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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

The Secret of Orthodoxy’s Success

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

There is a little known fact (outside of Lubavitch) about the founder of Chabad Chasidus, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav – also known as the Baal HaTanya). He supporeted the Czar of Russia in opposition to Napolean. R’ Shneur Zalman reasoned that the freedom that would result via Napolean’s emancipation from the Czar would cause Jews to go Off the Derech (OTD). He wasn’t entirely wrong.

Not that an anti-Semitic dictatorship like the Czarist Russia or the Soviet Union didn’t do the same thing or worse. Most Jews in the anti Semitic/anti religious Soviet Union were unable to remain observant. But it cannot be argued that too much freedom will result in the masses opting out of observant Judaism – or even Judaism altogether.  At least that is what the recent Pew study revealed. A shocking 70% of non Orthodox Jews marry out and only 20% of their children are raised with any semblance of Jewish identity.

Why is that? There are many reasons mostly having to do with a lack of any significant Jewish education. But that is only part of the story. An Interesting observation was made by Bethamie Horowitz in a Forward article that had a positive spin on that survey. Sort of positive – that is.

She noted that marrying out is not so much a function of going OTD as it is the result of an overwhelming sense of acceptance of Jews into American society of Jews and Judaism. That should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Here are some examples of that:

Yiddish words are increasingly seeping into the English language.

The Holocaust is perhaps the most revered subject in the public square today. Hollywood – which is probably the most influential component of American culture – will not let us forget it. Every year there is another Holocaust movie or documentary. Which is often nominated for an Academy Award.

The number of Jews winning the Nobel Prize was immense this year it seems. I believe that 22% of all Nobel Prize winners are Jews (Whereas only .2% of the world population are Jews.)

In fact there are so many indicators of our acceptance that it would take up too much space to include them all. I recall reading about a poll recently that said that Judaism is the most respected religion in America.

Not only are Jews no longer hiding their Judaism by changing their names; not wearing a Kipa in public (if they are male); and keeping  their religious practices completely private – if at all, they are now proudly proclaiming their Jewish identity.

It is now ‘cool’ to be Jewish in this country. But it is not cool to be observant. That is a burden that a proud assimilated and not religiously educated Jew can do without. Without a religious education the freedom to assimilate can and probably will lead you astray. Why be observant, an assimilated Jew might ask? Just be a proud Jew. The next generation will ask why even bother even being Jewish at all? ‘I don’t even like bagels’ they might say. ‘I prefer lobster!’  Intermarriage? What’s the big deal? It is completely accepted now.

The ultimate demonstration of that was one of the most famous intermarriages of the modern era. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a President married a Jew. Her wedding highlighted many aspects of a Jewish wedding, including a Chupah and a Kesubah. Her husband even wore a Kipa under the Chupah. And the media was all over this fawning over it like it was a royal marriage. As Ms. Horowitz points out:

A cartoon from the October 1, 2012, issue of The New Yorker depicted a couple and a wedding planner with the following caption: “No, we’re not Jewish. But we think it would be fun for our reception’s theme to be ‘A Jewish wedding.’”

So is R’ Shneur Zalman right? Should we be praying for a government that will oppress us? Is oppression the only thing that will keep us Jewish? Apparently that is what the Baal HaTanya believed. The Judaism of his generation was apparently very shallow. A Jew would not remain a Jew if given the chance – and the anti Semitic Czar would never give a Jew that chance.

He preferred persecuting us. And Jews remained Jewish and for the most part observant. Why observant? The communities were tight knit and going OTD meant being ostracized. Which of course meant that an OTD Jew would have no place to go since he was still a Jew and not accepted by Russian gentiles. He was worthy only of persecution.

What a sad commentary on Judaism if the best way to keep Jews observant is by keeping them oppressed. This is what R’ Shneur Zalmen wanted and it is why (I am told) he supported the Czar.

But I have to disagree with him and the entire premise of blaming freedom for the masses going OTD. It isn’t the fault freedom. It’s the fault of lack of a proper religious Jewish education. The vast majority o those of us who were properly educated are today observant… in an era of complete freedom and total acceptance by general society.

As Noah Feldman’s article in Bloomberg  pointed out, one need only look at Lakewood to see just how well religiously educated Jews are doing. Their growth has been exponential over the last couple of generations. That Noah Feldman  – a once Orthodox but now assimilated Jew who married out pointed this out – does not detract from the reality of what he said. (Ironically he was given a religious Jewish education. But he is the exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately there are a lot of exceptions. The reason for that is beyond the scope of this post.)

So there you have it. The real fault of why the vast majority of Jews in this country are not observant lies mostly with the lack of any significant religious education for the masses of Jews who immigrated here in the early 20th century. Jewish education was practically non-existent then. Coupled with the melting pot climate of assimilation and the requirement to work on Shabbos in order to keep your job…  the children of these immigrants ran away from observance in droves. They wanted to be Americans. Not Jews. Those 90 percent of Jews who are today are not observant are their offspring. Through no fault of their own – being completely bereft of any Jewish education – they do not know the definition of Judaism and see no value in it. As can be seen from the Pew study.

The good news is that many of these Jews do not have the biases of their parents or grandparents. Their parents and grandparents hated the burdens of being observant and ran away from observance. Their children don’t know enough about it to hate it. Of course this is not true in all cases. Many of these young people do not want to give up the freedom that non observance affords them. But a surprising number of them do.  That’s where organizations like NCSY comes in.

So, all is not lost. The lesson we should take from all of this is that we should appreciate and even cherish the freedom this great country of ours affords us. And  that oppression is not the way to keep Jews in the fold.  Being Jewish because circumstances force you to be is not a prescription for Jewish continuity. Education is. And that is the secret of Orthodox success in this – the free’est country in the world.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Abbas’ Fatah Party Decides to Draw PA Borders with Blood

Monday, September 30th, 2013

The Palestinian Authority has added a new definition to its revised dictionary, and “red line” now refers to “borders drawn in blood.”

While Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiators are staging direct talks over a future PA state and under the thumb and eyes of the Obama administration, the Fatah movement that Abbas heads stated on Facebook last month, “My homeland taught me that it is the blood of Martyrs (Shahids) that draws the borders of the homeland.” So much for the Green Line.

The Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which translated and posted the latest incitement, noted that there is an accompanying picture of a terrorist  – or maybe he is a “militant” or just an ordinary Arab man on the street – holding a rifle.

Nothing really has changed since the days of Yasser Arafat prancing around with a holster on his hip. Abbas wears a suit and tie and lets his political movement’s Facebook page talk “peace” in its own unique fashion.

The new definition of “red lines” follows other newly-defined terms in the Palestinian Authority dictionary.

“Peace Process” years ago became the term for “piece process,” whereby Israel loses peace piece by piece.

“Negotiations” means accepting all Palestinian Authority demands without compromise.

“Right of Return” means giving Arabs who never have lived in Israel the freedom to “return” where they never were.

This is based on the United Nations’ two-headed definition of “refugee,” a status that throughout the world applies to those who flee or are expelled from a country – except for Arabs who lived in Israel decades ago. The United Nations redefined” refugees” for them so that it includes their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great great-grandchildren ad nauseum

Another interesting term in the Palestinian Authority dictionary is “democracy.” That now means a PA chairman –Abbas – who nine years was elected for four years but who continues in power without a free vote.

Another facet of the Palestinian Authority’s newly defined democracy is that Arabs can live wherever they want in Israel, which it refuses to define as a Jewish state, but Jews cannot live anywhere in a future PA country.

Go East

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The anniversary of the Yom Kipur War always reminds one of Israeli fallibility, arrogance, and overconfidence, yet at the same time of its capacity to defy the odds and come back from the brink. It was another example of our bringing disaster upon ourselves and then fighting back to survive. After all, that is what the name “Israel” means in the Bible: “to struggle with man and God and survive”.

If I were to listen to the voices, Jewish and non-Jewish, that I hear in such examples as The New York Times, in The New York Review of Books, the intellectual and leftwing talking heads of Europe and the USA, or indeed popular left wing opinion, I would have a depressing sense of impending catastrophe. This week Peter Beinart, in The New York Review of Books, tells us that we Jews neither know, nor understand, nor feel the suffering of the Palestinians, whether under Hamas or the PLO. Ian S. Lustick goes on at length in a one-sided peroration typical of The New York Times that the lays the blame on Israel for making the Two State Solution irrelevant. They are not entirely wrong. But I tell you I am bloody fed up with people lumping all Israelis, all Jews together in their simplistic apportioning of blame, seeing things in black and white rather than in greys. Palestinians are good victims. Israelis are bad oppressors. In fact, both are both. That’s what humans are, a mixture of good and bad.

Some Israelis, some Jews are indeed intolerable racists. It is as true as is the fact that in South Africa under Apartheid there were Jews who acquiesced, who remained silent and failed their moral duty. But it is equally true that many Jews fought long and hard and at great cost to themselves, to oppose Apartheid and to promote freedom for the black population. That the ANC finally triumphed has not replaced immorality with morality, discrimination with equality. Sadly, too often those who suffer respond not by continuing the drive towards greater freedom but by grabbing all they can for themselves. This is the usual consequence of most struggles for freedom. Similarly, in Zimbabwe the relatively benign but overtly racial regime of Ian Smith was replaced by the much more evil and murderous regime of black Mugabe. Good fighters for freedom turn into very bad governors of countries. But that is the price of the struggle. And politics is dirty and messy everywhere.

The role of government is to protect its citizens and the vision of its founders. Israel was created as a state with a Jewish heritage, just as much as Muslim states were established to preserve and propagate Muslim heritage. Most of us would like to see both as tolerant and democratic societies. Israel is imperfect indeed, but it is our homeland. If we care for it we should fight to protect it and to improve it, not to undermine it. We should focus just as much on those who are working hard on reconciliation, on doing good, not just on the bad, on Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals, on Israel providing for Gaza what Egypt is not. But don’t expect this from the anti-Israel amen chorus.

So how are we expected to relate to a dysfunctional Middle East that is constantly stirred up against us by a distorted Western mentality? Surely not by capitulating to its mental diseases. I suggest we try to ignore its pathologies as best we can. But I must stress, I do not advocate cutting ourselves off from the Muslim world. The Middle East is not the only Muslim location. I do not think the divide between Judaism and Islam is either inevitable or healthy. We have far more in common with each other than we do with Western religions. To both of us, religion is not a series of theological propositions but a way of life. However if we want to heal the breach we must look further east.

It always surprises Jews to learn that the Muslims of the Far East, from India to Indonesia, from Cambodia to China, see the Arab jihadis of the Middle East in much the same way that non-Orthodox Jews view Charedim. They regard the Salafists and the Wahhabis as over the top extremists. It’s true in both cases that guilt often leads them to support the pious at arm’s length. The Far East also has its extreme and violent Islamic movements and terrorists, but the general mood of Islam is far more benign the further you get from the Middle East. It is more tolerant, less anti-West, and less fixated on blaming everyone else, especially the Jews, for their own ills. Yes, you can quote me that nasty former Malayan premier Mahathir bin Mohamad, who blamed the Jews for everything. But, thank goodness, he was not typical. I believe Israel should reduce its links with Europe with is ghastly legacy and history. It should be cultivating relations and economic involvements with India, China, Korea, and other emerging powers out in the Far East.

Daniel Goldhagen, the controversial and outspoken American historian who wrote Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, has stirred things up with his latest book about Western anti-Semitism, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism. Anthony Julius wrote a dismissive review in the Wall Street Journal accusing Goldhagen of sloppy research and unreliable statistics, even if he agrees with the core of his thesis. But even if Goldhagen exaggerates when he says 200 million Europeans compare Israelis to Nazis, let us reduce it by half. The fact is that huge swathes of opinion in Europe and the USA are venomously opposed to Israel’s existence on principle. So who is Israel to rely on? We knew Europe would never go to war to defend the Jews. Now we have seen all too clearly that the USA cannot be relied upon to fight. It is war weary. Israel must defend it itself as best it can, both socially and militarily. It is time to look for friends elsewhere.

In addition, I believe Judaism has more in common with and is more appreciated by the religion and mysticism of the East than of the West. The West is fixated on pain, suffering, guilt, and negativity. The East has much more positive religious energy. We have been identified with the Western religious tradition for too long. We have adopted too much of this guilt and pain. We could well redress the balance. It is time to think about a new alliance, a new love affair, with the Far East for Israel and Jews in general. I only hope our present leaders, secular and religious, will not be as myopic as those of the past.

Women of the Wall Protesting Bennett’s High Holidays Plan

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday his support for the Mendelblit plan, drawn by the Prime Minister’s Office’s committee charged with the task of solving the problem of “inequality” at the Western Wall.

The committee is promoting a solution that utilizes a wooden balcony which has been built on scaffolding in the middle of Robinson’s Arch, near the Western Wall. The new section will permit mixed prayers of men and women and will be dubbed “Israel section.”

Women of the Wall are complaining that the plan will “effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox tradition to Robinson’s Arch and away from the area of the Western Wall where Jews have prayed for generations.”

According to WOW, should the new plan be executed, the government will be excluding more 50% of Jewish population to the “back of the bus.”

That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, since the majority of Israeli women feel quite comfortable in the women’s section – on those rare occasions when they show up at prayer services.

The new mixed prayer area outside the Kotel plaza in Jerusalem. Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The new mixed prayer area outside the Kotel plaza in Jerusalem. Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“Women of the Wall rejects the Mendelblit plan which dangerously circumvents the pluralist Sobel Disctrict Court decision,” WOW declared on Sunday. “We are at a crossroads for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Israel. Today this affects Women of the Wall but tomorrow it will affect every Israeli and Jew around the world. What has been proven today is that the bullies were victorious—with their assault, spitting and cursing at women. Mendelblit and Bennett have given in to the threats and violence of the Haredi extremist minority in Israel and this is a dangerous precedent for our democracy.”

WOW complain that, according to the proposed plan, the wooden stage erected at the center of the archaeological visitor’s center “is concerning only mixed prayer, and therefore does not provide a solution for Women of the Wall, a mixed women’s prayer section.”

An email they sent out Sunday contends that “The plan leaves control over the entire area in the hands of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an organization run by a vast majority ultra-Orthodox men. The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, nor does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area. This plan is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal, it provides an out of sight- out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall.”

The argument is strangely familiar, reminiscent of Jewish complaints about how the Jordanian Waqf has been controlling the Temple Mount – but any attempt to solicit from WOW an expression of empathy for Jews on the Mount have been met with staunch denial of similarity…

When all else is lost, WOW are appealing to the one true supporter they have in the current government – you guessed it:

“We call upon Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni to reject this plan, to demand equal rights for women to pray at the women’s section of the Western Wall. Women of the Wall is calling for a 24 hour sit-in at the Western Wall in the hopes that the government will reject this plan and support the District Court Decision in which all women can pray freely at the Western Wall.”

‘Move De Line’: Shalom Bayit; Shalom Aleinu

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In parshah Ki Tetzei, Moses teaches us, almost as an afterthought, “Do not hate an Edomite because he is your brother.” This teaching is understandable. After all, even an estranged brother who has wronged me is still my brother. But then, in a leap hard to grasp for many of us, the Torah goes on to teach, “Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (23:8).

What? How can we help but hate those who enslaved us? Whose king demanded that “every male Israelite born be thrown into the Nile”? There must be a deeper meaning to these words. How can we be expected to develop good relations with such a mortal enemy? Which do we do? Do we recall our suffering in Egypt (l’maan tizkor et yom tzetcha m’eretz Mitzrayim) or do we “not hate an Egyptian”?

When I studied at Yeshiva University, hundreds of us would rush to the cafeteria after morning seder to quickly get our lunches so we could make it to our afternoon shiur on time. As you can imagine, the line could grow very long. There, standing behind the counter, dishing out daily helpings of whatever was on the menu was a gentle Holocaust survivor, Mr. Weber. To this day, so many years later, I can still hear his voice prompting us along: “Move de line, move de line.”

Over the many years of my life, his constant refrain has become integral to my personal philosophy. To me, he was not simply asking us not to slow down the line; he was telling us not to get stuck in a tough spot and, by extension, not to remain mired in the bitterness of the inevitable challenges and disappointments we all face – not to bear grudges for the rest of our lives.

We all have to “move de line.”

That means letting go of the negatives that hold us back – the things that enslave us, that humiliate us, that degrade us. Ironically, until we can let go of those things, we will remain enslaved, even long after our captors have set us free. We need to “move de line” if we are to forge new paths and realize new goals.

Hurt begets hurt. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. If you want to move de line, you have to let go of hurt and anger. If your “captor” allows you to go free, the least you can do is grant yourself the same grace. As long as you continue to be enslaved by negativity, you can know no freedom; you cannot embark on a new beginning. You are stuck.

As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently teaches, “To be free, you have to let go of hate. That is what Moses is saying. If they continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind – and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.”

But what of all the mitzvot centered on Yetziat Mitzrayim – including those recalled on Shabbat, when laying tefillin, putting on our tzitzit or reciting the ancient truths at our Seders? In fact, there is no hate, no rage, no call for revenge or retaliation – not even a shred of negativity – in any of these mitzvot. Instead, they focus on the positive: Remember. Learn. Grow.

Move de line.

Rav Soloveitchik views the Egyptian exile and suffering as the “…experience which molded the moral quality of the Jewish people for all time.” Rather than embitter us, our experience in Egypt and subsequent emancipation teaches us not to hate and retaliate but rather “…ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a rachaman, one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”

The most practical method of teaching compassion, sensitivity and concern for others, the most direct way of imparting a sense of mitgefiel, is to recall one’s own experience of tzarah. It should come as no surprise that it is often he who has suffered sickness who best understands the discomfort of the ill; he who has sustained loss who can best comfort the bereaved, and he who knew wealth and success but who suffered reversals who can best identify with a colleague or neighbor who confronts similar obstacles.

Swedes Fume at Comparison of Palestinian Prisoners to Murderer Breivik

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Comments by Israel’s ambassador to Sweden comparing the recently-released Palestinian prisoners to the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik who, on 22 July 2011, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing 8, then killed 69 on a vacation island, have left relatives of victims of the Utøya massacre seething, Swedish news website The Local reports.

In a Tuesday interview with Svergies Radio (SR), Israeli ambassador Isaac Bachman compared the release of Palestinian prisoners to setting the monster Breivik free.

“The horrors that [the Palestinian prisoners] did, to put it in a Scandinavian understanding, it’s like what happened in Norway with Breivik,” Bachman told SR.

“Imagine if Breivik was released as a gesture of some sort,” he added, and complained that Israel is not getting enough credit for agreeing to the release.

Pointing out the enormous risk Israel was taking with its gesture, Bachman noted that “research has shown that these people will return to crime. It’s not easy to get public support for releasing these people.”

It turns out the good ambassador was completely wrong in his comparison, which seemed completely reasonable to him, but not to the listeners. You see, Breivik – he killed sweet, pink skinned, blond Norwegians, which was a crime against humanity, while the Palestinians only killed Jews. Big difference, apparently, in Scandinavia.

The comments, which came on the eve of Israel’s Wednesday release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, sparked outrage from none other than survivors and family members of victims of Breivik’s 2011 attack, The Local reported.

“I think it is ridiculous to compare this with a mass murderer from Norway,” Trond Blattmann, whose son Torjusdatter was killed when Breivik opened fire on Utøya, told The Local. “There’s no similarity at all. This is a ridiculous way to talk.”

“The comparison does not make sense,” added Bjørn Ihler, who survived the Breivik massacre by hiding on the southern tip of the island. “Breivik was a solo terrorist whose actions were based purely on an unreal situation. The situation in the Middle East is very different. There is a real fight for Palestinian freedom going on.”

You see, when an entire Jewish family, babies and all, is butchered in its own kitchen – that’s freedom fighting. You have to think blond.

Even Middle East expert Per Jönsson with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs (Utrikespolitiska institutets – UI) slammed Bachman’s Breivik comparison.

“The comparison with Brevik is insane in several ways. Breivik is very special. These people that Israel is now releasing are freedom fighters, murderers, and in some cases terrorists, but they are nevertheless rather normal people,” he told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

We have to understand that the reactions from Sweden are an expression of pure, unadulterated Jew hatred, whether those people are aware of it or not. The world is changing around us, and being Jewish is no longer for the faint of heart.

Kahneman Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Friday, August 9th, 2013

President Obama awarded Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton psychologist known for his application of psychology to economic analysis, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The White House release Thursday naming Kahneman and other recipients notes that the Princeton University scholar, who shared the Nobel Price for Economics in 2002, escaped Nazi Europe and served in the Israeli army.

Among the 16 people receiving the award this year are Gloria Steinem, the feminist pioneer, and the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who was for decades a pro-Israel leader in Congress.

The awards will be presented later this year.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established by President John Kennedy in 1963, is with the Congressional Gold Medal the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/kahneman-awarded-presidential-medal-of-freedom/2013/08/09/

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