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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Jewish Practice In The U.S. Military (III)

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Eight years after the issue of Chaplain Geller and his beard was tried, the issue of accommodation to Orthodox practice would again spread its wings in the United States Air Force. This time the focus was Captain Rabbi Dr. Simcha Goldman who entered the military in September 1970.

From the time of his induction into the Navy, Goldman never encountered a problem wearing a yarmulke in the U.S. military. Initially, he had served as a chaplain (the JWB Navy chaplain screener at the time of Geller had subsequently retired) and for those years (1970-1972) the yarmulke that he constantly wore was never a concern to anyone. In 1973 Goldman’s aspirations took flight when he realized that the Air Force had more to offer him and his professional interest in clinical psychology than the Navy.

Goldman made the necessary adjustments between the military branches and was admitted to the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program earning his PhD in clinical psychology in 1977. Goldman’s method to repay Uncle Sam for the education was four years of active military duty. He was awarded the rank of captain and assigned to the March Air Force Base (subsequently closed) in Riverside, Calif., some 30 miles east of Los Angeles.

At this deployment too, he also wore his yarmulke without controversy, until matters would change in April, 1981. At that time Dr. Goldman was called as a defense witness in a court martial. As the hearing was a military tribunal, Dr. Goldman testified in uniform.

The prosecution’s case against an airman accused of grand theft of government property was contingent upon discrediting the testimony that the psychologist provided in his defense. Toward this goal, the prosecutor questioned as to which precise examinations were applied to determine the defendant’s sanity, as there are different methodologies that are considered standard.

“Was,” queried the prosecutor, “the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: a standard psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology) administered?”

As Dr. Goldman had not administered every exam, the thoroughness of his evaluation was called into question. Simcha Goldman did not take this as a personal affront, assuming that this was standard procedure employed by the prosecution to advance their case and weaken the defense.

One year later, Goldman was again called as a defense witness in a court-martial where the accusation was argued by the very same prosecutor. The man wanted to know which exams were used to determine the mental health of the accused. Repeating the tactics of one year earlier, the prosecutor demanded, “Did you perform an MMPI?”

This time the answer was affirmative, causing the prosecution to wax long and hard as to how inferior an evaluation the MMPI provides. The fact that the very same man could change 180° in just one year irritated Goldman, but he did not say anything, dismissing it once again as the methodology of litigators who are wont to employ the arguments that best serve their case, even if it is not consistent.

He didn’t say something initially, but he also did not totally dismiss it. Goldman put his psychological training to work and plotted how to one-up the prosecution. Dr. Goldman argued that the defendant possessed a weak personality and was influenced by bad friends with stronger personalities. And with this assertion Simcha Goldman had sowed the seeds of manipulation.

The prosecutor took the bait and, electrified like a cold motor from a jump-start, questioned, “Did you ask him if he had any good friends?”

“I didn’t believe that this was relevant.” Goldman deliberately answered vaguely, placing the red meat directly before the predator.

The military prosecutor fell for the trap head first and demanded to know why such a key factor would not be considered relevant when determining the innocence or guilt of the accused?

“Captain, I did not believe,” explained Goldman in the tone of a teacher repeating what should have been comprehended on the first take, “that this was a relevant question.”

Goldman’s response did not merit an immediate response. Silence began to flood the courtroom as everyone present understood with dread clarity that the prosecutor had been irked. The insult leveled caused annoyance to spew out of him like the spray from a hydrant wrenched open in the summertime.

Grabbing hold of himself, he finally uttered through clenched teeth, “Dr. Goldman just answer the question and let the court decide what is relevant.”

“Captain,” Goldman responded all smiles, “I don’t think the question is relevant to my clinical evaluation.” It was cheap, but it worked. This snappy rebuttal brought down the house. Ultimately, however, it was the prosecutor who would have the last laugh.

Ten days later, Goldman’s commanding officer informed him that a complaint had been lodged against him for wearing a yarmulke in violation of Air Force regulations. And just as a face can launch a thousand ships, one line can ignite a legal battle all the way up to the United States’s Court of Last Resort.

 

To be continued

 

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Jewish Practice In The U.S. Military (II)

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Chaplain Rabbi Mitchell Geller served in the Air Force for 22 years without incident, the last seven sporting a goatee which was grown during the mourning period for his father. Although he was in the Reserves, he was still subject to military regulations, and having a beard did not conform. The base chaplain presented him with the following offer, “Either you go to the barber shop or you go to jail.”

Geller found neither option appealing, not that his opinion was being solicited. No pun intended, the beard had grown on him. It was appropriate, and as far as he was concerned, the Air Force had no right to strip a Jewish chaplain of his beard.

As stated, the Air Force saw it otherwise, and since he did not comply with having his beard removed, he was discharged from the service. If it wasn’t clear before, the seriousness of Geller’s predicament was now apparent in dread clarity.

At stake was not only the principle, but Mitchell’s long-earned pension. Twenty years of Reserve Duty qualifies for a pension; however, if you are forced out of the military you become disqualified.

After a twenty-two-year investment, Rabbi Geller had adequate incentive to judiciously explore his legal options. Initially he contacted the JWB, but they were unsympathetic to his cause and saw no justification for a beard. Geller then turned to a local lawyer who offered nothing more than undeserved legal expenses.

In desperation, Rabbi Geller turned to COLPA (the National Coalition on Law and Public Affairs) that was founded that year to defend and advocate on behalf of the rights of observant Jews. COLPA agreed to accept the case, and they duly handed it over to Nathan Lewin.

The defense had a difficult task as the Air Force, like any branch of the military, had every right to demand uniformity. Not only is standardization the cornerstone of a fighting force, but deviations from the dress code are viewed as undermining discipline. This is because the military’s goal is to make everyone become and look equal; as a team works best when there are no distinctions. Furthermore, a beard is a hazard in the event a gas mask is required.

This was a difficult argument to counter. However, Lewin is a master at comprehending the winning argument. Hence, he did not argue Constitutional Law and avoided precedent. He stuck to the strongest weapon in his arsenal: pure logic. Mitchell Geller was inducted as a Jewish chaplain; a rabbi and a beard go hand in hand. To tell a rabbi to take off his beard would be akin to telling a Catholic Father to remove his collar.

Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr. (the very same judge who sentenced Jonathan Pollard) found this reasoning very compelling and left little room for appeal in his decision. So much so, the government did not even attempt to challenge the decision.

Rabbi Geller was awarded his pension, the government restored back pay that had been lost in the interim, and Geller retired from the Air Force a Lieutenant Colonel.

(To be continued)

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Jewish Practice In The U.S. Military (I)

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Mitchell Geller was an unlikely candidate to be a chaplain; and had never, ever, envisioned an armed forces career. On the contrary, he was a regular, ordinary rabbinical student at Yeshiva University when the U.S. military introduced a lottery in 1951 to supply chaplains for the armed services. Geller’s selective service fell on 18 – usually an auspicious number – but in this instance it meant an unavoidable stint in the services.

Not especially suffused with a rush of patriotic fervor, Geller – like many Jewish conscripted young men – sought a way out. As he weighed his very limited options, he wished to invoke spiritual insight and blessing. Accordingly, he turned to the Lubavitcher Rebbe as how to best avert the governmental decree. The Rebbe, however, looked at matters differently, and advised him to serve the nation.

Legally and rabbinically, Geller’s fate was now sealed. He was headed for the armed services; his sole volition would be in selecting which branch. Hailing from Houston, and his grandfather from Galveston, his natural inclination, in sync with his geographic background, was the Navy.

Alas, he was even deprived of this decision. Then, as now, the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) was in charge of supplying the military with chaplains to accommodate Jewish recruits. The decision of which branch to furnish was ultimately theirs.

The JWB’s Rabbi Goldberg (Reform) was in charge of the Navy chaplaincy and under his tenure he had kept the Navy Orthodoxrhein. Although he was orthodox about this policy, he couched his rejection on a seemingly “objective” criterion.

Geller, who wore eyeglasses, was dubbed impaired by Goldberg. And he added, “You have vision, but no sight.” It wasn’t clear if he was being medical or philosophical, but for good measure he threw in, “The Navy will never take you or anyone who isn’t 20-20.”

The very notion of the Navy being spectacle-free in the 1950s was preposterous, but it was clear that the JWB, as far as the Navy was concerned, would not be considering Michell Geller. What other options were there? As Geller had no interest in the Army, he applied for the Air Force, which apparently did not have optical limitations. Indeed, the position of the JWB representative manning the Air Force desk was, “If you have eyes; we’ll take you.”

And indeed, they did. After induction Rabbi Geller was sent to chaplaincy school in Fort Slocum, N.Y., for six weeks. After this he was deployed at the Barksdale Air Force base near Shreveport, La.

This was quite an adjustment for the Gellers, who were wed in the interim between the lottery and induction. They quickly found out that life on an Air Force base was not a honeymoon nor in any way similar to the lifestyle dominant in religious neighborhoods.

Militarily, Mitchell started off his new posting on the wrong foot when he neglected to salute the passing car of the base commander, as is Air Force protocol. This is not the kind of offense for which you get a ticket in the mail.

An irate commander emerged from the car and demanded that the non-compliant soldier identify himself.

“Freshly-arrived Chaplain Geller,” the smiling rookie replied, unaware that he had committed the slightest faux pas. He stretched out his hand, totally disarming the hardened commander. “Oh,” the commander mused, “you’re my new chappy!”

Chappy Geller did fine in the Air Force, actually enjoying his “first-class” duty for 21 months. After this period Rabbi Geller cycled out of active duty and into the Reserves.

In 1966 Rabbi Geller’s father passed away, and after the sheloshim period of mourning he did not entirely shave off his beard and maintained a goatee. Other than the change in facial hair, nothing else was altered in Chaplain Geller’s routine and regimen. At the time, his Reserve Duty consisted of going into the Air Force every other month for two days of training.

Geller wore the goatee for seven full years without incident until one day the base chaplain informed him, “Your beard is against regulations; it’s gotta come off.”

Generally mild-manned, Chaplain Geller was not willing to comply on this issue. By this point the beard, which was initiated out of mourning for his father and was becoming for a Jewish chaplain, had been a non-issue for too long. Something that was accepted, tolerated and approved for nearly a decade, could not just morph one day into the verboten zone.

The base chaplain, however, with the full weight of the United Sates Air Force behind him, saw the matter otherwise. Geller was not conforming with Air Force regulations and simultaneously was disobeying an order. Thus, he was presented with the following choice, “Either you go to the barber shop or you go to jail.”

To be continued.

Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

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?

Harry Maryles

Denmark Bans Meatballs to Accommodate Muslims

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One of the largest hospitals in Denmark has admitted to serving only halal beef — meat that is slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic guidelines — to all of its patients regardless of whether or not they are Muslim.

The revelation that Danes are being forced to eat Islamically slaughtered meat at public institutions has triggered a spirited nationwide debate about how far Denmark should go to accommodate the estimated 250,000 Muslim immigrants now living in the country.

The halal food row erupted in July when the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet reported that Hvidovre Hospital near Copenhagen has been secretly serving only halal-slaughtered meat for the sake of its Muslim patients, for the past ten years. The hospital serves more than 40,000 patients annually, many (if not most) of whom presumably are non-Muslim.

Halal — which in Arabic means lawful or legal — is a term designating any object or action that is permissible according to Islamic Sharia law. In the context of food, halal meat is derived from animals slaughtered by hand according to methods stipulated in Islamic religious texts.

One such halal method, called dhabihah, consists of making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck that cuts the jugular vein, leaving the animal to bleed to death. Much of the controversy involving halal stems from the fact that Sharia law bans the practice of stunning the animals before they are slaughtered. Pre-slaughter stunning renders the animals unconscious and is said to lessen their pain.

Amid a surge of public outrage over the decision to serve only halal beef, Hvidovre Hospital’s vice president, Torben Mogensen, has been unapologetic. “We have many patients from different ethnic backgrounds, which we must take into account, and it is impossible to have both the one and the other kind of beef,” he says.

“First,” Mogensen adds, “I do not think that a slaughter method as such has anything to do with faith. Second is, of course, that all chickens in Denmark are halal slaughtered, and it has to my knowledge not caused anyone to stop eating chicken.”

Mogensen also says the hospital is not trying to “push the Islamic faith down the throats of non-Muslim patients”

In a press release, Hvidovre Hospital states, “We introduced halal meat both for practical and economic reasons. It would be both more difficult and more expensive to have to make both a halal version and a non-halal version of the dishes. Then we have two production lines. It requires more people, more equipment and more money.”

The hospital advises non-Muslims to take it or leave it: “We always have alternatives to halal meat such as pork, fish or vegetarian dishes. It is a question of attitude.”

According to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, there is no comprehensive inventory of the number of hospitals in Denmark have halal meat on the menu. But officials at the University Hospital in Aarhus, the second-largest urban area in Denmark after Copenhagen, say the decision by Hvidovre Hospital to serve only halal is an example of political correctness run amok.

In an interview with the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Ole Hoffmann, the head chef of Aarhus University Hospital says: “We have never had a patient ask for halal meat, and therefore it is an issue that we have never discussed. I think it is a strange decision. If there was a desire to serve halal meat, then we would of course consider it, but we would never completely eliminate non-halal meat.”

 

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

Soeren Kern

Kosher Slaughter Ban Shows Poland Has a Jewish Problem

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, has a Jewish problem.

In a painful affront to the Jewish community, it recently defeated a government initiative to reinstate the legality of kosher slaughter of animals. This prompted Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, to threaten resignation and triggered sharp criticism of the Sejm from Jewish communities in Poland and around the world.

What happens in Poland regarding Jews has special significance because of the Holocaust. More than 90 percent of the country’s three and a half million Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation. Poland began legislating against kosher slaughter in 1936, and once the Germans occupied the country three years later, the practice was banned entirely.

Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, however, Jewish life in Poland has undergone a remarkable, and previously unimaginable, renaissance. Full recognition of the rights of Jews to practice their faith – including kosher slaughter – was enshrined in an agreement the government signed with the Jewish community in 2004.

Indeed, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, addressing an overflow crowd at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington several weeks ago, declared it was his country’s responsibility to ensure “that today’s Jewish community in Poland is safe, welcome and respected.”

He honored Poland’s Jewish community “not just for how it died, but for how it lives, and how it is coming back to life.”

When legislation was adopted a few years ago mandating the use of electronic stunning equipment before an animal is killed – a practice prohibited under Jewish law –the Jewish community was granted an administrative exemption. In January, however, a court ruled the exemption unconstitutional. Alleged violations of animal rights trumped age-old Jewish religious practice.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government framed legislation to override the court decision. What should have been a fairly easy corrective measure was instead defeated on July 12 by a vote of 222 to 178, leaving in place the judicial ban.

Thirty-eight Sejm members representing Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform party joined with the opposition in voting to outlaw ritual slaughter. In Poland, this was viewed as a major victory for animal rights advocates, as their views prevailed against the nation’s farmers and meatpackers, who had developed a lively business exporting kosher and halal meat to Israel and Muslim countries.

Jews, however, see matters quite differently. From their perspective, the Sejm’s action stigmatizing kosher slaughter as inhumane blatantly contradicts Foreign Minister Sikorski’s pledge to make Jews “safe, welcome and respected.” They point out that kosher slaughter, whereby the animal is rendered immediately unconscious by severing the carotid artery, is humane, and that the continued legality of hunting in Poland, which results in far greater and more indiscriminate pain to animals, suggests there may in fact be another, unstated reason for outlawing kosher slaughter: anti-Semitism.

In the wake of the Sejm vote, pejorative comments about Jews in some of the Polish media and online give some credence to these fears.

Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident. The situation for European Jews looks even grimmer in a broader context. Just a few months ago, a similar scenario unfolded in Germany when a court banned ritual circumcision, another fundamental element of the Jewish religion, on the grounds that it mutilated children without their consent. There, too, anti-Semitic motivation was not hard to discern in certain quarters amid the talk about physiological and psychological harm.

Fortunately, Chancellor Angela Merkel navigated a bill through the German parliament overruling the court and reestablishing the religious freedom of Jews to continue an age-old tradition of their faith. Whether Poland will successfully follow her example and push through a law guaranteeing the right to kosher slaughter remains to be seen.

Such attacks on Jewish religious practice, in fact, constitute just one front in a wider struggle over the future of Jewish life in Europe. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise, increasing by 30 percent between 2011 and 2012. In France, there was an astounding 58 percent jump over that same period, including the targeted murder last year of four Jews, three of them small children, in Toulouse.

Vocally anti-Semitic political parties are represented in the Greek and Hungarian parliaments and are gaining power on the local and regional levels in other countries. Public opinion polls show alarmingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes. Demonization of Israel in the media and among some intelligentsia is often indistinguishable from Jew-baiting. No wonder that opinion surveys point to a striking number of European Jews contemplating emigration.

Lawrence Grossman

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/kosher-slaughter-ban-shows-poland-has-a-jewish-problem/2013/08/14/

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