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October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Agudah’

A Legacy of Achdus

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

My thoughts today are with the families of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel. My heart goes out to them. There are no words that can adequately express the magnitude of national grief the Jewish world feels right now. That grief is universal. It doesn’t matter where you stand in your religiosity. It doesn’t even matter if you are entirely secular… or even a non-believer. We are all one people today. As we have been since these three  young souls were kidnapped.

Inevitably when tragedies like this happen there is a sudden burst of Achdus. Tragedies unite. I recall the exact same thing happened a few years ago when eight Yeshiva students were massacred in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, a Religious Zionist Yeshiva named for Rav Kook.

There was no left. There was no right. There was just the Jewish people suffering pain. This is the same pain we all feel today as Israel buries these three young victims of terror. I expect there to be a massive attendance at the combined funeral. Prime Minster Netanyahu has already said he will attend. It would not surprise me if one or more of the Charedi rabbinic leaders attended too, if they are physically able to. One may recall That Rav Elayshiv attended the funeral of the 8 murdered Merkaz HaRav boys.

There has been a lot of public reaction to these murders by prominent Jewish organizations: The Agudah, the OU, Young Israel, and the Wiesenthal Center just to name a few. There is also a lot of discussion about how we should view this event and how the Jewish nation should respond to this if at all. But that is not my issue today. I leave that to others.

My issue is what will happen to the Achdus we have just been a part of. There has been a lot of talk about the unity that this brought about. Rav Chaim Kanievsky said the following – quoted in Matzav:

When his grandson told him the news, Rav Chaim was devastated. He remained silent for a while. He then remarked that the “boys were zocheh to tremendous merits with the chizuk, hisorerus and kabbalos that were undertaking because of them.” Rav Chaim repeated several times that “this is a very big zechus.”

Rav Chaim added that “all the tefillos were not for naught,” because no tefillah goes unheard or to waste.

May the achdus generated by the weeks of communal chizuk and kabbalos continue to unite Klal Yisroel and be a zechus for the ultimate yeshuah b’karov.

Coming from one of the biggest Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel that is quite a statement. Remember that these boys were Religious Zionist Yeshiva students.

I wish I could be as optimistic about the future. But I’m afraid experience has taught me otherwise. Once these young boys are buried, we will all go back to our own personal agendas. And the angry rhetoric will resume. Achdus will end as quickly as it began. Other Hashkafos will be denigrated and vilified – one side against the other.  The name calling will resume. Words like Amalek and parasite will rear their ugly heads again. I’m sure of it.

And this saddens me. We had one shining moment where we were all one – albeit in tragedy. Why can’t we just continue that? Why must we all think ill of the other? Why can’t there be more of us judging the other side favorably? We all see the problems with the other side. But we all have our own problems too. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all recognized that? Why must the other side be de-legitimized and vilified?

Why must we look down at a Hashkafa that is not our own? This is not to say that our disagreements should be forgotten or ignored.  When one has sincere convictions we ought to defend them vigorously. But that same passion that accompanies it all too often spills over into venomous hatred of those on the other side. It ought not to be that way. Believing in our Hashkafos passionately need not mean we must vilify those with whom we disagree..

Agudah Presses U.S. Military on Kosher Field Meals

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Agudath Israel of America has asked the Pentagon to restore kosher field meals and charged that the Defense Logistics Agency had solicited a bid in April for kosher and halal “meals ready to eat,” but had recast the solicitation last month to include only halal, which adhere to Muslim religious precepts.

“As things stand now, no kosher MREs are being produced and, as previous stock has become depleted, there is essentially nothing currently available for Jewish members of the Armed Forces that meet their religious dietary needs,” Abba Cohen, Agudah’s Washington director, said in a release. “How long this state of affairs will continue is unknown.”

Cohen said he wrote Maj. Gen. Donald Rutherford, the top military chaplain, expressing his “deep concern” but also confidence “that the department will find a way to address the dietary needs of Jewish service personnel” given that the Pentagon is showing “greater interest in broadening religious accommodation” in the military.

The Pentagon announced last month that U.S. troops may accommodate religious beliefs in their garb or grooming, including kippas and beards for Jewish servicemen, as long as it does not frustrate their mission.

The U.S. military introduced kosher MREs in 1999, a result of complaints from Jewish troops during the 1991 Gulf War that such meals were not available.

The Right to Buy Snake Oil

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

I am the first in line to support the freedom to choose any treatment you wish for what ails you. In a free society, everyone should have that right. The only question is whether that right trumps the harm such treatment may cause.

That is what the dispute between the Agudah and Governor Chris Christie seems to be all about. The State of New Jersey has banned conversion therapy (sometimes called reparative therapy). It was signed into law a few weeks ago by Governor Chris Christie.

Conversion therapy is designed to turn people with same sex attractions into people with opposite sex attractions.

The Agudah has expressed righteous indignation about this law – saying that it denies people the right to seek the treatment they choose. There are people who desire to be changed that way, and are now being denied the opportunity to seek such change… calling it “a trampling of personal rights, including religious and free speech rights.”

But as Governor Christie has said in defense of signing this bill (quoted at VIN):

“efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks, including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

Agudah believes that people can change their sexual orientation. Since the male homosexual act is biblically forbidden, it is in the best interest of a homosexual to change it. For Agudah conversion therapy is therefore seen as a must. Taking that option away from them is tantamount to taking away their ability to change and thus condemns them to a life sinful sexual desires – and the likelihood of acting on them. Conversion therapy advocates claim major successes at conversion. How can Agudah be silent when this highly successful option is made illegal?

I don’t blame them for having this approach. But I question the success rate claims made by conversion therapy advocates upon which Agudah no doubt relies…

Their claim of success is questionable at best. And in some cases this therapy has been shown to be very harmful. There is also no question about the high expense and the degrading way their therapy works.

What may be successful is their treatment of people who are confused about their sexuality but are in fact heterosexual. How does one get confused about his sexuality? Consider the following scenario. A Yeshiva high school is entirely male. Students – especially those who dorm – have no hope or any expectation of interaction with females. Although the vast majority of Yeshiva students never have any sexual encounters with either a male or a female – on rare occasion some do.Of those, some interaction is with females. But in some cases males may experiment sexually with each other. That may confuse them about who they are naturally attracted to.

My guess is that in most cases these people are not homosexual. They do not need conversion therapy at all. They probably just need conventional psychotherapy to help understand their true sexual orientation. I’m sure that conversion therapy works with them since they are not really homosexual to begin with. That is of course seen as a successful conversion and touted by these treatment centers.

But truly homosexual people will not have a high success rate (if any) at converting to heterosexuality. My guess is that it never happens. All claims of success by these programs are with people who are naturally heterosexual but confused.

That seems to be what expert opinion says. Conversion therapy has been discredited and condemned by the American Psychiatric Association as a pseudo science. Anecdotal testimony in Jerusalem Post by Chaim Levin who went through it  illustrates how humiliating and even harmful it can be.

I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture. Is there a ‘gay gene’ that determines one’s sexual orientation at birth? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that once someone discovers what they are attracted to, it apparently does not change with even the best of therapies. Trying to change it can sometimes bring tragedy.

It’s kind of like buying snake oil. The people who sell it promise you all kinds of healing and have many anecdotes to tell you about how effective it is. One might ask, what’s the harm? Snake oil can’t hurt you. Besides – there is something called the placebo effect. Which means that believing something will help actually does make it helpful in some cases. But not every snake oil is harmless. And it will certainly hurt you at least in the pocket book.

Agudath Israel slams NJ Gay Therapy Law

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Agudath Israel of America condemned a New Jersey law prohibiting gay reparative therapy for minors as an infringement on religious freedom.

The statement from Agudah came just hours after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill barring licensed therapists from providing treatment to help gay teenagers become straight.

“The new law tramples on the rights of mental health therapists to engage freely in their profession, and it unfairly denies teenagers seeking therapy for issues that are troubling them the ability to obtain professional help,” the group said.

“Under the new law, therapists, social workers or counselors who work with minors on these issues risk losing their licenses to practice their professions, and minors who sincerely want to obtain professional help will have nowhere to turn. This is an unconscionable infringement on personal liberty and a trampling of personal rights, including religious and free speech rights.”

New Jersey joins California as the only states with laws barring so-called reparative therapy. The New Jersey bill passed both houses of the state Legislature in June with bipartisan support.

In signing the bill into law, Christie, a moderate Republican who is widely believed to be eyeing a presidential run in 2016, appended a note indicating his reluctance to intrude on parents’ ability to determine the right treatment for their children.

“However, I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children, we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,” Christie wrote. “The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”

Of Homosexuals, Pedophiles, and Differences

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
 I was just sent a link to a blog called Together We Heal (TWH). This is a website whose stated purpose ‘is for any who suffered the trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. Provide a safe forum, educate any seeking info and expose the predators methods’.
What I read there was both shocking and yet hard to dispute. And yet I’m sure it will anger, survivors of abuse, their advocates, and the homosexual community.
The thrust of this article is that there is a movement among professional psychologists to stop calling pedophilia an illness, and to refer to it as simply a sexual orientation. We are after all dealing with a sexual orientation that is virtually impossible to change. Just like same sex attraction (SSA). SSA was once considered a mental disorder. That changed in the 70s when the APA redefined it. Which of course change the entire culture of homosexuality from one of shame to one of pride. Homosexuals who once hid their orientation are now so accepted that gay marriages are being performed by some clergy.
Now before anyone wants to come over here and shoot me, I am not saying that there aren’t very important differences. Leaving religious issues aside, homosexual sex between two consenting adults is a lot different from sex between an adult and a minor. By definition there is no such thing consenting adults when it comes to pedophilia. When an adult has sex with a minor it has been amply demonstrated that the effects on the minor will have lifelong devastating consequences.
For Orthodox Jews, more often than not that includes going OTD. But even worse – many victims drop out of society completely, some end up in the streets; some as alcoholics or drug users; and some even commit suicide. How many times have I read a survivor story about how well adjusted, productive, and studious he (or she) was prior to the abuse, only to become rebellious, unproductive scholastically,  and eventually drop out of everything afterwards. There seems to be an almost endless stream of reports from survivors with stories like that.
Which makes something I wasn’t aware of quite shocking. From the article:

In 1998 The APA issued a report claiming “that the ‘negative potential’ of adult sex with children was ‘overstated’ and that ‘the vast majority of both men and women reported no negative sexual effects from childhood sexual abuse experiences.”

Does this not fly in the face of everything we know about child sexual abuse?! This report is not a layman’s report. It is not Satmar, Agudah, or Lakewood saying this. It is the report of a professional organization that studies these things. The same one that changed homosexuality from a mental illness into a sexual orientation; an organization whose many members treat victims of sex abuse successfully! And it came out 15 years ago! I have never seen it quoted until now. I am unaware of any APA report to the contrary. And yet every professional and every survivor I have ever spoken to or seen quoted on this subject says the exact opposite! I tend to agree with the survivors and the experts I’ve spoken to. What is going on here?
Getting back to pedophilia as a sexual orientation – just like heterosexuality or homosexuality, I can obviously see the danger in equating pedophiles to homosexuals to heterosexuals. Whatever one may say about these three groups of people religiously, I don’t think there can be any doubt that their sexual orientation cannot be changed. Nor can there be any doubt about the vastly different consequences of sex between 2 consenting adults – and the consequences of sex between a child and an adult.
The question becomes how we judge people whose sexual orientation is different from the vast majority of us that are heterosexual… and whose sexual orientation cannot be changed? Do we say judge the sin and not the sinner? That is certainly the religious way to look at it. Pope Francis just yesterday said basically that about homosexuals to a shocked media. They shouldn’t be shocked. That was always the view of the Catholic Church. But it is the view of Judaism too. Who are we to judge others by who – or what – they are sexually attracted to?
At the same time, the effects of succumbing to one type of predilection are the polar opposite of the effects of succumbing to another predilection. It is also virtually impossible to live a life of complete celibacy. When homosexuals have sex in biblically forbidden ways, we can condemn the behavior from a religious perspective. But we can also understand that from a humanistic perspective, there is no psychological harm being done to anyone.
But a non celibate pedophile is a horse of an entirely different color. How can we judge only the sin and not the sinner in that case? Even if he can’t help himself? And view him as just having an alternative sexual orientation?
Here are the things for us to consider. Does saying that pedophiles should no longer to be considered mentally ill change anything? Does the 1998 APA report saying that the vast majority of victims report no negative sexual effects from child sex abuse change anything? How does this impact the original APA decision to redefine homosexuality from a mental disorder into an alternative lifestyle? And finally, how do homosexuals and survivors of child sex abuse and their advocates feel about all of this?

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For the Sake of Keeping the Bris Milah, Give Up Metzitza B’Peh

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

The Israeli Rabbinate has apparently weighed in on the the Metzitza B’Peh issue (MbP). Sort of. A complaint was filed by an anti-circumcision activist against Yehudah Teichtal, a Habad rabbi in Germany who did this procedure on a baby immediately after circumcising him.

Rabbi Teichtal contacted the Chief Rabbinate in Israel requesting a response. He got one. From the Forward:

Moshe Morsiano, chair of the Division of Circumcision for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, emphasized in a letter dated April 22 that there is no justification for avoiding metzitzah b’peh “unless the mohel has a sore in his mouth, or some infectious disease.”

What is interesting about this response is the deceptive nature of it. (Although I do not believe it was purposely done that way). From the tone it sounds like MbP should almost always be done. And that only in the rarest of circumstances should it be avoided.

I suppose the reason they framed it this way is because of the centuries old tradition of doing so. But the second part of that letter is of no less significance. In fact I would say it is the most important part of it and indicates the exact opposite. It says that MbP should be avoided if the mohel has a sore in his mouth or some infectious disease.

To me that tells the whole story. Those who carry the herpes virus cannot always tell when it is present in the mouth. It is not always symptomatic in the early stages. A mohel can have the virus and not be at all aware of it. To me that says loudly and clearly that MbP should be avoided at all times. If cold sores can be asymptomatic there is always a risk of it being there.

It should also be clear from Rabbi Morsiano’s statement that he too believes that MbP is not a requirement. Or he wouldn’t have suggested using an alternative method of doing metzitza under any circumstances.

In an era where so much more is known about transmission of diseases by the mouth… and where there are strong indications that some babies have contracted herpes around the time they were circumcised from an infected mohel … and where the CDC advises against it, I don’t see how anyone can do MbP. Even by the Chief Rabbinate’s standards.

The fact that this happened in Germany where circumcision itself is being challenged is significant. I think it highlights the damage that is done by equating MbP with circumcision itself as those who are fighting the New York City Department of health are saying. More than once I have heard that equation being made. Some accuse outright that New York is trying to outlaw circumcision. Others either imply it or say that outlawing MbP is a slippery slope that could lead to outlawing circumcision completely.

If we give the those who oppose circumcision this kind of ammunition, they will have something to base their accusations that a bris is a barbaric procedure that endangers the lives of innocent little babies! No doubt that is what the anti circumcision activist who filed a complaint in Germany was thinking. If a mohel insists on a dangerous procedure that he says is a religious requirement, he will have a leg to stand on. This is not a leg that we should concede. Because aside from the tragic results that may occur on a baby and his family, the impact it could have on Bris Mila itself could be devastating.

Even though there are so many Poskim that do not – including the Chief Israeli Rabbinate I realize that Chasidim do consider MbP to be a Halachic requirement. This is why I would oppose any legislation that would outlaw it. But I do support the NY health department requirement that parents be informed of the danger honestly. And by honestly I would include the concession that the chance of infection is indeed very low. But I would at the same time insist that as low as it is, it is real.

I therefore reassert my plea that the Agudah withdraw its opposition to this requirement. Because the more we oppose requirements by experts in the field with no axe to grind against Judaism; people whose intentions are only the health and welfare of the public – the more we endanger circumcision itself. The anti circumcision people are no doubt looking very carefully at what is happening in Germany… and that will certainly influence their actions here. Eizehu Chacham? Ha Roeah Es HaNolad!

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Israeli Haredim Becoming Black Hat Professionals

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Besides becoming more like their “Agudah” counterparts in the United States, thousands of Israeli Haredim also have enlisted in special fields in the IDF, belying accusations that they are “draft dodgers.”

“The move from the yeshiva to the university is based on economics, not ideology,” explains Israeli journalist Yisrael Gellis.

He told The Jewish Press, “Young married yeshiva students reached the conclusion they have to work to support their families.

“Approximately 25,000 Haredim have been learning as far back as five years ago, but the media always disparage them and do not report the new trend.”

The “Open University,” which allows students to learn at home, has attracted more than 600 Haredim, according to Gellis. Significantly, 150 of them are from what Gellis calls one of the most “fanatic” Haredi sects. Yeshiva rabbis have encouraged the new trend  but “without force,” Gellis said.

He added that many Haredim have found themselves without work after receiving university degrees because some secular employers are prejudiced against them.

A study by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, cited by the Globes business newspaper, sheds light on the “new Haredim.”

The students include more than 2,000 Haredim, approximately half of whom said their choice of a profession to study was personal and not based on market demand or the potential for career promotion.

The students are attending universities and colleges to learn professional skills through the Kemach Foundation for Promoting Haredi Employment. The organization, heavily financed by the Wolfson Foundation and other philanthropic contributors, offers scholarships to 6,000 Haredi students, almost all of whom are married with children. Women account for 20 percent of the students.

The Ministry of Industry has a long-term plan to being Haredim as well as Arabs into the work force.

An overwhelming majority of the Haredi students’ families have support from their families and spouses, according to the study.

However, a sizable minority of 30 percent said they are studying despite lack or support or outright opposition towards a new lifestyle.

The government report unintentionally noted the center-left and secular bias against Haredim, stating that the growth in the number of Haredi students studying contradicts “pessimistic assessments.”

Gellis also told The Jewish Press that despite the popular secular claim that Haredim avoid the military draft, an increasing number of Haredi youth have opted for the IDF’s special programs that trains them for technical skills.

More than 5,000 Haredi youth have enlisted in the IDF’ Shakhar KaKhol (Blue Dawn) program that offer Israeli youth an 18-month study program to acquire technical skills that are then used in the Air Force and which give them employment opportunities after completing military service.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israeli-haredim-becoming-black-hat-professionals/2013/01/29/

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