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November 24, 2014 / 2 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘government’

Abusing Clout

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

There is an article in the  New York Times that discusses the clout Chasidim in America have achieved. And it does not paint a flattering picture. Some might say that this is just typical New York Times bashing of religious Jews. But I’m not so sure it is. Let us examine the issue.

Chasidim do have clout. There is no question about it. How did they get so much clout? Prior to the Holocaust, Chasidim in America barely existed as an identifiable entity.  But they grew exponentially into huge numbers since the Holocaust. Chasidim tend to get married early (in some cases both bride and groom are in their teens) and have many children. A family of ten or more children is not uncommon. As a result, now over sixty years later they are a force to be reckoned with.

Although I have argued that – despite their rate of growth –  their current numbers do not necessarily predict their future dominance as a culture in Judaism… their numbers are very definitely huge as is their current influence in government. This is mostly seen in the power of their vote. If their rabbinic leadership tells them to vote for a certain candidate, they tend to do so in large numbers without question and without needing to know what that candidate stands for. This gives Chasidim as a group out-sized political power!

This power does not go to waste. This community uses it to their full advantage. When they make a request to a government official, he pays attention. And often sees to it that the request is granted.

I have no problem with using one’s clout to get things done for your community. There is nothing wrong with petitioning your government for your cause. It is no different than any group lobbying for their particular agenda. In that sense Chasidim are no different than – say – the gun lobby. It is the right of every American citizen – no less Chasidic citizens – to petition their government.

The question arises when petitioning for rights becomes pressuring for rights.  Requests then turn into demands with unspoken threats of political defeat in the next election if those demands aren’t met. Although it may be legal to do that – it can easily be interpreted as a form of political extortion to get what they want  – sometimes at the expense of others.That can only result in resentment at best… and at worst create (or expose latent) anti-Semitism.

First let me say that I view it unethical to vote for a candidate without knowing what he stands for just because you were told to do so by a rabbinic leader. I understand why they do this. It is obvious. It gives them an extraordinary amount of power over elected officials.  But one ought to vote for a candidate because of believing what he stands for – not because it will give your group collective power over him.

This is not good citizenship. And it makes religious looking Jews look bad. How does this affect the image of religious Jews in the world? Does this result in a positive image of Chasidim – or a negative one? What about the rest of Orthodox Jewry? Will we all be judged the way?

And how necessary are those demands? Are they Halachic or cultural? Let us look at some examples (described in the Times article) of achievements their clout has brought them.

How important is it for Chasidic women  to demand a female lifeguard at their beaches that are apparently sex segregated? Although I understand their request – it is a not a Halachic requirement to have a female lifeguard.  Is it worth exercising the community’s clout to get one?

I also do not understand why they insist on well water for their Pesach Matzos. They apparently object to chlorination. What does chlorine have to do with Chametz? It is not a leavening agent. It is a poison which if used in small quantities kills bacteria and has no harmful effects on human beings.

Separate – sex segregated public buses are now the norm in their neighborhood. Men in the front and women in the back. That is no doubt illegal. But since they do it voluntarily, no one bothers them. Is that so necessary? I know Chasidim consider separate seating on a bus to be more modest. But is violating the law the right thing to do if it isn’t a Halachic necessity – even if no one bothers them about it?

France Calling for Use of Force in Syria

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told BFM-TV today that “if it is proven, France’s position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force.”

He added that “there are possibilities for responding,” but refused to elaborate. He did state that if the UN Security Council could not make a decision, one would have to be taken “in other ways.”

Syrian government officials said the claims of an army chemical weapons attack on its own civilians were “totally false” and the news outlets reporting those claims were “implicated in the shedding of Syrian blood and support terrorism.”

Turkey’s deputy prime minister has said only the Syrian government is in possession of the type of chemical weapons the opposition claims were used in the attack. Turkey’s foreign minister said “all red lines” have been crossed by the Assad regime.

But Iran has rejected the claims that its ally, President Bashar Assad, had deployed chemical weapons, saying the rebels would be responsible, if such an attack had really taken place.

“If the information concerning the use of chemical weapons is accurate, very definitely they were used by terrorist groups… who have shown they will not hold back from committing any crime,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said to the IRNA news, referring to the rebels.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged international supporters of the Syrian regime to “wake up to … its murderous and barbaric nature” ahead of the UN meeting, Sky News reported.

But Russia, the traditional supporter of the Assad regime, suggested the attack could be a “premeditated provocation” by opposition forces.

Officials from Russia and China are reported to have blocked a stronger press statement supported by Britain, France, the US and others, Sky News reported.

Earlier, Mr Hague said that if verified, the attack “would mark a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria”.

He added: “Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who use them, should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account.”

Liberty 101: The Principle of Establishment

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Developments at home and abroad are forcing Americans to think anew about the meaning of liberty and the proper nature and function of government.  What is important to us, and what must we do to keep it?  How do we change the things that manifestly aren’t working, and are in fact doing us daily harm?

Liberty 101 is a series devoted to discussing these topics.  And the subject for today is what I call the principle of establishment.  Very simply, the principle of establishment recognizes that liberty and the protection of natural rights don’t just happen.  They are not the end-point of unguided trends in human life.  They cannot be claimed as entitlements, on the basis that someone else must then bestir himself to “provide” them to us.  They are elements in a moral, sociopolitical code, which we must actively establish, and which we must arrange, through our own efforts, to protect.

The only reason America started out with our unique Constitution and polity is that we established them.  We took what had been, and deliberately established something new.  To get to the point of having options in that regard, we had to fight a war.  It was by no means “settled” political theory, in anyone’s philosophy, that we had any “right” to do this – i.e., a right that should have bound Great Britain to accede to our wishes.

In the Declaration of Independence, the signers appealed to natural rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – as the citizen’s moral basis for challenging and limiting government.  But the Declaration is not a statement that these God-given rights confer a “right” to “dissolve the political bonds which have connected” one people with another.  Dissolving our political bonds with Britain was a necessary but essentially mechanical step in the process of establishment.  The Declaration makes it clear that doing that is a choice, one for which the signers and the Continental Congress proposed to take responsibility.

Our Founders had spent at least a decade appealing to king and parliament.  In this process, they suggested that their rights should be binding on the governmental decisions emanating from London.  It didn’t work.

After that, the Founders decided; committed; fought; won; and then established.  The God-given rights enumerated in the Declaration were to be the guiding premise for establishing a new order in the former colonies.

The significance of the establishment principle cannot be overstated.  It is necessary to the installation and preservation of liberty.  If we lose sight of its necessity, we will lose the prospect of liberty.  Liberty is not what our fellows on this earth have the natural urge to accord us.  It is certainly not what government of any kind naturally respects.  It is antithetical to all schemes for collective salvation, whether we are to be saved from sin, inequality, or climate change.  Liberty interferes terribly with ideological messianism, just as it does with the unfettered collection of revenues for complacent governments.

Liberty always – always – has to be deliberately established and hedged about with protections.  It never just emerges, through a process of defensive horse-trading, from anyone’s current arrangements.  Defending liberty is hard enough; establishing it requires being prepared to say “No” at least as much as “Yes,” and even being prepared to kill, where necessary, as much as to die.  It is something we must want badly to win, in the only way that can be effective:  that is, over the objections of the enemy who wants to deny it to us.

The urge to deny liberty to others comes in many forms.  All three of the great monotheistic religions have gone, to differing degrees, through periods in which denial of liberty to others of their faith was a key feature of temporal administration.  (To differing degrees, all three have also identified doctrinal reasons to change course or shift emphasis on this.  Judaism and Christianity, in particular, provided the core of the West’s moral thinking about God-given rights and man’s rights against the state.)

The monotheistic faiths are by no means unique in this regard; the pagan religions of the ancient empires, in the Americas as well as the Eastern hemisphere, were used robustly as a means of subjugating populations.

Up until the last two centuries, governments were almost universally engaged in subjugating their people.  There has been no such pattern as that of government defending the people against the encroachments of religion; governments are invariably, and by nature, the worst offenders.  Indeed, it was precisely through using the powers of government to enforce religious orthodoxies that denial of liberties became institutionalized in, for example,  the Christianity of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

We fool ourselves badly, meanwhile, if we think modern collectivist ideologies represent a change from that pattern.  Rather, they are simply the continuation of it: imperial statism and religious authoritarianism in post-Enlightenment clothing.  Jacobinism, Marxism, Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, progressivism, radical “environmentalism”: all have had their essential features in common with the dark spirit of ancient imperialism, the perverted, politicized Christianity of religious wars and Inquisitions, and the radical Islamism of today.  In dismissing or even promoting the loss of life and liberty as a virtual sacrament, moreover, the modern collectivist –isms complete the circle of ancient human-sacrifice religions.

On a more local and pragmatic level, we are all familiar with the “creeping statism” endemic in government of any kind.  Give government a charter to manage something for us, and its portfolio will do nothing but grow.  There is no such thing as a naturally quiescent state of liberty.  Someone always has an idea, not just for a better mousetrap, but for a scheme to require us to purchase and use it.

Unless he is actively stopped, by convention and expectation, underlaid with shared values but also with implied force, at least one of our neighbors is always one sign of weakness away from telling us what size we can make our house, whether we can hold Bible studies there, and how much of our income we have to spend on medical services.  This, and not an Eden of self-effacing tolerance, is the reality of human life.  Liberty requires establishment and protection, because in every generation, there is a thriving industry in grievances, social prophylaxis, and knowing better than others do how they should live.

If you want liberty, you can’t wait for others to recognize your right to it.  You must establish it and protect it.  This is actually true of all good things in our common life on this earth.  None of them just happen.  They require establishment and protection.  Establishment and protection are accomplished in different ways; in today’s consciously-stabilized geopolitical environment, they occur almost entirely within existing borders, as when colonies became new nations after World War II, or autocratic regimes were changed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But America is the chief and most singular example in our modern era (indeed, in all history) of the establishment principle.  Only one other nation shares the principle of radical establishment that ours represents, and that is Israel.  Both nations were established for unique, historic purposes, in the teeth of opposition, with a specific moral and political commitment as the premise of their self-proclaimed charters.  Both invoked the God Jehovah in their establishing premise; both intended to found a unique project in which there would be irreducible liberties, and priorities that would overrule, in perpetuity, the importunings and temptations of a given generation.

Both nations took it as a given that the ordinary course of human affairs wasn’t good enough: that paying tribute and living at the sufferance of “empires” was a sure path to servitude, extortion, and death.  It is a point for another day that the nation-state is the only viable entity for acting on this proposition; suffice it to say here that establishing liberty and a principle of nationhood require holding and living independently on territory.  Someone will always object to that.  Someone will always object to the establishment of liberty, which always and everywhere means that the territory in question cannot be held for slavery and tribute.

The question is not whether liberty will ever cease to be obnoxious to mankind’s oldest patterns and urges.  It won’t.  The question is what choices we will make, knowing that liberty must be established and protected, and that that will inevitably be considered offensive by noisy and determined enemies.  He who insists on establishing liberty will always encounter opposition.  But there is no other way to have it.

Netanyahu, Lapid, Punish Families with Children and Bennett is Silent

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Only the wealthy won’t feel Binyamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid’s latest budget cut, which reduces “child allowances” to a pitiful joke.

Where just a few years ago families received as much as NIS 400 per child, the payments for children will fall to NIS 140 (less than $40) per child per month… Arutz 7

Contrary to Lapid’s rantings, it’s not the lazy unemployed sector that will feel it the most.  Those families with almost no income get various welfare subsidies; it’s the working poor, who even with the previous child allowances barely finished the month.

I have no idea how Lapid has come up with his so-called facts:

“We will help needy families and set aside hundreds of millions [of shekels] to make sure no children go hungry, but [the cuts] are a historic move from a culture of allotments to a culture of work.”

Beginning on August 20, parents will receive only 140 shekels per month for each child born after June 1, 2003.

According to Lapid, National Insurance Institute (NII) child allotments perpetuated poverty instead of stopping it. “There is only one thing that allows families to get out of the cycle of poverty – work. The poverty rate in families with two working parents is under 5 percent.” Indy News of Israel

Apparently, Yair Lapid is just as anti-religious and anti-chareidi as his father was.  He just packages himself differently.

For Haredi families, this severe cut in income comes coupled with a severe curtailing of funding for yeshivas and kolelim—by 30 percent this coming year, and by 60 percent the following year. Jewish Press

Lapid’s timing is extra cruel considering the season.  Summer is extremely, unbearably expensive for families with children, no matter what their income.  Children on vacation from school need to be minded, cared for which is expensive.  Summer camp, vacations, babysitters, bathing suits, crafts etc. are difficult for many parents to pay for.  You see many parents taking their children to work, because there’s no alternative especially when they are working at low wages.  Sometimes it costs more to go to work than to stay home.  By reducing child allowances it can become completely financially impossible for both parents to work.

Even before these new child allowance cuts, parents were finding it difficult to pay for school supplies, books and the expenses for the upcoming Jewish Holidays.

Israel doesn’t have much of a parliamentary opposition, but I hope this latest government move galvanizes them to action.

“It injures where it’s supposed to heal. Once again, [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid is taking advantage of and encouraging a mistaken and inciting idea that haredim and Arabs are the only ones who are harmed by budget cuts. First of all, a child is a child is a child.”

According to Yacimovich, the average family will lose NIS 2,000 per year because of the allotment cuts.

The Labor issue took with a statistic Lapid cited – that only five percent of families where both parents work are poor – and said that 65 percent of poor families are working families. She added that there are 870,000 poor children in Israel, more than any other Western country.

“This is an economic and national mistake, evil for its own sake, and a total detachment from people’s regular lives,” Yacimovich wrote.  Jerusalem Post

But my big question concerns to silence from Lapid’s buddy, Naftali Bennett. A large portion of Bennett’s NRP-aka Bayit Yehudi voters will be losing thousands of shekels a year in this government decision.  Ignored by Lapid, Netanyahu and Bennett, who is also in the government coalition, is the fact that many, many families that will be losing thousands of shekels a year are from the dati Le’umi, national religious portion of the population.  They voted on the whole for NRP and Likud.  There’s a good chance they won’t be able to afford to make that mistake again.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Rabbi Sacks Attacking PM, Multiculturalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is blaming British Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to do enough to boost marriages in the UK, and saying multiculturalism in Britain has “had its day,” The Times reported.

Rabbi Sacks said Cameron should recognize marriage in the tax system and do more to support stay at home mothers.

“I think the government has not done enough,” he said. “Although I don’t take a political stance … I don’t think the government has done enough at all.”

Rabbi Sacks, who retires next month after 22 years, said the estimated £9 billion-a-year cost of family breakdown and “non-marriage” meant the state has a direct interest in promoting marriage.

Rabbi Sacks also said multiculturalism in Britain had led to “segregation and inward-looking communities.”

Comparing it to a hotel where “nobody is at home,” he said: “It doesn’t belong to anyone, we’ve each got our own room and so long as we don’t disturb the neighbors we can do whatever we like.”

A Step in the Right Direction

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It’s like being a little bit pregnant. There is no such thing. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not.  Just because you are not showing yet, doesn’t mean you are not going to go full term and have a baby.

According to an article in the Jewish Press – it seems the Charedi wall of opposition to implementing a core curriculum of Limudei Chol (secular studies) into their schools has been breached by its Chasidic faction. Chidushei HaRim, a Yeshiva operated by Ger, has agreed to implement a full curriculum of Limudei Chol into its high school. Thus qualifying it for full government funding on par with government schools. The same thing is true about another school, Nadvorna, located in a city that one can say without fear of contradiction is the epicenter of the Charedi world, Bnei Brak.

Bnei Brak is the home of several Charedi rabbinic leaders, including Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. He is quoted in this article as being in the forefront of opposition to implementing any secular studies at all. He is dedicated to the current and decades long paradigm of pure Torah study to the exclusion of all else.  He believes it should remain intact without the ‘contamination’ of secular subjects.

I understand the mentality. But as I have said repeatedly here (far too many times to count) a policy of universal rejection of secular subjects in all of its schools is harmful to the material welfare of its people. Which in turn can easily make it harmful to its spiritual welfare.  While the claim is constantly made by their rabbinic leadership, their politicians, and their media – that a core secular curriculum would destroy the Torah world – the fact that the virtually all American Charedi schools have one gives lie to that rhetoric.

As I have also said so many times, it should be obvious to anyone with eyes that will see and ears that will hear that the Israeli government is not Czarist Russia. They do not want to destroy Judaism, Not even Charedi Judaism. They are doing the opposite. They are trying to save it. They are helping it survive into the future by creating a mechanism via education to better itself materially and thus spiritually. The Mishnaic dictum of Ein Kemech Ein Torah is alive and well in Charedi circles as the oppressive poverty one often finds there is the cause of tremendous Shalom Bayis and OTD issues. You’re not going to get much spirituality under conditions like these.

Although it is often posited by the right that the harsh poverty conditions under which the Israeli Charedim live is voluntary in service of God in its purest form, Limud HaTorah, (I’m sure that’s true in many cases) there are plenty  of families that are being crushed by it!

But now it seems that at least the Chasidim who attend these two high schools will have a shot at living close to normal middle class Chasidic lives via the preparation they will get in those schools.

Have these schools now capitulated to the devil? Would Rav Steinman feel the battle for authentic Judaism has been lost? I hope not. I hope that this venerable sage will adapt to the new reality and realize that it is not Shmad – but a simple adjustment in their lives for the better. Hopefully he will adapt and then advocate a Limudei Chol curriculum in consonance with Charedi values. Similar to the Charedi high schools in America.

The moderate Charedi world that I often talk about as the future of mainstream American Orthodoxy – is a beneficiary of such a high school curriculum. It has enabled many of them to have the educational tools needed to eventually attend professional schools and training programs. And then get decent jobs as lawyers and accountants; doctors and dentists; or becomes skilled technicians in any given field. And yet they all remain true to their Charedi principles – many of them having learned in Kollel for many years before turning to their professions, trades, and careers.

On the one hand I am a bit surprised that it is the Chasdim who have capitulated first here. They are the most insulated segment of Orthodox Jewry. Higher education is anathema to them in most cases (There are occasional  exceptions.) So that their entry into the workforce is done at a mostly uneducated and unskilled level.

On the other hand, unlike their Lithuanian influenced Yeshivishe counterparts Chasidim are not urged en masse to learn in  Yeshivos and Kollelim for as long as possible. Although they too have Kollelim – the time spent there is limited. Most young Chasidim are encouraged to eventually go to work and support their families. Although Chasdim are some of the poorest Jews in all of Orthodoxy, that’s mostly because their leaders eschew higher education. In Israel it would take a tremendous act of rebellion, and willingness to overcome their grossly deficient education in Limudei Chol to succeed at the training required for better jobs.

But now – in at least for the graduates of these two schools – that will no longer be the case. Even though I’m sure that higher education will still be discouraged or even banned – it may eventually be honored more in the breach than in adherence.  That will produce a two-fold benefit. It will enable better incomes. And it will also break the isolation they live in which in my opinion is one of the biggest problems they have. Isolation breeds the uncivilized behavior that some of them are guilty of when they protest things they don’t like. I suppose there will still be a small core of uncivilized extremists. But the sympathy and quiet support they get from the rest of their populace will surely fade by the greater exposure to the outside world.

So now that the wall of opposition has been broken. So too has the ice been broken. I’m sure there will be plenty of public outrage and opposition to these two schools by Charedi rabbinic leaders, politicians and media. But hopefully these schools will not be deterred.

If they succeed at overcoming that pressure, it won’t be long before other schools follow suit. They will surely see the full funding those thriving schools get from the government – while their schools starve and start closing doors. That will have an impact. Decisions will have to be made between closing down and introducing a core curriculum. When that finally happens and Charedim start bettering their lives, they can turn to Yair Lapid and his two Charedi members of his party, Rabbis Shai Piron and Dov Lipman and say thank you! Because Hakaras HaTov will surely be in order.

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Civil Liberties and the Governance Act

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

I recently received an anxious phone call from an Israeli coalition MK. Due to a mix-up in the Knesset scheduling he left early for an overseas vacation.

“They want me to come back to Israel because of you,” the affable MK said to me. I inquired as to what I had done wrong.

“You are going to vote against the Governance Act,” he replied. “It is a Basic Law and the coalition needs 61 votes to pass it. If you plan to vote against the law, as you did the last time it was voted upon in the Knesset, they will force me to come back to Israel to vote.”

It was a very awkward moment, as the MK is my friend.

“Look,” I said to him, “my problem with this law is not the raising of the votes threshold [required to win a Knesset seat]. I actually support that measure. I also have no problem with limiting the number of ministers in the government. On the contrary, I would be pleased if they would lower the number of ministers to fewer than 10. My problem is with the part of the law that requires 61 signatures in order to submit a no-confidence measure in the Knesset. This will actually neutralize the no-confidence option because if you have 61 signatures, you already have a new coalition; thus no need for no confidence.

“In this situation,” I continued, “I am terribly sorry to say that you will have to come back to Israel. There is no way that I am going to vote in favor of legislation that eliminates the Opposition just to be nice to a friend. But let me check once more. Perhaps the 61-clause was taken out of the legislation. In that case, with or without your vacation troubles, I will support the law.”

I called MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), head of the Knesset’s Constitution Committee.

“Please explain to me exactly what the new version of the law says,” I asked him. “Does it still require 61 signatures for a no-confidence vote?”

“No,” Rotem replied. “The new version allows for the submission of a no-confidence measure just like it is now, except that instead of allowing for it once a week, it will be once a month. In addition, the prime minister will have to be present during the deliberations.” (I agreed to that immediately). “If you have 61 signatures,” Rotem added, “you will be able to submit the no-confidence measure in the same week. [There will be] no need to wait a month.”

I was very pleased. First, I am happy that my MK friend will not have to cut short his vacation. But more than that, I am happy because I know that I have a part in the transformation that this law underwent: from a bad law to a just and even important law. The farce of bountiful no-confidence votes, which keeps the entire government running back and forth to the plenum in the middle of their week’s work in order to reject every hiccup from Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), was in dire need of balance. On the other hand, those in the government who thought that they could take advantage of this problem in order to undermine civil liberties also had to change.

“Enjoy your vacation and don’t forget to bring me a souvenir,” I happily told the anxious MK.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/civil-liberties-and-the-governance-act/2013/08/15/

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