many different ways to do that.  Some, like Chabad, use a two-pronged approach focusing on the larger number of people and approaching them with superficial things like parties and alcohol while keeping an eye out for the occasional serious recruit who might agree to adopting a shomer mitzvos lifestyle.
However, there is a downside to doing kiruv in a small town.  Because of the limited resources available, a serious baal teshuvah eventually discovered that he has outgrown the community he lives in.  Whether it's for a higher level of learning, a yearning to be around larger numbers of frum people, or a concern about proper educational institutions for one's children, the serious frummie-come-lately eventually sponsers a farewell kiddush and moves on to a larger Jewish community.  In other words, a really successful kiruv experience winds up diminishing instead of growing the local population.
I was thinking about this over Pesach as I spent time discussing the crappy job our low shul does when it comes to kiruv.  Despite an avowed interest in the field, the local Rav actually does very little in the way of showing potential new recruits what a genuine Torah observant lifestyle is about.  Whether it's the emphasis on social gatherings at which the only Jewish connection is a vague theme (support the local Hebrew day school!) or minimizing the Torah part to actual Jewish events-  ALL NIGHT GRILL!!!!! (and Shavous learning), HUGE PURIM PARTY WITH BOUNCING CASTLE!!!! (following Purim megillah reading), it seems the only real goal is to get people to walk through the front door of the shul.  They may never step inside the sanctuary or open a prayer book, let alone learn an actual word of Torah from a real sefer, but if they just show up they're considered to be mekareved.
Even those few folks who make friends amongst the frummies in town and start to adopt more observances in their lives never seem to make it past the frum-for-fun stage, adopting many of the superficial tapestries of religious living without ever going deep into what makes such a lifestyle unique.  And why should they when all they have to do to get a kosher seal of approval from the Rav is simply announce they want to keep kosher?
And as I was kvetching about that it occured to me that this might be the point.  As I noted earlier, the danger of succesful kiruv in a small community is losing the candidate to somewhere else where he can grown further.  Ironically the people I was kvetching to were former members of our community who had moved on to a bigger community because they had religiously outgrown our little town.  But if you never actually start to grow, if your entire experience of Judaism is just about fun and parties and you never really progress beyond that, then there's no danger of that happening.
Perhaps that's been the Rav's strategy all along.  If he avoids doing real kiruv he avoids two major problems.  One is the frum-for-fun family that suddenly discovers a Torah value that is at odds with secular liberal ones and has to make the wreching decision on which way to turn.  The other is the enthusiastic and successfully frum-for-fun family which decides it's time to go to the next level.  They never realize there's another level (or never realize that to be really frum you have to go there) and thus they never outgrow the limited setting of the small community.  Problem solved.
But is crappy kivuv better than no kiruv at all?

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Their Holiday and Ours

One thing many Gentiles and non-Orthodox Jews don't seem to get is the lack of flexibility in many aspects of Jewish practice.  Every so often I'm asked if I can cover someone for work on Shabbos or one of the main holidays.  When I explain to them that I am never available on such days, I sometimes get the response "Oh can't you make an exception this time?"
I understand why, I really do.  For most people there are always exceptions that can be made.  Like the supervisor I had in medical school who insisted that Shabbos dinners were an inviolable part of his family's weekly schedule - except for this week because his favourite band was in concert that Friday night, most people attach strong values to certain events in their lives but always seem to be able to figure out a way to get around the scheduling those values involve.
Where this disconnect seems to cause so much strife is in the interaction between observant and non-observant Jews.  When confronted with an Orthodox Jew who refuses to cooperate with a certain effort by other elements of the Jewish community because doing so would violate halacha in some way the non-Orthodox Jew may often huff "Well I'm Jewish too and I don't have a problem with it."  Many frum doctors will often tell you, for example, that requests to avoid being on call over Shabbos, even when accompanied by offers to work more Sundays and civic holidays, is usually supported by the non-Jewish members of the team but then torpedoed by the non-religious Jew who says "I have no problem coming in on Saturday and I'm just as good a Jew as you!"  It happened to me a few times during medical school and bewildered the non-Jews on the team, especially the devout Muslims who understood the concept of non-negotiable religious holidays and were amazed that another Jew would strive to torpedo my efforts.
Another time this causes trouble is on Yom HaShoah.  Now, off the top I want to make clear that my remarks regarding Yom HaShoah are restricted to observances of the holiday outside Israel.  Inside the State the holiday is of a completely different nature and this discussion is not relevant to it.
The big problem with Yom HaShoah within the religious community is that it seems to be have been invented by people who sincerely wanted to create a meaningful day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust but then did so with a  complete ignorance of Jewish calender periods and history.
The day chosen was during the Sefirah period which already is dominated by a mourning theme of its own, one quite applicable to the Jewish people today.  Yes, one could argue that Yom haAtzma'ut is also during Sefirah but in contrast to Yom HaShoah, Yom Ha'atzma'ut had its day chosen by historical events, not some committee of Jews wondering where in the calender to put it.
Then there is the way Yom HaShoah is observed.  Traditionally, when Jews have set aside days for mourning they have done just that: set aside the entire day.  Tisha B'Av isn't about an evening program with bagels and lox after an inspiring reading of Eichah.  The 20th of Sivan was set aside for various massacres of European Jewry, most recently the Chmeilnitsky massacres of 1648-49.  The entire day takes on a theme and atmosphere.
For Yom HaShoah none of this takes place.  Instead communities hold "meaningful" ceremonies that follow a specific pattern: the local secular Jewish leadership makes speeches about "Never again" and "Never forget", then civic leaders make declarations of support for the Jewish community and statements of sympathy for the victims, a children's choir or two is trotted out to sing either "Ani Ma'amin" or "Mir Zeinen Du" and finally someone plays a violin or cello as token survivors light an electric menorah with six branches.  After that everyone goes homes.  Yom HaShoah is over.
Beyond that there is the emphasis secular observances of Yom HaShoah place in the events.  God is, as best, offered a token mention but nothing more.  The senselessness of events, the idea that a survivor endured the horror of the Holocaust only by accident, the place Yom HaShoah has in Jewish history, all these are ignored.  Only the slogans "Never forget" and "Never again" and nothing more.
The religious approach to Yom HaShoah is far deeper.  We recall that just as 1 in 3 Jews died in the Holocaust, so did 1 on 3 Jews die during the Churban of the Second Temple (may it speedily be rebuilt) and even higher proportions at the first Churban.  We recall that 1/3 of Europe's Jews were killed by marauding Cossacks in 1648-49.  We ask God why we must suffer so, we confess our sins and seek to improve ourselves as Jews, we fast to show our sense of affliction and we recognize that until our Moshiah arrives we must endure such tragedies as history has heaped upon on.  There really is very little comparison between how religious and non-religious Jews recall the Shoah.  How could there be when our worldviews are so radically different?
But what I find most frustrating is the intolerance some in the non-religious community show over Orthodox non-participation in Yom HaShoah ceremonies.  Some understand, to be sure, but most are bewildered as to why we don't join in the observance of the holiday they created.  Religious Zionists understand quite well why Chareidim don't say Hallel on Yom Ha'atzma'ut but Jewish Federation officials are flummoxed as to why we don't join with the program on Yom HaShoah.
To be fair, there is much guilt on the religious side of things.  Many Chareidim are notoriously insensitive to the feelings of the non-religious on Yom HaShoah.  Just because I don't recognize the holiday in my set of yearly observances doesn't mean I should shove that in someone else's face.  At the very least the religious, when confronted by the "Why don't you participate?" crowd should demure politely and simply state "We have a different way of remembering the kedoshim."  But such sensitivity should go both ways and often the people who demand have the least for others.
In many ways, it comes back to how this post started.  We don't listen to music during Sefirah.  You pull out a cello.  We don't listen to women singing.  Inevitably one does.  Some of us don't like to sit in mixed seating even at non-prayer ceremonies.  You allow free seating.  Without intending to, the non-religious have created a holiday that the Orthodox cannot participate fully in and, when we don't, they condemn that lack of participation.  We hold by halacha and are called bad Jews for doing so?
When we point out that on Tisha B'Av they are expected to fast in commemoration of the destruction of the Temples, we are told that such ancient historical events are irrelevant.  Point out that Tisha B'Av also recalls the Crusades, the Inquisition and Gezeras Tach v'Tat and we get a look of bewilderment.  Centuries ago, who cares?  But the Holocaust just happened!
Please tell me someone what the expiry date on remembering a tragic event is.  Clearly it's less than 1900 years.  It's also less than 350 years.  At what point do we start ignoring the Holocaust and forget about what happened?  In 2245?  In 2145?  Because by ignoring Tisha B'Av that is the message the non-religious population is sending us: only recent tragedies matter.  There is an expiry date on grief.
It always comes down to the same frustrating point: the same people who don't have a clue about the rest of the Jewish year and have no trouble eating and drinking on Tisha B'Av are the most outraged when they read about Chareidim ignoring Yom HoShoah.  Their viewpoints, their sensitivities have to be respected but not religious ones.  What does that say about non-religious Jewish tolerance?
Is this the real fate of Yom HaShoah, to become the example of how both sides of the Jewish community, observant and non-observant, really don't care at all about one another?  Is that what the kedoshimi would have wanted?

Sunday 1 May 2011

Calling It Straight

Long-time Reform leader Eric Yoffe was well known for his opinions on Israel.  As a member of the secular liberal "elite" he supported the concept of a two state solution and had no hesitation to criticize Israel for sins both imagined and almost real vis a vis the Arab enemies.  In this regard, he was being true to his background and core philosophy.
In their incoming leader, the Reformers have evidently opted for more of the same.  Richard Jacobs, the next president of the Reformers, has an even more distinguished pedigree than Yoffe.  Not only does he work for the Union for Reform Judaism but has also served in good stead for both J Street and the New Israel Fund, two organizations run by Jew-hating-Jews (JHJ's) whose raison d'etre is attacking Israel while providing support and propaganda assistances to its existential enemies.  For Reformers who like to style themselves along secular Zionist lines, this must be really annoying.   It's hard to shout "We support Israel" when your new leader has spent so much time working for those who shout "We don't!"
What's different is that pointing this out seems to be aggravating to some:
Ads questioning the Zionist credentials of the leader-designate of the Reform movement are a distortion, Reform leaders said.

The ad attacking Rabbi Richard Jacobs for not being sufficiently pro-Israel appeared in a number of Jewish newspapers this week. It was placed by a group of Reform Jews calling themselves Jews Against Divisive Leadership.
It notes that Jacobs, who is the nominee to be the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism, is on the rabbinic cabinet of J Street and the board of the New Israel Fund, two left-leaning organizations on Israel issues. Signed by some three dozen members of Reform congregations around the country, the ad declares that Jacobs “does not represent the pro-Israel policies cherished by Reform Jews” and therefore “does not represent us.”
The ad calls upon the URJ to reconsider Jacobs’ appointment or risk driving “mainstream Zionists” out of the Reform movement. The URJ’s board is due to meet in June to vote on Jacobs’ nomination.
Responding in an Op-Ed in the L.A. Jewish Journal, three Reform leaders blasted what they call the ad’s “distorted caricature” of Jacobs. They suggested the “handful” of signatories are out of touch with current Zionist norms and are playing into the hands of right-wing critics of Jacobs’ Zionist credentials.
“The fact that those who have assaulted Rabbi Jacobs’ integrity have wrapped themselves in the flag of Zionist purity is particularly galling,” says the Op-Ed, which is signed by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Rabbi Naamah Kelman, dean of the college’s Jerusalem campus, and Rabbi Michael Marmur, vice president for academic affairs.
What' distorted caricature?  They are simply stating what he's done and who he hangs out with: JHJ's.  The only people who don't seem to realize how Jew-hating J Street and the New Israel Fund are happen to be... J Street and the New Israel Fund.
I applaud Jews Against Divisive Leadership's stance on this issues.  At a time when Israel is becoming increasingly unpopular in the Western world, it is refreshing to see Reformers who aren't prepared to buy the entire package of liberal leftist crap that the URJ is selling these days.  You cannot stand up and say you are a supporter of Israel when, in practical terms, you oppose everything about it and buy every lie and fabrication its enemies present. 
Perhaps Jacobs will take notice that his own people aren't fooled by the "progressive" label into unwitting support.  However, being a liberal, he may simply decide they're mistaken and that eventually they'll come around to seeing things his way.  More's the pity.