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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘ultra orthodox judaism’

The Outreach Revolution

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I think I’ve said this before – or something like it. Jack Wertheimer is one of my favorite Conservative Jews. A recent article of his in Commentary Magazine could not be more positive about Orthodox outreach. In fact I think he is even more supportive of it than many Orthodox Jews.

Why would a prominent Conservative Jew be so supportive of Orthodox kiruv? I suppose that he believes in the values of Torah and mitzvot. Despite popular notions to the contrary, Conservative Judaism is not opposed to doing mitzvot. They actually support it. At least on paper. How they define mitzvah observance is where the problem lies. Another problem with Conservative mitzvah observance are the percentages of those who actually observe…

My guess is that the percentage of Conservative Jews who observe Shabbot in any meaningful Halachic sense – is very small. I believe that Professor Wertheimer is a part of that minority.

Theological differences exist too. But those problematic views are not mandated… and thus surmountable in an individual. That they are tolerated by the movement is beyond the scope of this essay.

Professor Wertheimer has done an excellent job of studying and analyzing Orthodox kiruv – in virtually all of its incarnations. He discusses its history, financing, appeal, and examines why it flourishes. He credits the Lubavitcher Rebbe for starting this revolution. And he correctly notes that many non-Habad kiruv workers have learned from Habad.

From Habad; to Aish HaTorah; to Torah U’Mesorah; to community kollelim; to Modern Orthodox kiruv… he lauds it all. He even concludes that Orthodoxy underestimates its own success. Success that he views with a very positive eye.

He also notes the friction created between Conservative rabbis who lead synagogues and kiruv workers. The claim is that Habad (for example) will set up shop and undermine the Conservative shul business structure by offering smaller friendlier shuls with little or no synagogue dues. They also offer to provide Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies without any minimum shul religious class attendance requirement (typically 3 years). Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are a drawing card for membership. True to form, it seems that Professor Wertheimer has no problem with Habad doing that.

The realities of 21st century life in America have caused lofty kiruv goals of bringing Jews to full observance to be lowered. One of those realities is the massive attrition of Jews from the Conservative movement into secular lifestyles. The pool of Jewish kiruv targets from there has been diminished. Conservative Jews tended to give their children at least a minimal Jewish identity making them more receptive to kiruv. Those who have left it to become completely secular makes it much harder for them to be attracted to an observant lifestyle. I agree with him.

That the expectations have been lowered and that the Lubavitch model of linear success is increasingly becoming the model for non Lubavitch kiruv. Any increase at all in their level of commitment is now viewed a success. As such Professor Wertheimer contends that Orthodox Kiruv is having far more impact on American Jewry than anyone might imagine. Those who have come into contact with Orthodox outreach programs but do not become Orthdodox themselves take that knowledge and impart it to other non-Orthodox Jew is their shuls. These Jews might never come into contact with Orthodox outreach. Thus there is a sort of multiplier effect.

Professor Wertheimer has the highest praise for Habad. They seem to be the most successful and the most organized. For example he points out their JLI program:

Of particular note is the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), by far the largest internationally coordinated adult-education program on Jewish topics, offering the same set of courses at hundreds of Chabad locations around the world, all on the same schedule. This means that Jews who are traveling can follow the same course from session to session, even if they find themselves in a different city each week. In the fall of 2012, nearly 14,000 American Jews were enrolled in JLI courses, and overall close to 26,000 participated in Chabad’s teen- and adult-education programs.

The Chabad network is striving to create a seamless transition, so that young people who attended its camps or schools will gravitate to a Chabad campus center when they arrive at college and later, as adults, will join Chabad synagogue centers. No other Jewish movement offers this kind of cradle-to-grave set of services. The participants in these programs, needless to say, range in their Jewish commitments, but with the exception of a small minority, all are drawn from the ranks of the non-Orthodox.

But he also notes the explosion of non-Habad Kiruv organziations as well – including the far more insular world of Haredim. There are about 50 or so community kollelim that do outreach. My only real quibble with Professor Wertheimer is that these kollels are really more about in-reach than outreach (although they do outreach too). They tend to reach the already observant world and raise the level of observance and limud Torah. There are drawbacks to this too which I have discussed in the past but are also beyond the scope of this essay.

Wrapped in Plastic and Hilul HaShem

Monday, April 15th, 2013

There was an interesting blurb in last week’s Mishpacha about a p’sak (Halachic decision) by Rav Elyashiv.

When candidate Barack Obama visited Israel in 2008, he wanted to visit the Kotel and asked that he be given access in the early morning hours so as to avoid the crowds. The Kotel Rabbi, R’ Shumel Rabinowitz, felt that bringing a U.S. Presidential candidate, his entourage, and the attendant crush of media people would be disruptive to those who daven k’vosekin – praying at sunrise. So he asked R’ Elyashiv whether he should accommodate his request.

R’ Elyashiv said that candidate Obama should absolutely be allowed to visit the Kotel at his convenience. Since (then) Senator Obama represented the United States – a Malchus Shel Chesed (‘kingdom of kindness’) – he was deserving of the utmost respect.

Would that all of Jewry have this attitude. Unfortunately there are some of us who have a slightly different approach. While not really the same thing, I can’t help contrasting this attitude with what has to be the latest example of Judaism made to look stupid… all in the name of Torah observance.

There is a picture of a Haredi-looking individual in flight wrapped up in a plastic bag. This picture has gone viral… as has a video of some young people ridiculing it on an online TV program.

What people like this fellow have accomplished over the years is to create an atmosphere whereby their extremism in the cause of humra (stringency) has brought ridicule upon us. The humra of this generation is tznius. I need not go into how far some of these extremes have taken us into the area of ridicule. Just to mention one example – the time where the Haredi mayor of Beitar Illit was reprimanded because he forgot to photoshop his wife out a picture of a group of people surrounding a snowman they built!

The young pundits on this program thought he covered himself up in a plastic bag because he wanted to avoid contact with the women on the plane. That reaction was no doubt generated by constant barrage of ‘tznius extremism’ by extremist Haredim brought to public attention by the media. Not an unreasonable conclusion. But it was immediately made clear that that was not his motivation. He was a Kohen and sought to protect himself from tumah – spiritual contamination.

Although there are a few exceptions we no longer practice these laws. But Kohanim (those who descend from the priestly line of the first Kohen, the biblical Aaron) – do. A Kohen must avoid any contact that would make him spiritually unclean. In most cases this means avoiding corpses. There are various ways that they go about this. The laws are very complex. One of those ways is by avoiding being in the same room with a corpse or passing over a grave site. Tumah rises straight up in the open air (it does not spread sideways) and fills up any enclosed area.

This fellow probably feared that there was a corpse on board. (That is occasionally the case as many people who wish to be buried in Israel after they die are transported as cargo on board commercial flights). One of the ways a Kohen can be protected is by being in his own enclosure. That will prevent the tumah from entering and contaminating him spiritually. My guess is that this was his goal.

In a vacuum I have no problem with him doing that. But on a commercial fight where normal people are on board, this can only bring ridicule upon our people. It was not necessary for him to do that. There are better ways for a Kohen to avoid tumah. Not being a Kohen myself, I am not the one to advise him. But I don’t think there is a single Kohen who has ever wrapped himself up in a plastic bag. And they all take flights. They find ways which are normal to avoid a problem that is specific to them.

Obviously this fellow didn’t care what people said about him. Frankly neither do I. But I do care what people say about the Jewish people.

When a gadol says that we must honor a political leader in the U.S. because he represents the United States, that is a kiddush HaShem. When a Jew who appears to the world as the most religious among us acts like a fool that is a hilul HaShem. That this fellow doesn’t realize what he has done with his foolishness – or worse, doesn’t care – is why I constantly criticize it when it happens.

I wish I didn’t have to. But unfortunately this kind of behavior seems to be on the increase. Why is this so? I’ve said this before. The insularity in which they live breeds both ignorance of the outside world and contempt for it. In these circles non-Jews are at best tolerated. But they are looked down upon. Or worse seen as anti-Semites. The attitude I often hear them express about “goyim” is that they hate us anyway so why bother being decent to them?! They hide their contempt when they seek public benefits. The condescension to non-Jews is expressed only among themselves. Trouble is that it is not only wrong but only a ignoramus born of insularity would ever think that they can keep this attitude private.

So now once again, I am forced to disavow and protest that this fellow’s behavior very loudly. It has nothing to do with normative Jewish behavior. No matter what his motive was.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Anger at Haredim: Who Is to Blame?

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

When one hears the term ‘Hate Crime’ it usually conjures up images of white supremacists beating up innocent black youth or some neo Nazis doing the same to an innocent Jewish youth. But hate is not unique only to cross racial or religious cultures. One can hate one’s own. A Chasidic girl’s school (Bobov) was recently torched in Israel.

This – says MK (member of the Kenesset) Yisrael Eichler of the Haredi Yahadut Hatorah (UTJ) party – is but one example of hate crimes perpetrated against Haredim that is completely ignored by the media. From 5TJT:

“Every day people spit at and curse hareidi Jews, particularly recently, and nobody is horrified by this.” Says Eichler. And yet if a girl gets spit upon bya Chardi Jew an entire party is created that receives enough votes to get 19 seats in the Kenesset!

The arson attack was the tip of the iceberg, Eichler said. “Every day people spit at and curse hareidi Jews, particularly recently, and nobody is horrified by this.”

“But when somebody in Beit Shemesh spits on one girl, a party was built on that spit that got nineteen mandates, and another twelve religious mandates joined them to boycott hareidi Jews and starve their children,” he said, referring to the Yesh Atid party and its pact with the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party.

I don’t know how true it is that crimes against Haredim are ignored by the media. If true his indignation is understandable.

But I think he fails to understand why it is happening (if indeed it is). Did all these secular Jews wake up one day to become haters of Haredim – for no reason at all? To many of us who live outside of his world the answer is obvious. They were not born this way or suddenly cast into an anti Haredi spell by demons from outer space.

It is because of the Haredi sense of being in service to God to the exclusion of all others. They truly believe B’Emunah Shelaima (with complete faith) that they have the only true path to God. Their understanding of Torah supersedes the understanding of all others. And that nothing colors that understanding.

As such they view any opposition to themselves as either ignorant (at best) or outright hostility to God. The latter being the more common attitude.

Does he really think that Yesh Atid got their 19 seats because of bad press? …or from one incident in Bet Shemesh? Is it possible he may just be missing the real reason?

I think it is far more likely that the issue of the day – sharing the burden by serving in the army – is what drove this election. That may not be the only issue that drove Israelis to the polls for, but it was certainly one of the more important ones.

Their attitude about the draft is but one area that they badly stumble over. It isn’t so much the issue itself that polarizes the secular and Dati parties from Haredim. It is the way that Haredim characterize and react to it… that does. Their righteous indignation translates to condescension which is palpable – often turning into outright hostility!

Take for example Rav Shmuel Auerbach recent comments as reported in the Jewish Press. Referring to the requirement to resist the draft he said:

“[S]tand guard without any changes, because this is one of the fundamentals of the faith, in the category of ‘ye’hareg v’bal ya’avor’ (a commandment one must obey even at the cost of their own life). …The issue at hand (the draft) is nothing short of eradicating our religion… (emphasis mine)”

One must die rather than serve one’s country. That is how he refers to military service in Israel. Can either MK Eichler or Rav Auerbach or the many other Haredi rabbinic leaders not imagine how the typical Israeli mother whose son is subject to be put in harm’s way might react to that kind of statement?!

The answer must be that they are incapable of imagining it. The belief in the righteousness of their cause blinds them to the perspectives of others. Anyone who does not see it their way must be an enemy of Judaism to be resisted at the cost of their own lives if necessary. Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. Virtually all Haredi rabbinic leaders seem to feel this way to one extent or another.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/anger-at-haredim-who-is-to-blame/2013/03/07/

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