It is amazing how naive people can be – more Beit Shemesh

I think we are over-saturated by now with Beit Shemesh.  However, I do have to post one more piece (h/t Life in Israel) that just came my way.  The piece below will probably not shock people so much as reveal the sadness of how some in rabbinic positions respond to sickening and traumatic events.  I am glad there are people out there making sure these words are not allowed to stand.

A Guest Post by by Rabbi Dov Lipman

THE NERVE!

Attack me all that you want. I have been an activist, trying to set the city on a better course for years and people can disagree with me, even vehemently. That is fine and part of living in an open society. I accept it and never feel the need to respond. But when a local Rabbi attacks a little girl and her mother in the most vicious of ways, I cannot remain silent.

The following attack on little Naama and her mother, Hadassa, was penned by a local Rabbi. Everyone with a heart and soul should speak out against this distorted use of the platform given to religious clergy and his congregants should not only condemn him openly but should really think twice whether they want him to guide them in their personal and family lives.

Here is the quote:

“Poor 8 year old Naama Margolese. If my child was spat at, I would wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, give her a piece of her favorite chocolate, tell her there are bad men in the world, and in 10 minutes it is over. Waiting three months (what’s that again? The huge outcry was orchestrated three months after it happened? Huh?) to create an overreaction, and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school, and having all sorts of people tracking through her house to visit her as if they’re coming for neechum aveilim… If this poor kid gets traumatized, I’ll tell you why!”You almost have to read it again to make sure your eyes are not playing games with you because it is not fathomable that a person who has spent years studying Torah and connecting to God could ever even think of writing these words, let alone actually writing them and publicizing them.

Let’s dissect the paragraph.

Wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, giver her chocolate, and it is over? The writer clearly has no concept of the trauma little girls experience when being called “prutza” and “shiktza” and when they are spat at. Maybe children who are familiar with a world where violence and abuse are a part of life would be able to just move on, but in the Margolese home, the children are taught to respect other people and never raise a voice or condemn the actions of others. Therefore, it is very traumatic when a child in that type of home is exposed to this type of behavior. When children are being taught proper derech eretz, verbal assaults cannot simply be ignored. When children are taught respect, spit cannot simply be wiped away and forgotten.

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized something. This Rabbi never even came to the school to see, firsthand, what was happening. He probably subscribes to the camp that it is all an exaggeration. Isn’t there a concept that one cannot really have an opinion about something without actually experiencing it? The nerve to make light of what many girls, not just Naama, experienced without actually seeing it in person!

Let’s go further. “Waiting three months?” and “Three months after it happened? ” Rabbi, perhaps it is time to get your facts right before writing such a strong condemnation. In case you did not know, the extremists returned within the last few weeks! They returned with more people and with an organized bus! Our informants in RBS Bet told us that if there was not going to be some kind of strong response the extremists were going to escalate things until who knows what could have happened to a Jewish child, rachmana litzlan.
“To create an overreaction and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school?” Since when is thousands of Israelis wanting to come to defend a little Jewish girl an “overreaction?” Baruch Hashem, all of those “horrible anti-Torah secularists” have a Jewish pulse and, upon seeing the tears of this Jewish girl wanted to help. What a strong contrast with the reaction of this Rabbi who for months upon hearing about the traumatized girls responded with a message which seemed to convey, “What do you want from me?”

We continue. “All sort of people trecking through her house like neechum aveilim?” What a sick and distorted image. All one had to do was see the look on Naama’s face when MK Rabbi Amsalem gave her a siddur and tehilim (she davens from that siddur daily) to see how therapeutic and important this was for her. The same goes for the gift which Eli Friedman and the TOV party gave to her. These visitors are people who truly walk in the way of God and reach out to love other Jews instead of being defensive and writing nasty and soulless declarations. Perhaps in the divisive, extremist world visits of love and care feel like “nichum aveilim” but for the rest of the Jewish people they are actually quite pleasant and inspirational.

Finally, this “poor kid” will not be traumatized any longer. Her parents did what any loving parent would do and found a way to secure their daughter’s safety. In addition, her parents were able to show their daughter the beautiful side of a unified am yisrael and the beauty of true chareidim.

All sensible and caring people must do anything possible to condemn this Rabbi’s statements. But even more than that, we must work to make sure that people with this type of flippant attitude regarding verbal/physical abuse and assault and religious extremism not have any involvement in guiding Jewish children or their parents. Because when those “poor children” are turned off by what is presented to them as a soulless, uncaring, and extremist religion and their clergy not protecting them from abuse, no one will have to “tell you why.”

Misusing the Holocaust

I was refraining from this particular aspect of the Beit Shemesh conflict, but the latest report (see here (h/t failed messiah) compels me to address what might be more sickening.  As you will see from the report below, the same crazies involved in the disgusting behavior against other Jews are also protesting against their own, claiming that Israel is the equivalent to Nazi Germany.  The original protests, which might be the cause for the uproar from the majority of the Haredi community, took place in Israel last Sat. night.  Many posts have already addressed the horrific pictures of young, religious looking kids, posing the like the famous picture of the kid surrendering to the Nazis (see here).  My disgust with the latest report is beyond the misuse of the Holocaust.  My problem is that other  Jews, regardless of their insanity, marching and claiming Israel to be like Nazi Germany, are furthering negative rhetoric against Israel.  Look, we know the difference between Neturei Karta and Satmar (I think).  Yet, does the rest of the world.  I just wish these people would have the seichel to keep their political opinions to themselves.  Its bad enough we have press about gender bias, but we need another round of the Israeli government are Nazis.  Again, I place this back into the hands of the Haredi rabbinic establishment.  If statements had been made years ago, long before the crescendo of events we are watching, perhaps much of this could have been prevented.  Instead, now we are backpedalling and hoping that it can go away. 

Orthodox Jews to Protest Israel Wearing Yellow “Jude” Stars – TODAY

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Torah-true Jews will be gathering to demonstrate in front of Israeli consulates, in U.S.A., Canada and England. The protesters will don concentration camp clothing with the reviled “yellow star” pinned on their garments, to express their cry of desperation and to show solidarity with their brethren in the Holy Land, who demonstrated in Jerusalem this past Saturday night. Thousands of elders and children took to the streets of Jerusalem garbed in concentration camp clothing and yellow Stars of David pinned on their chests.

“The present incarceration of Torah-true Jews, beating etc. is not the sole event that brought the G-d-fearing Jews to such a desperate display”, said Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta International. “The present event is not an isolated event or some new policy of the State of Israel being perpetrated against the G-d-fearing religious community. It is only part of the long and ongoing battle between Zionism and the State of Israel with the Torah-true Jews.”

“The ideology of Zionism is both the transformation of Judaism from religion and subservience to the Almighty, to base material nationalism, and a plan to end our Heavenly-decreed exile through our own actions. Both of these concepts are totally contradictory to the true Jewish belief. The Almighty alone will bring our redemption. We are expressly forbidden to take any action to end exile.”

“Therefore, all the great sages and leaders of Judaism in past generations, have stood in total opposition to Zionism and the existence of the State of ‘Israel’. Zionism works with all its power to totally eradicate, Heaven forbid, these true Jewish beliefs. To Torah-true Jews, their Jewish beliefs take precedence over their lives. Therefore, these Jews have undergone a long chain of suffering, imprisonment and letting their blood be spilt in this battle. The present events are just one more link in the long chain of the Zionist campaign in their attempted abolishment of the true Jewish faith.”

“Therefore, our brethren in Jerusalem demonstrated their anguish and pain by wearing the yellow star and striped Holocaust clothes.”

“We stand with them in solidarity.”

“May we merit to see, soon in our days, the revelation of the glory of the Almighty, when all the nations will serve the Almighty in peace and harmony. Amen.”

Jewish Rabbis and laymen will demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulates, TODAY: Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEW YORK CITY: 800 second Avenue [between 42 and 43] at 3:00 pm, followed by a march to the United Nations [First and 43]

LONDON:  2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB, at 2:30 pm

MONTREAL: 1 Westmount Square, Westmount, Quebec, at 2:45 pm

 

 

Is There No Stopping The Flood?

Just like the below blog posting indicates, the plot thickens.  Is it really possible that much of the rabbinic leadership carries so little weight?  It has been clear to me throughout the recent scandal that the Haredi leadership (and yes I am lumping them all into one) has been merely giving the zealots a slap on the wrist, but in reality does not want to condemn them because it still furthers the agenda.  This point was brought home to me yesterday when I read the following story, which I have to assume occurred within the past 20 years but don’t know exactly (the point being the conversation was not a recent one).

“During my tenure at Yated Neeman, where I served as founding editor and continued several years after, I once asked Rac Shach ztz”l what approach to take in writing about the demonstrations that were taking place in Yerushalayim every Shabbos on Bar Ilan Street and on the Ramot road, typically featuring stones thrown at passing cars.  Rav Shach’s answer to me, quote from memory was, ‘It’s quite possible that the real mechallelei Shabbos here are the demonstrators.  First of all, throwing stones is absolutely assur in and of itself, in addition to the risk of killing someone.  But aside from the stone-throwing, they’re causing Shabbos desecration through the demonstrations.  Instead, they could vote in the municipal elections and shift the balance of power in the local government.  With a religious majority, a lot of this chillul Shabbos could be prevented.  But they won’t listen to us…”

(R. Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha Magazine, Issue 389)

So here are my questions:  1.  Is it really true they won’t listen?  2.  So what if they won’t listen, these things need to be said over and over again?  Why are we only hearing such comments years later?

To me, the situation is simple.  The violence between ultra-religious has been allowed to go on for so long, whether openly or quietly encouraged, that the tide certainly will be difficult to turn now.  And yes, it is a small group perpetrating the hate, but we are all responsible for not having cried out sooner.

Is There No Stopping The Flood? – FailedMessiah.com.

No stopping the flood

The vocal extremism within the ultra-Orthodox community should be seen as a reaction to their peers’ increasing openness to the outside world.

By Yair Ettinger

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman had no mention of the religious clashes in Beit Shemesh on its front page. Instead, the headline trumpeted a letter signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leader of the non-Hasidic, “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox.

“We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to strike at the cruse of pure oil, to alter the spirit and the essence of the ultra-Orthodox public,” blared the headline. The letter called for boycotting all the new study tracks designated for Haredim in academia, and employment programs in the army and civil service, since they were intended to form “a group of ultra-Orthodox subordinate to persons who have thrown off the burden [of obedience to the commandments], their rule and their culture.”

The missive was written three weeks ago, but intended for publication during Hanukkah. It had no connection to this week’s events, but it does cast new light on them.

The gender-segregated bus lines have been plying the country’s roads for several years now, the fanatic ultra-Orthodox ghetto in Beit Shemesh is not new and the modesty signs urging women to avoid places where men congregate or walk are a part of the landscape there. The city’s extremists, known as the Sicarii, have been harassing little girls from the modern-Orthodox community for four months now. Why did this flare into a storm at now of all times?

While some among the secular would say that it’s due to growing ultra-Orthodox extremism, which is only now being exposed in the media, Knesset members from United Torah Judaism believe the timing is entirely cynical, a result of the race heating up between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and Labor Party chair MK Shelly Yachimovich. Netanyahu knows he does not have a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas, and that both parties will leave the government if he launches a conflict with the ultra-Orthodox, even though they have no better coalition option. And in one month, the test period set by the High Court of Justice for determining whether gender segregation on buses is being done voluntarily (rather than by coercion ) will come to an end.

There may be another explanation behind the ultra-Orthodox rabbis’ exhortations about the unseen hand reaching for the “cruse of pure oil.” Are the rabbis – and the Sicarii – sensing dramatic internal changes within ultra-Orthodox society itself?

This is not the first time Rabbi Elyashiv has denounced higher education, but it’s unlikely that he has ever before issued such a sweeping prohibition of participation by the ultra-Orthodox in any kind of framework beyond Torah study. The rabbi is denouncing vocational training, ultra-Orthodox colleges and military and civil service because their initiators “acknowledge openly that the aim of all these trends is to alter the spirit and essence of the ultra-Orthodox public and to introduce all kinds of aspirations, national and ‘enlightened,’ of which our forefathers never conceived and to promote integration with secular and sinful people.”

Fanning the hatred A broader reference to current events can be found in the remarks of another Lithuanian rabbi, which also appeared in Yated Neeman. Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach wrote, “The spirit of rapprochement with the general [secular] public is causing the great hatred.” It is generally believed, or at least said, that the answer to hatred is reconciliation and dialogue. Actually, the Lithuanian leadership believes the answer is distancing and separatism. A more radical approach, both separatist and anti-Zionist, characterizes Those who have sanctified separatism and anti-Zionism are the extremist ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit, which is descended from descendants of the pre-Zionist Jewish community in Palestine, and which today controls Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Most extreme are Unlike the mainstream ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Auerbach, the extremist Sicarii: They do not even want to dissipate the hatred.

“The more you disparage us, the better,” they told us in Beit Shemesh this week. This is the essence of the fanatic ideology, which has drawn attention due to several cases in recent years – the ultra-Orthodox mother arrested for starving her child, the fight over opening Jerusalem’s Karta parking lot on Shabbat, the ancient graves alongside Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade and more. Two decades ago, Eda rabbis were already permitting young fanatics from Mea She’arim to move to the increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. The extreme Lithuanian courts of Toldot Avraham Yitzhak, Toldot Aharon and smaller groups like Torah Veyireh and the Pharisees are all sending members to the new neighborhoods there. They have done a remarkable job of establishing a fanatic ghetto. The Sicarii within this ghetto are terrorizing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet as well as the rabbis. No one in the ultra-Orthodox camp is willing to clash with them.

Yet winds of change are blowing even among the most fanatic camp. Once, former Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Pappenheim was frequently dispatched to represent the official, extreme anti-Zionist line and to defend his sect, Toldot Aharon. But Pappenheim, a Beit Shemesh resident, recently came out of the closet as a sworn reformist: He is studying for a degree at Bar-Ilan University and heads an office encouraging ultra-Orthodox employment in Beit Shemesh, on top of his other public activities.

Pappenheim thinks that in the ultra-Orthodox’s clash with outsiders, the extremists on both sides are failing to see the powerful processes underway in the ultra-Orthodox mainstream: The ultra-Orthodox are irreversibly opening up, he believes.

“This week I spoke before a Scout troop in Jerusalem, alongside a representative of Yisrael Hofshit [Be Free Israel, an organization that works to advance religious freedom and other democratic values], who denounced ultra-Orthodox extremism,” says Pappenheim. “I told her she was missing the entire point. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox public has begun to understand that it needs to take its fate into its hands. There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army, in academia, in the free professions. Are they telling us we’re in a religious war? On the contrary. The religious public is heading toward something great, and the rabbis’ attempts to stop this are like the rooster running in circles after being beheaded.”

The Sicarii are acting out of frustration, not ideology, he says. “They see society around them progressing and are frustrated. They do not really think; they just act violently for the sake of causing action and chaos.”

Pappenheim believes the rabbis’ attempts to turn back time are destined to fail. “I’m not seeing any students dropping out of ultra-Orthdox colleges” due to Rabbi Elyashiv’s letter, he says. “That isn’t going to help anymore. Maybe this is the rabbis’ job, to try to stop the flow so that 16-year-old boys know their only aim in life is to study Torah, but this process is reality.”

Pappenheim himself is being smeared by wall posters declaring, “Greeks have ganged up on us!” and draws condemnations from his extremist neighbors, but as the son of an aristocratic Toldot Aharon family, he retains access to the top.

“A married yeshiva student from Toldot Avraham Hasidut is serving in Shahar [a prestigious Israel Defense Forces technology program for married yeshiva students]. Things are happening. I told my rebbe and he asked: ‘What? Do you think our married yeshiva students will also be there?’ I said it could happen. He said, ‘Such a thing should not come to us,’ and I told him that while his role may be to prevent it, this is the process. We need to understand this and not shut our eyes. He knows this well. A month ago President [Shimon] Peres visited [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s daughter] Adina Bar-Shalom’s ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem. In the first row were three married yeshiva students from Toldot Aharon.”

Conflicting changes Pappenheim’s remarks show that the discussion about “growing ultra-Orthdox extremism” ignores the fact that this sector, like the national religious sector, is going through conflicting processes. The public at large is now noticing the modesty revolution, which includes the segregated buses, the “Taliban” women in black cloaks, the gender segregation at the health clinics in Beit Shemesh and the advertising companies’ reluctance to post outdoor ads with pictures of women in Jerusalem, but it has been going on for years.

But there are only a few dozen women in cloaks and a few hundred hot-headed Sicarii. Even if we generalize and include the thousands of Gur Hasidim – the largest Hasidic faction, known for its obsessiveness on matters of sexuality and whose functionaries have been pushing segregated buses for years – this is still only a minority within the ultra-Orthodox sector.

This minority certainly is smaller than the large group of ultra-Orthodox women – including women from Gur – working in the free professions and high-tech, the thousands of men and women studying at ultra-Orthodox colleges and the men volunteering for special ultra-Orthodox programs in the IDF and civil service. And many more ultra-Orthodox use computers, smartphones and the Internet, despite the rabbis’ loud but futile war against these technologies. Even if these people are still a minority, they are a much larger minority than the extremists.

Economic distress alone is enough to push the ultra-Orthodox to reform, which in turn damages the supreme ultra-Orthodox value of separatism, “the pure cruse of oil.” The change in values is keeping the rabbis awake at night. The more openness there is, the more they seek to close things off. That is how Orthodoxy was born 200 years ago, that is how the “Taliban” sect in Beit Shemesh was born and that is likely how innovations like “kosher electricity” will be born – out of the growing push for strictness and the ultra-Orthodox representatives’ intoxication with political power – as well as the secular politicians’ ignorance.

The segregated buses were not intended to exclude women; they were intended to exclude secular people, to create a sanctified ultra-Orthodox space detached from the threatening outside world. The new ultra-Orthodox suburbs of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit were intended as sacred ultra-Orthodox ghettoes, sometimes with the help of secret “acceptance committees” that filtered out the newly observant, the national religious and sometimes also Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox. The Lithuanian girls’ schools make a point of accepting only students “like ourselves,” meaning no Mizrahim. Likewise the Haredim developed their own transportation system under the nose of Egged, Dan and the High Court of Justice.

The radical idea that came out of the Prime Minister’s Bureau this week, to split Beit Shemesh into two municipalities based on sectoral affiliation, no doubt appeals to some of the ultra-Orthodox extremists. But Pappenehim says that in order to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into workplaces, colleges and military service, they need unique frameworks that allow for gender segregation. “There is no other way,” he says.

Aryeh Goldhaber is an activist in the ultra-Orthodox reformist movement “Tov,” in Beit Shemesh. He says ultra-Orthodox people like him are suffering both at the hands of the extremists and from the authorities’ blind eye. He, like Pappenheim, favors tough police action against the fanatics, because the “violent campaign against the ultra-Orthodox” is driving moderate members of his community to close ranks with the Sicarii.

Unlike Rabbi Elyashiv, he says, “We are happy to be active partners in the larger Israeli society – in employment, the army and studies, but the more openness there is, the louder the extremists shout.” Pressure from Shas and UTJ is pushing the establishment to ignore ultra-Orthodox reformists, “and this is making things difficult for us.”

Failed Messiah continues with his own assessment of the situation.

Lets be clear.

What Ettinger contends is that Rabbi Elyashiv and the other so-called mainstream haredi leaders see that they are losing control of their rank and file, who are in increasing numbers opting to get secular educations and jobs in the wider Israeli community. So they have become increasingly strict, banning secular education, army service, etc., to try to stop up the ‘breech’ in the haredi ghetto wall.

This moves “mainstream” haredi leadership closer to Eidah Charedit and their street gang offshoot, the Sicarii.

At the same time, press coverage of the violence and statements by secular politicians about it that in any way blame “mainstream” haredi leadership and the the wider haredi community for the violence supposedly committed only by the Sicarii gang pushes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the haredi rank abd file to become more extreme and to move closer to Eidah Charedit and and the Sicarii.

And this is true even though these “mainstream” haredi leaders have not condemned the haredi violence against women and little children that sparked this press coverage and the statements of those secular politicians.

In other words, haredi leadership won’t condemn the violence because the violence is meant to help goals be achieved that they strongly support – and all of those goals further separation of haredim from all other Jews. And haredi leaders want this increased separation in order to retain power over the haredi rank and file – and to retain control over lucrative communal institutions, like yeshivas.

This makes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the politicians and newspapers that answer to them – as guilty as the Sicarii gang.

And that should never be forgotten.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring – Um, excuse me!!

Update: To add fuel to the fire, see this post at Failed Messiah. If all the judge gives this person is house arrest with Yeshiva privileges, what recourse is left to fight the problem of tznius patrols.

I don’t often get into these debates with others, but this post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and IRF (I don’t want to here comments about whether it is Orthodox or not), are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to this piece. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet, you only hear about that years later. And even in this, while all the organizations are talking, who is to say the zealots are listening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talk we must, but let’s not get carried away and make declarations like R. Adlerstein is, that this is the beginning of an “Charedi Spring.” I find the usurping of that term preposterous, as while I hope this event does cause a change, to equate it with what is going on in the rest of the Middle East is absurd. Besides, the Arab Spring upon which this is predicated upon is, by many accounts, turning into an Islamic winter.

To me, the violence should have been condemned and punished years ago. But when there was public silence against protesting Shabbat desecrators, all it did was embolden some of them to take their violence to another level. And to top it off, unless one of their grand Rebbes comes out and says the violence is not allowed, which most likely will not happen because of their own fear of their followers, I don’t see much in the way of curtailing it. And should the Israeli government step in and arrest some of the more egregious men who are attacking and cursing young girls, I have a hard time believing the more mainstream Haredi world won’t be up in arms to an extent.

To conclude, we should all hope that this violence will end as it is making us all look bad as well as proving Hillary Clinton correct to an extent when she sparked her own controversy with her comments about gender bias in Israel. To outsiders, it is no different, even if on the inside we can try to find the subtleties. I pray that these men find some seichel (intelligence) and stop this disgusting display of zealotry in a time when we need to be banding together as one nation.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring | Cross-Currents.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring

The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follow it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

A little bit of Justice

With the release of terrorists in exchange for Shalit, the emotions we experienced were complicated.  However, I just came across a blog post that indicates that those terrorists who murdered American citizens (and I assume those who were accomplices) can be tried by the US courts. 

America Can Prosecute Terrorists Freed by Israel

by Nathan Lewin

On August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi, a member of Hamas, drove a suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem, where the bomber blew himself up, killing 15 people including Judy Greenbaum, an American citizen from New Jersey. On March 5, 2003, Abigail Leitel, a 14-year-old Baptist schoolgirl born in New Hampshire, was killed, along with 14 Israelis, by a suicide bomber who exploded a bomb on a Haifa bus.

Three Hamas members — Fadi Muhammad al-Jabaa, Maedh Abu Sharakh, and Majdi Muhammad Amr — plotted that deadly attack. On September 9, 2003, a Hamas suicide bomber slew seven people — including American citizens David, a doctor, and Nava Applebaum, who was his daughter and was to be married on that day — at Café Hillel in Jerusalem. Ibrahim Dar Musa helped plan that bombing.

The perpetrators of each of these murders of Americans violated American criminal law and could be prosecuted in American courts. Yet all of them are now free and living in Jordan or Gaza because Hamas demanded that they be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for Hamas’ release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who Hamas captured and held in captivity for more than five years.

Since the Antiterrorism Act of 1990, it has been a capital crime under American law, punishable by “death or imprisonment for any term of years or for life, or both,” to “kill a national of the United States, while such national is outside the United States.” A conspirator in such a crime can get up to 20 years imprisonment. No statute of limitations precludes prosecution of old offenses.

Another law, passed in 1994, made it a federal crime to use an explosive bomb “against a national of the United States while such national is outside of the United States.” In 2002 Congress authorized prosecution in American federal courts of anyone who, with criminal intent, injured “a national of the United States” outside the United States by detonating “an explosive or other legal device in, into or against a place of public use” or “a public transportation system.”

Prosecutions have been brought in American federal courts against individuals responsible for bombings that killed Americans in the Philippines, Colombia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Many of the individuals accused of these crimes were brought here for trial following their extradition, on the request of the United States, from foreign countries. American prosecutors have not, however, charged the Hamas perpetrators of bombings in Israel such as the 2001 and 2003 bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa, even though American citizens were murdered in these attacks. They have relied on the Israeli legal process to arrest and punish the perpetrators.

Tamimi, al-Jabaa, Sharakh, Amr, and Dar Musa were prosecuted and convicted in Israeli courts. They and other perpetrators of these murders received either multiple sentences of life imprisonment or long prison terms. Until they were released by Israel’s government under duress in order to bring Gilad Shalit home, they expected to spend the rest of their lives in Israeli prisons. They are now free in Jordan or Gaza.

The Department of Justice should now indict, extradite, and put to trial in United States courts, under American law, these killers of American citizens. Jordan has an extradition treaty with the United States that covers all offenses “punishable under the laws in both Contracting States by deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year or by a more severe penalty.” A conspiracy to commit such an offense is also covered by Article 2(2) of the treaty.

No provision of any extradition treaty should preclude bringing these criminals to justice in the United States. The Jordan treaty bars extradition for “political offenses,” but it would be hard to claim that the mass terrorist killings of civilians in Jerusalem and Haifa were only “political offenses.” At the least, Jordan should be put to that test.

Nor could Jordan or any other requested country invoke the bar against double jeopardy that appears in many extradition treaties to prevent second punishment after a criminal prosecution for the extraditable offense has been conducted and fully carried out. That provision obviously does not prevent extradition of a fugitive who flees a country where he has been convicted in order to avoid imprisonment. It also should not prevent extradition if, by some other unlawful means such as Hamas’ extortionate demand, the criminal process is aborted.

Congress’ objective in enacting the provisions authorizing prosecution of such crimes in United States courts, even though they were committed elsewhere, was to insure that those who murdered American citizens like Judy Greenbaum, Abigail Leitel, and the Applebaums would not be able to avoid just punishment for their crimes. That goal can now be realized only if the United States Department of Justice takes prompt and effective action.

Mr. Lewin is a Washington lawyer who was a federal prosecutor and served as deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Israeli prisoner swap may be prelude to attack on Iran – Washington Times

Perhaps we suffer from seeing the small picture.  I don’t know how legitimate this would be but I do find it eye opening to suggest that the prisoner swap was more than meets the eye.  Is it possible Israel is getting ready to defend itself again from the potentiality of destruction?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to execute a 1,000-for-1 prisoner exchange last week despite his frequently voiced opposition to such lopsided deals is seen by several Israeli military commentators as an effort to “clear the deck” before possibly undertaking an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Amir Oren, the veteran military analyst for Ha’aretz newspaper, took note of Israel’s exchanging 1,027 Palestinian convicts for army Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who had been captured by Hamas in 2006. Mr. Oren wrote that the price paid by Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak “can be interpreted only in a context that goes beyond that of the Gilad Schalit deal.”

He noted that Israeli leaders in the past have shown a readiness to absorb “a small loss” in order to attain a greater success, generally involving “some sort of military adventure.”

Mr. Oren also noted that, until recently, Mr. Netanyahu had faced opposition to attacking Iran from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan. Both retired earlier this year and have been replaced by men believed to hold a different view on Iran.

The Islamic republic has not been a top agenda item since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Yet Iran’s nuclear program, which Western nations believe is geared for making an atomic bomb, has remained a key concern, despite Tehran’s denials that it is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

According to Israeli media reports, a shift in the Israeli government’s views on Iran might have prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Middle East visit in April: His main mission was to pass on a warning from President Obama against any unilateral attack on Iran.

At a press conference with Mr. Barak in April, Mr. Panetta stressed that any steps against Iran’s nuclear program must be taken in coordination with the international community.

This week, Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yakov Katz wrote that, with the Schalit chapter behind it, “Israel can now move forward to deal with some of the other strategic problems it faces in the region, such as Iran’s nuclear program.” Had Israel first attacked Iran, Hamas’ patron, it would have endangered the Schalit deal, Mr. Katz said.

Writing in Yediot Achronot, Alex Fishman said that for Mr. Netanyahu, who built a political career as a warrior on terror, the Schalit deal was a very courageous step, particularly in view of an estimate by Israel’s security services that 60 percent of Palestinians who are released in such exchanges return to terror.

“He took a risk in a certain area and thereby focused all our attention on much more troubling fronts — in distant Iran and in the Arab revolutions around us,” Mr. Fishman wrote. To deal with these problems, national consensus is necessary and the freeing of Gilad Shalit went far toward achieving that.

Mr. Oren offered another insight that he says may point Mr. Netanyahu toward military action against Iran.

Although the prime minister failed to make any enduring mark on history during his previous term or so far during his present term, Mr. Netanyahu may see Iran as an opportunity to achieve his Churchillian moment, Mr. Oren wrote. “The day is not far off, Netanyahu believes, when Churchill will emerge from him.”

via Israeli prisoner swap may be prelude to attack on Iran – Washington Times.

Shalit chronicles

I realize I am late to the party.  Part of this was purposeful in that I felt others had captured much of what was out there regarding the release of Gilad Shalit.  Yet, I came across three pieces over the weekend that made me decide it would be good to at least offer up some of the material online regarding how we should think about and react to his freedom.  Here are a couple of the more fascinating pieces I found (for some other headlines, check out Bruce’s Mideast Soundbites).

A Mother’s Pain – Sherri Mandel

Why are we against the exchange that allows murderers to go free? Because we know the suffering that they leave in their wake.

Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.

Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki’s murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.

Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.

Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.

Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.

My son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists 10 years ago when they were 13 and 14 years old. They had been hiking in the wadi near our home when they were set upon by a Palestinian mob and stoned to death. It was a brutal, vicious murder.

We now run the Koby Mandell Foundation for terror victims’ families. We direct Camp Koby, a 10-day therapeutic sleep away camp for 400 children who have lost loved ones, mostly to terror. We also run mothers’ healing retreats and support groups.

MOST PEOPLE don’t understand the continuing devastation of grief: fathers who die of heart attacks, mothers who get sick with cancer, children who leave school, families whose only child was murdered. We see depression, suicide, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. You wouldn’t believe how many victims’ families are still on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. We see the pain that doesn’t diminish with time. We literally see people die of grief.

Bereaved families face acute psychological isolation.

Nobody understands us, they often complain.

They mean that nobody understands the duration or the severity of their pain and longing. In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated.

So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter.

When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something.

But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones’ deaths were for nothing.

Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn’t release them.

No sane government would.

When we were sitting shiva for Koby, a general in the army told us: “We will bring the killers to justice.” I believed him. I took his words to heart. Today I am thankful my son’s killers have not been found. So are my children. Of course, I don’t want the terrorists to kill again. But if they were to be released in this prisoner exchange, I don’t think I could bear it.

We don’t want other families to be put in our situation.

We don’t want terrorists to be free when our loved ones are six feet underground. Ten years after my son was beaten to death, the pain often feels like a prison. In many ways, I am not free.

We don’t want other terrorists to be emboldened because they know that even if they murder, they may not have to stay in prison. President Shimon Peres says he will pardon but he will not forgive. Terrorist victims’ families will not pardon or forgive the government for this release.

We have been betrayed. To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.

Furthermore, terrorism aims to strike fear in an entire society, to bring a whole populace to its knees. During the intifada, the terrorists did not succeed in defeating Israeli society. But to release prisoners now signals to Hamas that their strategy of terror was correct, effective.

They will celebrate wholeheartedly because they have won.

And as a result of prisoner exchanges, the Israeli justice system can only be seen as a joke, a mockery, even a travesty of justice.

It provides no deterrent and no retribution. It’s as if our government says to the killers: Come hurt us again. We’ll be happy to release you one day. We’ll let you go when you demand it.

I want Gilad Schalit home.

We need to protect our own soldiers. But not with a wholesale prisoner exchange. I wish that I could rejoice with the Schalit family. But I can’t.

The price is too high.

The writer is the mother of Koby Mandell, who was stoned to death near his home in Tekoa in 2001.

‘Shalit release like resurrection of the dead’

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expresses joy over kidnapped soldier’s return, says it illustrates what Jewish people should expect at End of Days by Kobi Nahshoni

Shas‘ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, says the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is a sort of “preview” for the resurrection of the dead.

In a sermon delivered Tuesday night ahead of the holiday of Simchat Torah, the rabbi explained that the joy over Gilad’s return to his family illustrates what the Jewish people should expect at the End of Days, when the dead will rise out of their graves and return to life.

Yosef concluded his sermon by stating that “this is a great day of joy for all the people of Israel for Gilad Shalit’s return.”

“Every day we say (in a prayer), ‘Blessed is God, the resurrector of the dead’ – what a great joy we’ll experience. We are being described what will happen.”

According to the rabbi, the entire world was excited about the soldier’s release from captivity after five years, and in the future the dead will return to their families even decades after being taken away from them.

In a bid to demonstrate the great joy in the days of the Messiah, Rabbi Yosef explained that it would be like a multitude of weddings, as each person returning to life will have to remarry his widow in order to live with her again.

“Everywhere you go – a chuppah. This one’s wife has been resurrected, and that one’s wife has been resurrected – what a joy it will be!”

 

Rabbi Yosef followed Shalit’s return home on Tuesday, after being involved in the early stages of the prisoner exchange deal – offering support and encouragement. The rabbi stayed at home as usual and continued his Torah studies, but asked his family members to update him on every development.

Upon hearing that the soldier’s physical and mental condition was satisfactory, he excitedly recited the “Blessed is God that redeems and saves” prayer and said Jews must continue praying for his full recovery.

A Mitzvah Behind the Price of a Soldier’s Freedom By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

On the Sabbath morning of Nov. 5, less than three weeks after the release of Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, Jews in synagogues throughout the world will read a Torah portion concerning Abraham’s early journeys. The text recounts how invaders conquered the city of Sodom, taking Abraham’s nephew Lot as a captive, and the way Abraham raised an army to rescue him.

The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians.

The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.

Far from being some abstruse, obscure point of theology, pidyon shvuyim is called in the Talmud a “mitzvah rabbah,” a great commandment. The Shulhan Arukh, a legal code compiled in the 16th century, states, “Redeeming captives takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them, and there is no commandment more important than redeeming captives.”

So while journalists, analysts and scholars have offered various motivations for the disproportionate deal — the effect of the Arab Spring, the institutional culture of the Israeli Army to never leave behind its wounded, the symbolism of Sergeant Shalit as everyone’s child in a country of nearly universal military service — the principle of pidyon shvuyim preceded all those factors.

“For most people in Israel, it doesn’t translate directly as a mitzvah, because even if they’re attached to Jewish tradition, they’re not halakhic,” said Noam Zohar, a professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, using a term for following religious law. “But the underlying values — solidarity and the high value of every individual life — are part of our public ethos. The same values informed the high urgency of pidyon shvuyim.”

Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, framed the issue similarly. “Those things are in the DNA of the culture,” he said of the religious teachings about ransoming captives. “It’s a sentiment that can’t be measured in exact legal or judicial terms. It plays a role in those moments of perplexity. You fall back on your basic identity. As a Jew, as an Israeli, what do I do?”

From its initial depiction in Genesis, the admonition to redeem captives reappears in the books of Leviticus and Nehemiah, as well as in the Talmud, Shulhan Arukh and writings of Maimonides. Among the ancient commentators, as well as among Israelis today, debate has persisted over whether pidyon shvuyim is an absolute value.

A passage in the Talmudic volume of Gittin, anticipating the recent voices of Israelis critical of the Shalit deal, cautions, “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”

The traumas of Jewish history have provided innumerable opportunities for reconciling the tension between redemption and extortion. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews who traveled as merchants and traders were frequently kidnapped by pirates or highway bandits. During the Holocaust, German forces routinely threatened to destroy Jewish communities unless the residents paid a pre-emptive ransom.

As Bradley Burston wrote last week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, over the past 54 years, the nation has freed a total of 13,509 Arab prisoners in exchanges that brought home 16 captive Israeli soldiers — a ratio of roughly 800 to 1.

With such an imbalance, pidyon shvuyim has been both a cherished and a contested belief. A prominent German rabbi taken captive in the 14th century, Meir ben Baruch, instructed his followers not to pay a ransom, which he feared would be onerously high, and ultimately was killed. Israel was torn apart in the 1950s by a libel trial involving Rudolf Kasztner, a Jewish activist in Hungary who had paid cash, gold and jewels to the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in 1944 to save about 1,600 Jews headed for death camps. So controversial were Mr. Kasztner’s actions that he was assassinated by a fellow Israeli more than a decade after the war.

While Israelis have widely believed that sovereignty and military might ended the need for paying ransoms, the Shalit deal has proven otherwise. It was approved by a prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had repeatedly written against what he termed “terrorist blackmail” earlier in his political career.

“The Zionist diagnosis, the post-Holocaust diagnosis, was that powerlessness invites victimization,” said Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, a prominent Holocaust historian. “What’s intriguing here is that power has not resolved Israel’s vulnerability.”

Indeed, as the Jewish ethicist Elliot N. Dorff pointed out, contemporary Israel is vulnerable in ways that the small, scattered communities of the Diaspora were not. It has its own enemy prisoners to be demanded in a trade. The Shalit negotiations took place in a constant media spotlight, tracking not just five years of failed deal making between Israel and Hamas but the tableau of Sergeant Shalit’s parents sitting in a protest tent outside Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

For all the practical, pragmatic, geopolitical calculations that went into the final deal, it also benefited from the endorsement of a leading Sephardic rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party. With his approval, the Shas members in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet voted for the deal. And, in an unspoken, little-noticed way, religious tradition informed a real-world decision.

“The whole issue of redeeming captives,” as Mr. Dorff put it, “has not been a theoretical one.”

Call for education reform in Haredi world

(h/t failed Messiah)

Knesset Member Rabbi Haim Amsalem is at it again.  He wrote an opinion piece arguing for a need in the Haredi community to study the sciences.  His primary argument is the age-old idea that if it was good for Maimonides and others, it is good for the Haredi world as well.  His argument comes on the heels of the naming of the Nobel Prize winners, of which a few were Israeli.  Two things strike me. 

1.  He is the same Rabbi who came out vehemently against the conversion backlash and annulment of conversions by the Haredi courts a couple of years back.  He has tremendous concerns about the outlook of the Haredi community in its relationship with the rest of Israeli society if it continues on the path it has followed since the establishment of the state.

2.  His primary argument about other great figures in the past is one often used to justify the needs of a well-rounded education.  To me, the argument is lacking as those like Maimonides lived in a world much different than ours and to say that because they studied science, so should we, is distorted.  How do we know what a Maimonides would do today.  Maimonides cannot be a model because in those days, science and religion were one and the same.  The idea of non-religious, non-sacred studies was not a category.  In our times, we have a “divide” between secular and holy studies. 

Professor Dan Shechtman’s Nobel Prize win is wonderful news for the New Year. However, a recent article by Professor Ron Aharoni argued that the picture produced by from the recent Nobel wins, as if Israel is a scientific paradise, is distorted.

Aharoni claimed that the State of Israel chose to invest its resources in the study of the Torah, which he says is no more than an “ancient book of laws.” He created a complete distinction while presenting two options: Either religion or science. Yet I believe that presenting these options as “black or white” also creates great distortion. Dividing the world into two is unnecessary and wrong.

Generations upon generations proved that we can have it both ways. The greatest rabbis in history mastered the sciences as well and made a great impression on the world. There is no shortage of examples: Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon (Gersonides), in addition to being a great scholar who wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, was also a scientist, doctor, mathematician and philosopher.

Another noteworthy figure was Rabbi Abraham Zchut, who was a historian and astronomer and studied at the Salamanca University. He was known for upgrading the astrolabe, an instrument used to make astronomical measurements. Just like Gersonides, he was honored by having one of the moon’s craters named after him.

We can of course make note of other giants such as Maimonides, Nahmanides and many others, who combined Torah and high-level science.
 
Restore the tradition

The Torah, our ancient book of laws, is the Jewish people’s constitutive document. Thanks to it we survived for thousands of years while other ancient peoples around us disappeared. Just like we must not neglect scientific studies at this time, we must also not neglect Torah studies, heaven forbid.

Yet just like not everyone is fit to be a math or physics professor, researcher or lecturer, not everyone can be a great scholar or rabbi. For most of the ultra-Orthodox public, a path that combines Torah studies with a dignified job is proper and suitable. Only a select haredi group should dedicate all its time and energy to Torah studies.

In recent generations, a false perception was entrenched as if one must study nothing but Torah. This resulted in a holy war being declared against core studies and of course against academic studies. However, there are broad questions in the Talmud and Halacha that cannot be studies without a deep, broad sciences education.

Shunning non-religious studies led to the haredi public’s inability to secure dignified jobs and, for lack of any other choices, kept thousands of unfit students at yeshivot and advanced Judaic studies programs.

This perception must be changed by providing relevant information and education. Meanwhile, the impossible economic realities of the ultra-Orthodox public are also having their effect.

The time has come to restore the tradition of our forefathers. We are no wiser or more righteous than Maimonides or Gersonides. Maybe in a generation or two we shall have a Shechtman with a black kippah and a beard.

Spiritual Care in Israel

Ynet recently had a piece on the growing field of Jewish Spiritual Care in Israel.  Having been an outsider witnessing the growth of the field in Israel, it is wonderful that the topic is being presented in the papers.  As the article indicates, the Israeli needs in spiritual care during crisis are distinguished from American Jewish needs, and as such, there is a need to develop a unique system.  Much of that has to do with the Israeli “secular population, that is not enamored by a rabbinic establishment, yet is becoming more spiritual, as has been described by, among others, Yair Sheleg, in his work, The Jewish Renaissance in Israeli Society: The Emergence of a New Jew [Hebrew].

 

When Rabbi Mike Schultz met Sharona (alias), she was a young mother of two girls, suffering of terminal cancer, and angry – mostly at God that is not planning to let her see her girls grow up.

 

Schultz, a Jewish spiritual care provider in profession, helped her understand that she can use the illness to prepare her daughters for life, and leave this world without anger.

 

After the personal coaching courses and the empowerment trend – it is now the turn of Jewish spiritual care. A relatively new profession, imported from the United States, is becoming an acceptable professional field. It is a complementary profession to mental and health treatments, when the crisis is big.

 

“I was an occupational therapist, working with chronic and terminal patients,” said Dvora Corn. “I felt that despite everything I can give the patient, there is still something missing.”

 

Corn founded Tishkofet foundation, and she serves as Chair of the Network of Foundations for Spiritual Care in Israel.

 

“It is possible to heal some of the people, or help them live with the illness, but there is an entire part left untouched – and that is the patient’s spiritual world,” Corn notes.

 

“The spiritual world is the purpose a person sees in his life. The therapy world deals with finding solutions for the illness, but there is very little reference to what happens beyond that.

 

“When a person experiences a crisis, his world changes. Sometimes the illness prevents physical functions. Sometimes he is forced to leave work. His relationships and abilities in the family change, and then he has to reestablish what his purpose is at the current time.

 

“That is the place of the spiritual counselor. He does not talk about religion, but rather he finds out what is the person’s beliefs, and how can he lead him to a place that has meaning, to a purpose.”

 

Rabbi instead of priest

In the US, spiritual care is a well-established and old profession. Its origins are in the Christian world, in the work of priests that accompany terminal patients in their final days.

 

About a quarter of a century ago, American Jews decided to create a Jewish counterpart, and established a group of rabbis that specialized in spiritually uplifting patients, basing their work on Jewish holy and literary sources.

 

Some five years ago, UJA-Federation of New York, the largest of its kind in the world, decided to bring the spiritual care to Israel. They initiated a conference of ten foundations that deal with various types of mental assistance for patients, and together they began creating programs that would train Jewish spiritual care providers.

 

Since the group was established, some 25,000 Israelis received spiritual care in various fields such as: Addiction, old age, victims of terror, and illness. Thanks to the UJA-Federation, some 10,000 Israeli professionals have already been exposed to the new field, encouraging future collaborations between them and spiritual care providers.

 

“UJA-Federation believed there is room here to bring a knowledge field that does not exist in Israel,” notes Elisheva Flamm-Oren, planning executive for UJA-Federation of New York’s Caring Commission, who works at UJA-Federation’s Israel office.

 

“The Jewish spiritual care provider expands the boundaries of treatment. He does not deal with the patient’s hurting leg, but rather gives him an embrace that can help the patient heal. The provider is in a place of being, not only doing, bringing the ability of connecting to another human being.”

 

Flamm-Oren, who is involved in the spiritual care project, reveals, “Since Jews in Israel experience their Jewishness in a different manner, we needed to take the Jewish content world and adjust to Israel. In the US, for instance, chaplains are mostly people who come from the religious world.

 

“In Israel – because of the sensitivity regarding religious figures – it was important to create a Jewish language coming from a more accessible place, and therefore, most care providers come from the therapeutic field, though they are familiar with the Jewish world.”

 

“We decided unanimously that spiritual care in Israel cannot be solely based on rabbis,” adds Corn. “The Jewish community in Israel is complex, and we couldn’t have brought the American model to Israel. The belief and needs of a Jew from Brooklyn are different from those of the Israeli Jew. There are people here that have no connection to religion, but they too need to search for meaning.

 

“There are all sorts of religious sects, and we did not want to be under a certain Rabbinate, so we could convey the message to the broadest circle as possible. That is why we built a unique Israeli model that relies on our culture, nature, and historic origins.”

 

Search of meaning

Currently, there are three institutes in Jerusalem where Jewish spiritual care can be learned: Shechter Institute, Hebrew Union College, and Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Studies are based on standards and programs from the US, combining studies in a clinic and in the hospital, in order to provide the spiritual care with all the necessary tools.

 

In the first stage, the therapist gets to know his patient. In the second stage, he suggests tools to the patient that would suit him personally, and bring him to a place in which he finds meaning. These tools could be from the world of music and song, Jewish texts, nature, holidays or Jewish history.

 

“Many people in a crisis feel as though they have no other options, or ability to choose,” notes Corn. “They feel that their world is growing smaller. Our purpose is to find new things that will open them up. We use painting and sculpture to give them power of expression. Others find it more suitable to study a text through which they could raise questions about themselves and find answers.”

 

“We take Jewish motives that, for instance, Jews in New York are less familiar with – but here in Israel, any child in kindergarten knows,” explains Flamm-Oren. “From that we connect to the illness. Before Rosh Hashana, the care provider finds out with the patient, where can he replenish? How can he recharge himself for the New Year? What will be sweet for him this year?

 

“On Hanukkah, the care provider checks with the patient on what are his sources of light? How can he banish darkness? How can the patient use his weak power to overcome the big things happening to him? On Passover, we examine what is freedom and what is enslavement. On Tu B’Shvat, we plant hope.”

 

“On just an ordinary day, we can take motifs from the Weekly Torah Section and check how we can leverage the biblical story into our life. There could also be joint study of Modern Hebrew poetry, guided imagery, or connection to nature.

 

“The spiritual care provider brings with him an entire content world that a social worker or other therapist does not. He touches a basic place of the spiritual world, and when a person is going through a crisis, he has the ability to reach such places, because even when the body is ill, we sometimes discover the spirit is strong.”

 

Seeing the scenery outside

Rabbi Schultz, a Jewish spiritual care provider, tells us, “The first thing is listening to them with an open heart, accepting everything they say. Only after you make a connection with the patient, you start to try to understand what is happening inside, what is going on in their spiritual world. In training, you learn how to reach the major points, and it is done through a lot of listening.”

 

“The attentiveness of the spiritual care provider demands that he does not escape the difficult things he hears. People don’t always immediately express the difficulty, they rather imply it. Some 70% of my help, I believe, is that the person in front of you accepts your difficulty.

 

“If someone feels fear, then your job is to enter that place of fear and uncertainty so he is not alone with his fears and then help him connect with his strengths.”

 

The spiritual care provider meets with patients in unpleasant places, and their purpose – as tour guides in the paths of life is to show them the scenery on the way.

 

“I received a telephone call from a social worker that one of her patients was diagnosed as a cancer patient, and refused to receive treatment,” says Rabbi Schultz. “The team had a hard time accepting her decision because she had good chances of recovery. This is a woman that has already been sick in the past, and underwent very difficult treatments, and she told me she does not want to go through them again.

 

“She said she feels like a prisoner that cannot get herself out of the prison, asking me to get her out. Of course I wanted her to do the treatments, but you cannot force her. When we talked about her ability to choose, she felt that her entire body is releasing, and decided to do the treatments. Today, she is in a good state.”

 

Light shining through great darkness

Corn tells us about a 47-year-old woman, suffering of terminal cancer, who wanted to know how she could end her life without destroying her family.

 

“Except for cancerous cells, her body was packed with guilt that instead of being a mother to her children and take care of them, they are taking care of her. She felt that she is a burden on her family, the spiritual care process was to return her to maternal function.

 

“During the process we showed her that she has power because of what she went through. We cannot say she passed away happy, because she wanted to live. However, at the end of her life, she taught her children that you couldn’t do everything alone.

 

“To her eldest daughter, who got engaged during her illness, she wrote: ‘I will not be at your wedding, but when you enter the relationship you will understand that from now on you depend on someone else as well, and it is a good dependency. You will get everything from this dependency. Do not see it as a negative thing.’

 

“She could write that from the illness of all places. The spiritual care provider taught her and her entire family that dependency can be seen as a system of give and take, and at the end of her life, she taught her children what should be important in life.”

Jewish spiritual care: Creating sound spirit

Sometimes, when things seem hopeless, room should be made for spirituality. What began in US with priests becomes Jewish spiritual care in Israel

Tzofia Hirschfeld

Published: 09.27.11, 14:14 / Israel Jewish Scene
When Rabbi Mike Schultz met Sharona (alias), she was a young mother of two girls, suffering of terminal cancer, and angry – mostly at God that is not planning to let her see her girls grow up. Schultz, a Jewish spiritual care provider in profession, helped her understand that she can use the illness to prepare her daughters for life, and leave this world without anger.

Self Improvement
Yeshiva offers students life coaching  / Kobi Nahshoni
Trained rabbis at Tel Aviv yeshiva help students realize their potential by dealing with personal problems
Full story

After the personal coaching courses and the empowerment trend – it is now the turn of Jewish spiritual care. A relatively new profession, imported from the United States, is becoming an acceptable professional field. It is a complementary profession to mental and health treatments, when the crisis is big. “I was an occupational therapist, working with chronic and terminal patients,” said Dvora Corn. “I felt that despite everything I can give the patient, there is still something missing.” Corn founded Tishkofet foundation, and she serves as Chair of the Network of Foundations for Spiritual Care in Israel. “It is possible to heal some of the people, or help them live with the illness, but there is an entire part left untouched – and that is the patient’s spiritual world,” Corn notes. “The spiritual world is the purpose a person sees in his life. The therapy world deals with finding solutions for the illness, but there is very little reference to what happens beyond that. “When a person experiences a crisis, his world changes. Sometimes the illness prevents physical functions. Sometimes he is forced to leave work. His relationships and abilities in the family change, and then he has to reestablish what his purpose is at the current time. “That is the place of the spiritual counselor. He does not talk about religion, but rather he finds out what is the person’s beliefs, and how can he lead him to a place that has meaning, to a purpose.”

Rabbi instead of priest

In the US, spiritual care is a well-established and old profession. Its origins are in the Christian world, in the work of priests that accompany terminal patients in their final days.

About a quarter of a century ago, American Jews decided to create a Jewish counterpart, and established a group of rabbis that specialized in spiritually uplifting patients, basing their work on Jewish holy and literary sources. Some five years ago, UJA-Federation of New York, the largest of its kind in the world, decided to bring the spiritual care to Israel. They initiated a conference of ten foundations that deal with various types of mental assistance for patients, and together they began creating programs that would train Jewish spiritual care providers. Since the group was established, some 25,000 Israelis received spiritual care in various fields such as: Addiction, old age, victims of terror, and illness. Thanks to the UJA-Federation, some 10,000 Israeli professionals have already been exposed to the new field, encouraging future collaborations between them and spiritual care providers. “UJA-Federation believed there is room here to bring a knowledge field that does not exist in Israel,” notes Elisheva Flamm-Oren, planning executive for UJA-Federation of New York’s Caring Commission, who works at UJA-Federation’s Israel office. “The Jewish spiritual care provider expands the boundaries of treatment. He does not deal with the patient’s hurting leg, but rather gives him an embrace that can help the patient heal. The provider is in a place of being, not only doing, bringing the ability of connecting to another human being.” Flamm-Oren, who is involved in the spiritual care project, reveals, “Since Jews in Israel experience their Jewishness in a different manner, we needed to take the Jewish content world and adjust to Israel. In the US, for instance, chaplains are mostly people who come from the religious world. “In Israel – because of the sensitivity regarding religious figures – it was important to create a Jewish language coming from a more accessible place, and therefore, most care providers come from the therapeutic field, though they are familiar with the Jewish world.” “We decided unanimously that spiritual care in Israel cannot be solely based on rabbis,” adds Corn. “The Jewish community in Israel is complex, and we couldn’t have brought the American model to Israel. The belief and needs of a Jew from Brooklyn are different from those of the Israeli Jew. There are people here that have no connection to religion, but they too need to search for meaning. “There are all sorts of religious sects, and we did not want to be under a certain Rabbinate, so we could convey the message to the broadest circle as possible. That is why we built a unique Israeli model that relies on our culture, nature, and historic origins.”

Search of meaning

Currently, there are three institutes in Jerusalem where Jewish spiritual care can be learned: Shechter Institute, Hebrew Union College, and Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Studies are based on standards and programs from the US, combining studies in a clinic and in the hospital, in order to provide the spiritual care with all the necessary tools.

In the first stage, the therapist gets to know his patient. In the second stage, he suggests tools to the patient that would suit him personally, and bring him to a place in which he finds meaning. These tools could be from the world of music and song, Jewish texts, nature, holidays or Jewish history. “Many people in a crisis feel as though they have no other options, or ability to choose,” notes Corn. “They feel that their world is growing smaller. Our purpose is to find new things that will open them up. We use painting and sculpture to give them power of expression. Others find it more suitable to study a text through which they could raise questions about themselves and find answers.” “We take Jewish motives that, for instance, Jews in New York are less familiar with – but here in Israel, any child in kindergarten knows,” explains Flamm-Oren. “From that we connect to the illness. Before Rosh Hashana, the care provider finds out with the patient, where can he replenish? How can he recharge himself for the New Year? What will be sweet for him this year? “On Hanukkah, the care provider checks with the patient on what are his sources of light? How can he banish darkness? How can the patient use his weak power to overcome the big things happening to him? On Passover, we examine what is freedom and what is enslavement. On Tu B’Shvat, we plant hope.” “On just an ordinary day, we can take motifs from the Weekly Torah Section and check how we can leverage the biblical story into our life. There could also be joint study of Modern Hebrew poetry, guided imagery, or connection to nature. “The spiritual care provider brings with him an entire content world that a social worker or other therapist does not. He touches a basic place of the spiritual world, and when a person is going through a crisis, he has the ability to reach such places, because even when the body is ill, we sometimes discover the spirit is strong.”

Seeing the scenery outside

Rabbi Schultz, a Jewish spiritual care provider, tells us, “The first thing is listening to them with an open heart, accepting everything they say. Only after you make a connection with the patient, you start to try to understand what is happening inside, what is going on in their spiritual world. In training, you learn how to reach the major points, and it is done through a lot of listening.”

“The attentiveness of the spiritual care provider demands that he does not escape the difficult things he hears. People don’t always immediately express the difficulty, they rather imply it. Some 70% of my help, I believe, is that the person in front of you accepts your difficulty. “If someone feels fear, then your job is to enter that place of fear and uncertainty so he is not alone with his fears and then help him connect with his strengths.” The spiritual care provider meets with patients in unpleasant places, and their purpose – as tour guides in the paths of life is to show them the scenery on the way. “I received a telephone call from a social worker that one of her patients was diagnosed as a cancer patient, and refused to receive treatment,” says Rabbi Schultz. “The team had a hard time accepting her decision because she had good chances of recovery. This is a woman that has already been sick in the past, and underwent very difficult treatments, and she told me she does not want to go through them again. “She said she feels like a prisoner that cannot get herself out of the prison, asking me to get her out. Of course I wanted her to do the treatments, but you cannot force her. When we talked about her ability to choose, she felt that her entire body is releasing, and decided to do the treatments. Today, she is in a good state.”

Light shining through great darkness

Corn tells us about a 47-year-old woman, suffering of terminal cancer, who wanted to know how she could end her life without destroying her family.

“Except for cancerous cells, her body was packed with guilt that instead of being a mother to her children and take care of them, they are taking care of her. She felt that she is a burden on her family, the spiritual care process was to return her to maternal function. “During the process we showed her that she has power because of what she went through. We cannot say she passed away happy, because she wanted to live. However, at the end of her life, she taught her children that you couldn’t do everything alone.

“To her eldest daughter, who got engaged during her illness, she wrote: ‘I will not be at your wedding, but when you enter the relationship you will understand that from now on you depend on someone else as well, and it is a good dependency. You will get everything from this dependency. Do not see it as a negative thing.’ “She could write that from the illness of all places. The spiritual care provider taught her and her entire family that dependency can be seen as a system of give and take, and at the end of her life, she taught her children what should be important in life.”