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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘extremism’

Extremism in Defense of Tznius

Friday, June 6th, 2014

People often ask me what I consider extreme Charedism. The answer is not really that simple. I’m tempted to use Supreme Court  Justice Potter Stewart’s response to a similar question about pornography:  I know it when I see it.

The reason I find it difficult to define is because extremism is sometimes defined by context. In one environment a certain activity might be considered normal while in another it would be considered extreme.  So when I use the term extremist or extremism, it has to be taken in the context of the post.

But as the retort by Potter Stewart indicates, there are times when extreme behavior is such in any context.

One of the things I constantly advocate here is normalcy. I am a firm believer in leading one’s life in ways that are considered normal by two measures. One is Halacha. And the other is by societal standards. Obviously Halacha comes first. But often Halacha has broad interpretation. And it is sometimes interpreted by societal standards. One Halacha that is a prime example of this is Tznius. Or more precisely modesty in dress.

I believe that modern psychology accepts the notion that there are generally (there are always exceptions) differences in how men and women are sexually aroused. Without getting into long detail, men are aroused by the visual.  Women… not so much. Halacha recognizes this. So men are commanded not to gaze at women for purposes of enjoyment. Women are asked to dress in ways that will not initiate thoughts of arousal in men. That is what the laws of Tznius are based upon. One can see expressions of this not only in Judaism, but in the 3 major faiths. The most extreme example of this is Islam. The more religious sects ask their women to wear face covering Burkas that are basically tents that cover the entire body.

Where does Judaism come in on this? Well that’s where local custom comes in. There are basic laws that require certain parts of the body to be covered up called Erva (nakedness). The rest depends on the culture in which one lives. For practical purposes, then,  Iran or Saudia Arabia might require a Jewish woman that lives there to wear a Burka in accordance with the modesty customs of those countries. In the United States, I think it is safe to say that the modesty standards do not go beyond the minimum standards of Erva.

I should add that there is a requirement for a married woman to cover her hair because  ‘Erva’. But the Erva in the case of hair is a horse of an entirely different color. The reasons for which are beyond the scope of this post. But the accepted Halacha is that the uncovered hair of a married woman is considered Erva. And most if not all of it must be covered.

So how should Jewish women in this country dress in order to fulfill the laws of Tznius? One would think that no matter what faction of Judaism one is from, the customs should be the same. But that is far from the case. If one travels to Williamsburg, one will see one style of dress for Orthodox women. And if one travels to Teaneck, one will see another.  But I think it is safe to say that in the vast majority of cases there is a lot of overlap. Most Orthodox women in America dress by covering just below the neck line, covering their arms at least 3/4s of their length and wear skirts that cover the knees .  And most cover their hair.  Those are the basics. There are of course variations of this theme

Israel-Palestinian ‘Peace’ Would Destabilize Middle East

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry has every what-should-be-discredited cliché about the Middle East firmly ensconced in his head. Of course, he is not alone. I recently briefed a European diplomat who came up with the exact formulation I’m going to deal with in a moment. What is disconcerting—though long familiar—is that Western policymakers hold so many ideas that are totally out of touch with reality.

They do not allow these assumptions to be questioned. On the contrary, it is astonishing to find how often individuals in elite positions have never heard counter-arguments to these beliefs. It is easy to prove that many of these ideas simply don’t make sense, but it is nearly impossible to get elite intellectuals, officials, and politicians to open their minds to these explanations.

Yet we can’t just believe what we want to believe, what we’d like to see happen, what we hope for. Reality must be faced or things will be worse. Having unexamined utopian ideas dominate this topic does not serve anyone’s interests.

Let me give a single example. Here are Kerry’s observations after touring the Middle East:

I am intensely focused on this issue and the region because it is vital really to American interests and regional interests to try and advance the peace process and because this festering absence of peace is used by groups everywhere to recruit and encourage extremism.

Supposedly, then, the reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so important and urgent to solve is that otherwise it is a powerful force in encouraging extremism. Of course, steps toward easing Israel-Palestinian tensions and stabilizing the situation are good but have no positive effect on the region.

Let’s stipulate that it would be a very good thing if this conflict would be resolved in a stable compromise. Let’s further stipulate that this isn’t going to happen.

But there is another point which sounds counter-intuitive and yet makes perfect sense: Resolving the conflict in some way will encourage even more extremism and regional instability. How can I say that? Very simple.

Islamist groups and governments, along with radical Arab nationalists, Iran, and others, are determined to prevent any resolution of the issue. Anything other than Israel’s extinction they hold to be treason. If—and this isn’t going to happen—Israel and the Palestinian Authority made a comprehensive peace treaty those forces would double and triple their efforts to subvert it.

The government of Palestine would face determined domestic opposition, including assassination attempts on the “traitors” who made peace. Palestinian factions would claim to be more militant than their rivals and would seek to use the new state as a basis for attacking Israel in order to prove their credentials and advance their political fortunes.

What would the government of Palestine do once cross-border attacks inevitably began against Israel? It is highly likely it would disclaim responsibility and say they cannot find those responsible or even proclaim that these people are heroes.

Of course, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip would not accept the deal, thus ensuring that it could not be implemented. That last factor, which is a huge and impassable barrier is simply ignored by the “peacemakers.” Israel would have to make major territorial concessions and take heightened risks in advance that would bring zero benefits from a Hamas government that would increase its attacks on Israel. Hamas forces in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria], perhaps in partnership with Fatah radicals, would seek to overthrow Palestine’s government.

There would be attempts to carry out atrocities against Israeli civilians to break the deal, just as happened by Hamas alone during the 1993-2000 “Oslo peace process” period. Hizballah from Lebanon would also increase attacks on Israel to prove that the treasonous peace could not hold.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria would do everything possible to help Hamas. There would be outrage in large sectors of public opinion and especially among the armed Islamist militias who would try to lever their countries into war, stage cross-border attacks against Israel and back Palestinian insurgents.

Of course, the fact that they understand all of the points made above is one of the main reasons why the Palestinian Authority’s leadership isn’t interested in making a peace deal with Israel and not even negotiating seriously toward that end.

Arab Moderation Murdered in Tunisia

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing.” –Edmund Burke

And if the good men are murdered by the forces of political evil than they certainly cannot do anything. Hence, the outcome is assured.

Thus, the “Arab Spring” has just been murdered with bullets and hijacked amid bloodstains. Here is the list of countries in the Middle East area currently ruled by Islamists: Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey. Syria will probably join them soon. Qatar has a pro-Islamist policy. Morocco technically has an Islamist government though the king neutralizes it in practice. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a strict Islamic regime but opposes the revolutionary Islamists though its money often spreads their doctrines elsewhere. Everyone is being forced into Sunni or Shia Islamist camps, backing radical forces in other countries so that their religious allegiance can conquer.

In this situation, only in Tunisia could the non-Islamists win fairly conducted elections. But an election isn’t fair if one side uses violence to ensure its victory and its ability to transform the country into a social-political dictatorship afterward.

I know that whenever I write an article on Tunisia it will have fewer readers than other topics. That’s understandable from the standpoint that Tunisia is a small country with little international impact and limited U.S. interests.

Yet Tunisia was the country where the “Arab Spring” began. And Tunisia is going to be the place where the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Spanish Civil War will be fought. In other words, it is the only place where moderate and “secularist” forces are going to fight and the only country where the moderates have a majority of the population–though not a majority of the guns–behind them.

Given that bellwether factor, they have just suffered a massive defeat which is simultaneously a major victory for the Islamist forces.

Briefly, what people who believe the Arabic-speaking world is heading toward democracy don’t understand is that they have helped unleash forces quite willing to engage in violence and that will not stop until they’ve achieve a total triumph. It’s sort of like Pandora who opened the box to unleash its spiritual whirlwinds and said, “This ought to be interesting!”

That’s why the assassination of Choukri Belaid is so important. He was leader of the Democratic Patriot party and a leader of the Popular Front opposition coalition. While the story will be obscure in the West it is devastating for Tunisia, the Arab liberals, and the future of the region. Belaid was the single most outspoken and determined anti-Islamist leader in the country, and indeed the most important openly anti-Islamist politician in the entire Arabic-speaking world. He wasn’t the only moderate politician in Tunisia but he was the main one who rejected Islamist rule and warned against Islamist intentions.

And how did the Islamist-dominated coalition react? The moment the leading opposition figure—the man around whom an anti-Islamist coalition might have been built following the next elections–was murdered, it called for new elections.

Get it? The Brotherhood’s moderate coalition partners didn’t want elections now. And if you eliminate the tough moderate, those remaining may be more pliable about caving in. It was quite conceivable that the non-Islamists would get a majority in the next elections–as they did in the previous one. But a majority divided among four parties isn’t enough. Last time, the moderate parties got 60 percent but their disunity allowed the largest single party, the Brotherhood, to take control of the government coalition with only 40 percent of the vote.

But a man like Belaid might have forged a moderate coalition government that would keep the Brotherhood out of power. In other words, though he led only the fourth largest party, Belaid was the key to forcing the Brotherhood out of power by convincing the four moderate parties to work together against the Islamist threat. His elimination isn’t just a crime, but a political strategy.

As I predicted a few days ago, destroying the left is going to be the Islamists’ priority and Tunisia is the only country where the political left poses a danger to them. Elsewhere it is too weak, confined to isolated individuals and publications.

Religious Pluralism Within Orthodoxy

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Gil Student’s recent review of a book about Orthodox pluralism (R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi) got me thinking about my own view on this subject.

Pluralism begets unity or Achdus.

There are different kinds of Achdus. We can be bonded by a wide variety of commonalities. We can all be united as human beings. There is also a sense of unity that we should feel as a people regardless of our ideology.

It is also legitimate to speak of unity within a defined segment of Judaism. Indeed even within segments there is a sense of unity that is often eluded. There can for example be a right and left even within Religious Zionism.

I have always sought to unite all of Orthodoxy. This includes even Satmar Chasidim, and the right wing Yeshiva world on the right – all the way to Left Wing Modern Orthodox (LWMO) movements represented by people like Rabbi Avi Wiess and his Yeshiva, YCT. The common bond being belief in the Torah and adherence to Halacha.

One may wonder about this considering my recent very harsh criticism of Satmar. Or my occasional strong criticism of some of innovations of the left – like the attempt to ordain women. Or my strong criticism of price tag raids by settler movements (consisting of extremist Religious Zionists) in Israel. The fact is that my criticism remains but it does not contradict my belief in a pluralistic Orthodoxy.

I disagree with the ideology of those to my right and my left. But I respect them all in the sense of Elu V’Elu. For example, I understand the Satmar objection to the existence of the State of Israel. It is based on the how Satmar interprets passages in the Gemarah. I have no problem with those who have this Hashkafa.

Nor do I have a problem with the belief of those religious Zionists who believe that we must settle all the land of Israel; that it is Halachically forbidden to cede an inch of the holy land that is now in our hands; and that we must risk our very lives to retain it. That is based on interpretations of Halacha.

Even though I disagree with both of those positions, I respect them. My only problem is when they act on them in ways that impinge on the rights of others or create a Chilul HaShem. It is trying to impose one’s religious values upon others that upsets me. Not the ideologies themselves. Ideologies, yes. Bad behavior, no.

Achdus, unity, or pluralism is not about agreement. It is about tolerance and acceptance… and the humility to understand and accept that we might just be wrong and someone else might be right.

This does not mean that one has to be apologetic about one’s strongly held views. One can argue his views with those of different Hashkafos and try and convince them of the rectitude of their own. Perfectly legitimate. I would even go a step further that if one has strongly held beliefs one ought to be able to make the case for them to a friend with different ideologies. At the same time, one must respect he views of others even if you think they are wrong. They too have thought things through and have arrived at a different conclusion that you have. In other words it is all about respecting the wisdom of others even when disagreeing with them.

On this level I respect the Hashkafos of Haredi thinkers. And I respect the Hashkafos of LWMO thinkers even though I disagree with them and agree with Centrist thinkers. Elu V’Elu is what it’s all about for me. My harsh criticism is reserved for extremist behavior that is a result of those Hashkafos – even if it is from my own.

Many in the Satmar community’s behavior with respect to sex abuse or right wing Religious Zionist settler behavior that results in a Chilul HaShem will raise my hackles every single time. Not the beliefs that generate them. One can be a principled pluralist – to use Gil’s expression – without rejecting the Hashkafos of others. There is no need to try and reconcile such wildly disparate views.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/religious-pluralism-within-orthodoxy/2012/12/24/

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