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Posts Tagged ‘lakewood’

The Wrong Stuff – Focusing on Minutiae

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

The longer I live the further to the right Orthodoxy seems to be going. It seems to never end. One might ask, what is wrong with becoming even more religious? After all isn’t that what God wants? Isn’t becoming more religious the whole idea behind the Torah?

Well, the answer to that is not so simple. It depends what you mean by more religious. Rav Ahron Soloveichik used to say in Yiddish, “Frum iz a Galach – Erlich iz a Yid.” Loosely translated this means anyone can be religious and perform the religious rituals of their faith.  What matters most to a Jew is not how extreme his piety is but how sincere he is in doing what is required of him in all matters between God and between man.

Unfortunately that lesson seems to have gotten lost in our day. It seems like now more than ever Frumkeit – religiosity – has replaced sincerity as the primary focus of the right. In fact there is a new phenomenon identified as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) called scrupulosity. There are some Jews with obsessive compulsive tendencies that express them in ritual behavior. For example in overly long prayer sessions or in the constant ritual washing of the  hands.

Although not a common condition, there is no doubt in my  mind that an over-emphasis on Frumkeit is a contributor to this phenomenon.

The real problem however is that the right’s obsession with Frumkeit is spilling over into the rest of the religious world. So that the rest of Orthodoxy is unduly affected by it. Furthermore since the right is the fastest growing segment of Orthodoxy, a move to the right becomes almost standard practice for everyone. Or at least causes more moderate Orthodox Jews to move to the right themselves.

One of the biggest changes reflecting this phenomenon in post Holocaust America is how seating at wedding dinners are arranged. It used to be common practice for men and women to sit together. Some might say just because it was common practice doesn’t make it right. …that America’s rabbinic leadership had no real influence in those early days just after the Holocaust. That the Gedolim of that era would never attend a wedding where the seating was mixed… or if they did, they would just attend the ceremony and leave so as not to have to sit together with women at the same table. But eyewitness testimony will prove that view to be incorrect. From a Shiur by Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet (excepted in a past post):

I can never forget in my time, in Y.U. circles I never heard of separate seating, until I left America. It wasn’t shayach, not just [in] Y.U. [circles], [but also] in the Litvishe circles. Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenitzky, the Rav, how many weddings [did they attend] with absolute mixed seating. There was separate dancing, but mixed seating. It was normal. It was par for the course. For their own children, (I was at the weddings), there was mixed seating. There was no question about it. Each one’s kavod was with his rebbitzen. [They were proud to say], “This is my rebbitzen.” These were their joy.

I think that says it all with respect to the value of separate seating. There are those who would counter that were these great rabbinic figures alive today, they would never sit with their wives at a mixed table. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with Yiddishkeit. It has only to do with the new ‘standard’ set by Frumkeit. The fact is that there is no such thing as a mixed seating wedding in the Yeshiva world anymore. It is becoming harder and harder to find a wedding where the seating is mixed. That’s even becoming true the among some on the right wing of Modern Orthodox World!

But Frumkeit doesn’t stop there. I have just been informed about a Beis Yaakov elementary school that will no longer allow fathers to attend their daughters’ graduation. This after many years of allowing it with absolutely no objection by their Vaad HaChinuch – a rabbinic committee comprised of prominent right wing Poskim. All of a sudden it is no longer Tznius for a father to attend a ceremony where 8th grade girls will be receiving diplomas. This new edict came at the hands of parents who pointed to other schools who had this ‘standard’ and felt that any real  Beis Yaakov should have the highest standards of Tznius. (…as if this new ‘standard’ actually supported that contention!)

A new Shul has been built recently with separate  men’s and women’s entrances. As if entering the Shul with your wife or daughter is all of a sudden considered a violation of sexual mores. Not to be outdone, another Shul in the neighborhood has adopted this custom for themselves. In the past there was never a problem entering the Shul with your wife or daughter. Now, men and woman have to split up – with the two entrances on opposite’s sides of the building!

And recently there was a gathering in Lakewood to get women to cut their long wigs.

Why do I care about what the Charedi world is doing? As I said they are the dominant culture in Orthodoxy now and their increase in numbers outpace any other branch of Orthodoxy. But even more than that, extremes when incorporated wholesale into communities eventually become the norm. Just look at mixed seating at weddings. That used to be the norm. Now it is considered to be a less than Tznius event. Some Charedi leaders will not even attend such a wedding!

I understand that in some communities these extremes of Tznius are the norm… and probably have been the norm for many decades or perhaps longer. Meah Shearim and Bnei Brak come to mind. But what is the norm for them was not the norm for everyone else in Orthodoxy. Until it was… and is!

Can anyone have imagined having two separate entrances to a Shul just a few short yeas ago? Or not allowing a father to attend his daughter’s 8th grade graduation?

There are serious issues affecting Klal Yisroel today that need out attention. So many Frum Jews are in prison for financial improprieties or worse that one can easily find a Minyan for Davening in some places. Sex abuse and children going OTD are problems that are far greater than anyone ever imagined. And the right is worried that a father might attend his daughter’s elementary graduation?!

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah . / Harry Maryles

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

FBI Arrests NY Rabbis for Beating Husbands Who Refuse Divorce

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The FBI raided a Monsey yeshiva Wednesday night and arrested four mean, including two rabbis, who allegedly kidnapped and beat recalcitrant husbands who had refused to grant their wives religious divorces and thereby prohibit them from re-marrying under Jewish law.

The “executors” used by the divorce gang included “electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and placed plastic bags over the heads of husbands,” the complaint charge stated.

The status of stranded Jewish women is known as “aguna” and is a problem that has received deserved focus in Israel and the Diaspora in recent years.

The FBI investigation and arrests bring to national attention the anguished situation of “aguna” women and perhaps will help put legal pressure on husbands who have separated from their wives but refuse to allow them to re-marry.

The suspects were arrested after a month-long sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce from her husband. Another undercover agent posed as her brother.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with Ariel Potash and a fourth individual known as Yaakov, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.

The FBI also raided Yeshiva Sha’arei Torah in Monsey and a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere.

The rabbis allegedly charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve kidnapping husbands, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to abduct and beat husbands.

The FBI agents called Rabbi Wolmark in August and said they were “desperate for a religious divorce and were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain a divorce,” according to the charge sheet.

“There are a couple of ways to do that,” Wolmark allegedly said in a recorded phone conversation. “You have to, we have to, convene a special Bet Din and see if there are grounds to, to, to coerce him on the ‘get’ [divorce decree].”

Wolmark allegedly added, “You need to get him to New York where someone either can harass him or nail him. Plain and simple,” he said, according to the complaint. The rabbi then set up a meeting between the undercover agents and Rabbi Epstein. A recorded conversation revealed that Rabbi Epstein spoke about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce.’

He allegedly added, “Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the ‘get.’”

One of the “tough guys,” supposedly Rabbi Epstein’s son, “uses his karate skills” on the victims, court papers said.

The FBI said the “divorce gang” has been operating for 20 years and that Rabbi Epstein said he carries out approximately one kidnapping a year.

Forcing husbands to grant a divorce is permitted under Jewish law, a rabbi told The Jewish Press Thursday. “Jewish law does not always seem humane, but it really is humane because physical force often is the only way to force angry husbands to release their wives from virtual bondage and to allow them to-remarry,” he said.

The rabbi added that rabbis often are blamed for the situation of the agunot but also are criticized for using force, recognized under Jewish law, to solve their dilemma.

He pointed out that force can be used only if a Bet Din [religious court] authorizes it and only if there are substantial reasons to order a divorce.

Fox that Attacked Lakewood Girl Infected with Rabies

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

New Jersey officials have confirmed that the fox that attack a four-year-old Lakewood girl last week had rabies, but the family already was set decided not to take any chances and began a series of injections against the disease.

“Foxes are normally afraid and shy of people and its behavior, attacking someone without provocation, certainly gave us concern that it was rabid. Rabies prophylaxis was begun immediately which will continue for 14 days,” Orange County health official Daniel E. Regenye told New Jersey’s 101.5 news station.

The girl was saved from a more vicious attack thanks to an unidentified bystander, who kicked the fox away after it lightly wounded the girl.

A police officer who responded to the incident was forced to shoot and kill the fox when it attacked him and an animal control official.

Fox Shot Dead after Attacking 4-Year-old Girl in Lakewood

Monday, July 29th, 2013

A fox attacked a four-year-old girl in Lakewood, New Jersey on Saturday and later was shot dead when it tried to attack a policeman and an animal control officer who were called to the scene.

The dead fox is being tested for the rabies, and the girl suffered light scratched on her arm, leg and lip before an unidentified man kicked the fox away, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Jewish Camp Counselor Admits Sexual Abuse

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

A former counselor at a summer camp run by Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School in Lakewood, N.J., pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment, and state Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson revoked his $125,000 bail.

Yosef Kolko, 39, made the admission on Monday after two more victims, a male and a female, came forward, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Laura Pierro said she was contacted late Friday afternoon by a young woman who claimed she was victimized by Kolko, and the attorney for a young man who also claimed to be a victim. Pierro said she met with the additional victims and would have sought to admit their testimony, had the trial proceeded.

Sheriff’s officers handcuffed Kolko and took him to the County Jail.

Kolko was on trial for sexually abusing a boy, now 16, when he was 11 and 12, in 2008 and 2009. He was calm and unemotional when he admitted committing a variety of sexual acts on the boy.

In exchange for Kolko’s guilty plea, the state would not proceed with additional charges related to the additional victims, ADA Pierro said.

Kolko’s attorney, Michael Bachner, said his client was “extremely remorseful,” apologizes to the victim and hopes after treatment “to return to society as a benefit to it,” The Associated Press reported.

Kolko, who also worked as a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, could receive up to 40 years in prison, but Judge Hodgson has said he would consider no more than 15 years, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Before sentencing, Kolko will be evaluated at the state Corrections Department’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in the Avenel section of Woodbridge to determine if he is a repetitive and compulsive sexual offender, according to the newspaper.

The Kolko Case: A Stain on Lakewood

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

The trial of Yosef Kolko is about to begin. Rabbi Kolko has been accused of child molestation. According to Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, “Kolko has already confessed to the social worker who will be required to testify.” The social worker was hired at the behest of the Lakewood rabbis investigating the charges. This fellow allegedly committed sex crimes multiple times on a young boy in his charge while in a religious summer camp.

Rabbi Kolko has plead not guilty. Not sure how he can do that now if a social worker will indeed testify in court that he admitted the abuse actually took place. Rabbi Kolko faces up to 60 years in prison if found guilty.

Lakewood’s rabbinic leadership has responded to this by coming out full force in defense of Rabbi Kolko – insisting on his innocence and claiming to have proof that he did not do this. They have made all kinds of threats to his accuser using the Shulchan Aruch’s language about mesirah (informing) as a hammer. Language that says that informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities means losing your chelek in olam habah – your place in the world to come! (Although many Poskim say that Mesirah does not apply in a country like ours that has a fair system of justice.)

They have enlisted the aid of two rabbinic figures of great stature – one in Israel and one here – to weigh in on this matter. Based on what these leaders were told, they have come out with very harsh condemnations of the victim’s father… claiming that he violated Halachah by not dealing with this “in-house.” They said he should have gone to a beis din (religious court). They are the ones who are equipped to handle these things Halachicly.

It’s nice that these rabbinic leaders have so much compassion for the accused. But what about the victim? And how have they expressed their compassion to his father- the accuser?

The victim’s his father is not your average ba’al habos. I don’t know his identity. But I am told by people who do, that if his identity were made known to me, I would recognize the name since he is originally from Chicago.

According to my sources the father is a major talmid hacham (Torah scholar)who until this happened was a respected figure in the Lakewood community. No one can say that he has no ne’emanus (faith) and dismiss the case out of hand. He has also secured the support of another posek (jurist of Jewish law) outside of the Lakewood community that has much respect in the Haredi world. It is also not clear to me whether he did not attempt to go to a beis din first. There are conflicting stories about that depending on which source you believe.

It is particularly galling to me is how this has been handled. Everything I have read about it tells me that Lakewood’s rabbinic establishment has no concern for the victim at all. And that they do not believe him or his father. They are concerned only for the welfare of the accused. The war waged against the victim’s father is relentless and harsh. Here is just one example written in a letter written by a prominent Rav which has been made public:

After conducting a thorough investigation I am absolutely certain that R’ Y.K.[Yosef Kolko],may his light shine, is perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever. And not only is he innocent but it is also as clear to me that all these allegations are fabrications made by [REDACTED].

Further, all the reports made to the secular authorities were only for the express purpose of casting blame for their[the victim's family] own shameful and cursed existence on others. And the truth is that the allegations they make against others are crimes they themselves are in fact guilty of and they seek to cleanse their reputation by blaming an innocent man for their own deeds.

There have been equally harsh words published by anonymous “askanim” (dealers) in Lakewood along these lines. Not to mention the letter from a respected rabbinic leader in Israel saying that what the accuser was doing is forbidden by Torah law and that he should bring the matter first to a religious court.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/the-kolko-case-a-stain-on-lakewood/2013/05/08/

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