Monday, October 31, 2016

We must not let extremists from any sector the ability to dictate the direction our country goes in, nor put a stain in our society

Used diapers thrown at soldier by ultra-Orthodox

While leading a group of new olim who are slated to join the IDF as part of the Garin Tzabar program, Education Corps soldier Tamar Shadmi was assaulted by ultra-Orthodox with dirty diapers and eggs for being a woman in uniform.

A soldier from the IDF Education Corps was leading a group of new olim on the Garin Tzabar army program around the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, when the residents of the neighborhood began throwing used diapers, eggs, and water bottles at her. 

The soldier, Tamar Shadmi called the police who evacuated the group from the scene.

Her father Alon Shadmi wrote on President Reuven Rivlin’s facebook page about the incident with his daughter. He said that, with al due respect to the President’s vision of “uniting the tribes” (ie uniting all sectors of Israeli society), President Rivlin still doesn’t know how to live with people who are against him.

Tamar Shadmi
Tamar Shadmi

“My daughter Tamar went on a tour of Jerusalem with participants soon to be recruited into the IDF via Garin Tzabar. Tamar is a commander in the IDF Education Corps. She is a woman who was walking through the Mea Shearim neighborhood with a group of new olim, but had to escape with them with the help of the police after the residents threw water bottles, eggs, used diapers, along with a Jerry can at her – all because she was a woman wearing a uniform,” the father wrote.

His post continued, saying “I hope that our president knows how we can heal these rifts, how to heal the diminishing confidence between all of the ‘tribes’ – Amen.”

President Rivlin saw the post and replied, saying “It is with great sadness that I read about this outrageous incident which your daughter Tamar went through. No soldier in uniform should ever have to go through what your daughter went through. There is no proper response to give a parent who sends their child – with pride – to serve in the IDF and then have their child subjected to this kind of violence.”

The president continued in his post, saying “however, I remain a believer and hopeful, because I know that these aberrations don’t constitute the majority. While there are a handful of extremists, I’ve met many dozens of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, young adults who are building cultural bridges and real trust between the various sectors. These are righteous people who only see the good in everyone I believe, because every day I’m exposed to initiatives led by good people from every sector of Israeli society to create connections between the different sectors and cultures (in Israel). I believe because there are people who – such a as your daughter – who serve in the IDF Education Corps and instill good and just values within the members of the garin. This is of course difficult, but we must not let extremists from any sector the ability to dictate the direction our country goes in, nor put a stain in our society. I ask that neither you nor Tamar stop believing. Yours, Rubi.”

The father then responded, saying “I was very excited to read your words. Just like you, I believe in strengthening good, and welcome anything which brings closer and unites (the different sectors). I believe that the Presidency is the central public institution which works to strengthen and unite the connections between all of the tribes, and I really appreciate it. Thank you for your response.” 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Lipa Margulies and Yudi Kolko Got Off Way Too Easy --- Even before Thursday’s ruling, the scandal had already cost Penn State well over $100 million in N.C.A.A. penalties, legal fees and settlements to victims of Sandusky’s sexual abuse. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison....

Mike McQueary Is Awarded $7.3 Million in Penn State Defamation Case

Mike McQueary, a former Penn State assistant coach, leaving a county courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., earlier this month. Credit Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
A Pennsylvania jury on Thursday, in a defamation case against Penn State University, awarded $7.3 million to Mike McQueary, the former assistant football coach who in 2001 told Coach Joe Paterno that he had witnessed Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a child in the locker room shower.

The jury, which deliberated for about four hours, found that Penn State had defamed McQueary with a statement in 2011 defending its former athletic director and vice president against a charge of perjury related to what McQueary said he had told them about Sandusky, a longtime defensive coordinator at Penn State.

Judge Thomas Gavin, who presided in the case, still has to rule on McQueary’s accusation that Penn State retaliated against him after he testified at Sandusky’s 2012 trial. McQueary was not allowed to coach at Penn State’s first game after Paterno was fired in connection with the scandal, in 2011, and McQueary’s contract was not renewed.

Even before Thursday’s ruling, the scandal had already cost Penn State well over $100 million in N.C.A.A. penalties, legal fees and settlements to victims of Sandusky’s sexual abuse. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

McQueary testified to a grand jury in 2010 that in 2001 he told Paterno, and later Athletic Director Tim Curley and the university vice president Gary Schultz, that he had witnessed the abuse. The testimony helped prosecutors eventually charge Sandusky, who is now 72.

The Pennsylvania attorney general subsequently charged Curley and Schultz with perjury after they told a grand jury that McQueary did not tell them Sandusky had committed something as serious as sexual abuse. The perjury charge was dismissed, but Schultz, Curley and Graham B. Spanier, the former university president, still face criminal charges of failure to report suspected child abuse and endangering the welfare of children.

McQueary, testifying at a hearing a month after the scandal came to light in 2011, provided the first public account of his reporting the abuse to Paterno.

At the time he witnessed the abuse, McQueary, who was a backup quarterback for Penn State in the mid-1990s, was a graduate assistant.

McQueary’s testimony in December 2011 helped show that Paterno, one of the most successful and beloved coaches in college football history, had heard that Sandusky had abused a boy at least a decade before Sandusky’s behavior became publicly known. Court documents released this summer showed that Paterno heard such an allegation as early as 1976.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Belzer Rebbe To Followers: It's Difficult For Me To Hide From The World - So You Hide For Me - 400 Pound Rabbi Lectures His Crowd About Human Weakness!

Belzer Rebbe: Smartphone owners are 'hiding from the world'

The Belzer Rebbe reiterates his ban on smartphones, says they are worse than television.

The Belzer Rebbe issued a scathing attack on smartphones and their owners during his annual post-Simchat Torah message to the Belz community, accusing smartphone users of attempting to "hide" and of suffering brain damage, according to the Kikar news site.

The Belz dynasty and its followers were almost totally decimated in World War II, but the one Rebbe who escaped Europe, Rabbi Aharon, re-established the Belzer hassidic court in Israel, where they grew to be one of the largest and most successful hassidic communities in the world, with congregations in the US, UK and Canada as well as Israel.

The Rebbe said that smartphones are "worse than television" because "they are so small, you can fit them in a pocket and they can put all sorts of impurities in the world, in the pocket, and in the brain."

"People like to hide with these devices and think that no one will notice they are using them, but the devices are not invisible."

The Rebbe's stance against smartphones applies even to those who need them for work.

The Belzer Rebbi has banned his followers from using smartphones for years. Only phones with special kosher filters to block immodest content are permitted. Even the popular communication tool WhatsApp has been banned.

Other haredi sectors and leaders have banned the use of smartphones.The Belzer Rebbe's ban follows closely upon the Vizhnitzer Rebbe who told his hassidic court the same in his post-holiday message. Last month one of the leading poseks (halakhic decisors) of non-hassidic haredi Jewry, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, who lives in Bnei Brak, ruled that a bride must cancel her wedding if the groom owns a smartphone.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Both lawsuits alleged the yeshiva and its leader, Rabbi Lipa Margulies, knew for decades that Kolko was molesting students, but chose to keep him on as an elementary teacher and “give him unfettered access to young children.”

Kolko and His Lawyer In Court

Brooklyn yeshiva settles with sexual assault accusers for $2.1M

A prominent Orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn agreed to pay an unprecedented $2.1 million to two former students who charged their teacher — accused serial molester Rabbi Joel Kolko — of sexually assaulting them, The Post has learned.

Kolko’s case marks the first time a New York yeshiva has paid off victims of sex abuse, experts said.

“This is unheard of. I am not aware of any other settlements,” said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and longtime victims advocate.

Secret settlements between Yeshiva Torah Temimah on Ocean Parkway and two boys — 6 years old when molested — were filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court a week ago when the yeshiva failed to make payments.

Lawyers for the two plaintiffs filed a judgment for $1 million — the total the yeshiva still owes both boys for the trauma they suffered.

Both lawsuits alleged the yeshiva and its leader, Rabbi Lipa Margulies, knew for decades that Kolko was molesting students, but chose to keep him on as an elementary teacher and “give him unfettered access to young children.”

Kolko allegedly had boys sit on his lap and fondled their genitals.

For 25 years, the yeshiva received “multiple credible allegations of pedophilia” against Kolko. It covered them up and even threatened families who dared to complain, the suits charged.

Kolko, now 70, got a controversial deal from then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in May 2012: He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment and did not have to go to jail or register as a sex offender.

In the newly revealed settlements, Torah Temimah in November 2014 paid one ex-student $900,000 and the other $1.35 million. The school admitted no wrongdoing.

The settlements could deter the protection of sex predators, Blau said: “If word gets out, other schools will think twice if they hear about abuse.”

Sex-abuse expert Marci Hamilton said cases are rare in New York because victims must sue predators before age 23 and institutions by age 21. A pending bill in the state Legislature would extend the statute of limitations.

“Even as teenagers, it’s impossible to process what’s happened to them by someone they trusted,” Hamilton said. “Asking them to come forward is much more than most of them can handle.”

Four other ex-students have previously sued Torah Temimah as adults, charging Kolko molested them at ages 11 to 13, but the courts tossed their cases as filed too late.

Yeshiva lawyer Avraham Moscowitz did not return several calls seeking comment.

Additional reporting by ­Kathianne Boniello




'Does it hurt?"

The boy and his teacher were in the front seat of the teacher’s blue Plymouth sedan. The boy was 12 years old, pale and shy, and new to Brooklyn—plucked out of another life in Toronto after his mother remarried. He’d lost his father when he was 7, and the promise of a fresh start had appealed to him—a new family, a new world to explore. But a few months had passed, and the boy was lonely. His new stepsisters ignored him; he had trouble making friends at his new school. So when a popular teacher who lived nearby took an interest in him, it seemed like welcome news....



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Haskel Lookstein's & Hershel Schechter's "Orthodox", Partially Clothed Convert! Blessed by the RCA and their thousand rabbis.

The Trump Freak Show is ending. So Sad!

 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump greets his wife, Melania, his son Eric and his daughter Ivanka after the third and final 2016 presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday night - October 19, 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Pool/Reuters)

Top rabbinical court nixes conversions by Ivanka Trump’s rabbi


Calling credentials of Haskel Lookstein into question, leading Israeli panel forces US immigrant to undergo additional ritual to get married...Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court on Wednesday night ruled it does not recognize conversions by US Orthodox rabbi Haskel Lookstein, forcing a woman seeking to get married to reconvert and calling into question other people converted by Lookstein, including the daughter of Republican  nominee Donald Trump. 



A middle-aged priest, A 26-year-old woman, A registered Jewish sex offender Get On An Airplane...The Jew Is Not Looking For A Minyan....

Recent Incidents Put a New Focus on Sexual Assault on Airplanes

A middle-aged priest. A 26-year-old woman. A registered sex offender.

Three seemingly very different people with one thing in common: All three were accused of sexually assaulting fellow passengers on airplanes.

Even before Jessica Leeds alleged last week that Donald Trump touched her inappropriately during a flight in 1979, many frequent fliers had concluded that increasingly cramped planes with fewer flight attendants walking the aisle seem to embolden gropers.

“Sexual harassment and assault is happening on aircraft, and we believe it’s happening more often because of the conditions on board,” said Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union. She cited cramped, confined spaces; alcohol and drugs; fewer flight attendants; and dark cabins on night flights as factors that likely embolden offenders.

Prosecutors said that the Rev. Marcelo De Jesumaria testified that he considered his touching his sleeping victim on a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 2014 “consensual because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as ‘coyness.’ ”

The woman said she awoke on the flight to feel Mr. De Jesumaria’s hand on the top of her leg, and then on her breast, according to the United States attorney’s office, Central District of California.
When Mr. De Jesumaria relaxed his grip, the victim went to the bathroom and used the call button to summon a flight attendant.

The flight crew reseated him between two male passengers, and law enforcement was waiting when the plane landed in Los Angeles.

Mr. De Jesumaria, 47, who previously served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement after being convicted of abusive sexual contact.

Mr. De Jesumaria had not been seated next to his victim initially, but switched seats by asking a flight attendant if he could “sit next to his wife.”

Heidi Anne McKinney, 26, was charged with touching another woman on the thigh and groin during an Alaska Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Portland on May 8 this year.

Airplane - Left - Yoel Oberlander - Right
 In another case, according to a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court in New Jersey, a woman allegedly assaulted by Yoel Oberlander on an overnight El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Newark on May 29 was seated between him and her mother when he began to grope her. She kept repositioning herself to shake his hand off her hand, thigh and breast. It wasn’t until her mother awoke that she asked her to switch seats, and eventually reported to the crew what had taken place.
Mr. Oberlander, 35, was charged with one count of abusive sexual contact on an airplane. He is a registered sex offender convicted in 2002 of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in New York.

Just how frequent sexual assault is during air travel is difficult to determine, but F.B.I. investigations into in-flight sexual assaults have increased 45 percent so far this year. The bureau said that it had opened 58 investigations into sexual assault on aircraft from January through September 2016, compared with 40 for all of 2015. That increase doesn’t include incidents reported to local and airport police. It also doesn’t account for the 75 percent of sexual assaults that generally go unreported, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice.

Among the airborne sexual assaults reported to the F.B.I. this year was that of a 13-year-old unaccompanied minor who may have been touched inappropriately by a man who had been drinking at the Dallas airport before boarding an American Airlines flight to Portland, Ore., and a woman who said she awoke on a Virgin America redeye flight from Los Angeles to Newark to find the man next to her massaging her genitals and rubbing his bare feet against her.

There is no centralized system for collecting sexual assault reports from airlines, and no special training for flight attendants in handling sexual assault.

“This is a unique crime,” said Ms. Nelson, who in addition to her union position is a United Airlines flight attendant with 20 years of experience. “It’s really not the same as asking, ‘How much did that person hurt you when they hit you on the head?’ ”

Unless police are called to meet the flight, it is up to the crew to decide whether to report disruptive behavior to the Federal Aviation Administration. When disturbances are reported, there is no separate category for sexual assault.

Jessica Leeds, 74, who said that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately on an airplane in the early 1980s. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
“It’s one thing to talk about the alertness to security concerns, but this is a crime that has not even been specifically identified” by the airlines, Ms. Nelson said.

An American Airlines spokesman, Ross Feinstein, said that it is not up to the crew to assess whether a crime, or what type of crime, occurred.

“We’re reporting misconduct that occurred on the aircraft. It’s up to law enforcement to determine if any criminal misconduct occurred,” he said. Regardless of the situation, all conflicts on aircraft are handled the same way by separating those involved, deciding if a diversion of the plane is necessary, and calling ahead for law enforcement to meet it.

But the lack of data on airplane sexual assault makes it difficult to study.

“It’s hard to assess what’s going on if we don’t know the extent of what’s happening,” said Elizabeth L. Jeglic, an associate professor specializing in sex offender policy and treatment at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. She said she did not know of any studies on airplane sexual assaults.

Still, with about 712 million passengers on United States flights in the last year, the number of passengers who are sexually assaulted is a tiny percentage of overall air travelers.
Unruly passenger behavior has been increasing worldwide, jumping 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to numbers reported to the International Air Transport Association by its 265 member airlines.

Alcohol or drugs were identified as a factor in 23 percent of the 10,854 disruptive incidents last year, the trade association said.

Those who commit sexual violence use alcohol to exploit their victims’ vulnerability and to lower their own inhibitions, said Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 

“The third thing that people count on when alcohol is involved is that it will excuse their own actions,” she said.

Crew members already receive training on serving alcohol responsibly. The Air Transport Association is now calling on airport bars and duty-free shops to voluntarily follow suit so that passengers aren’t drunk when they board the plane.

Ms. Palumbo said that there were other factors involved in sexual assaults as well.

“You don’t necessarily get to choose what your physical boundaries are from the people around you because of the nature of transportation,” she said.

Today’s smaller seats — some only 16.5 inches wide — put airplane passengers even closer together. (An effort by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, to regulate seat size failed in the spring.)

“You have the close proximity, and with the proximity there is forced intimacy,” Dr. Jeglic said.
There also are fewer flight attendants on planes to keep an eye on what’s happening between the rows. Although the Federal Aviation Administration specifies minimum crew staffing for each type of aircraft based on evacuation times, airline cutbacks in the travel downturn following Sept. 11 eliminated some flight attendants, according to a study by Diane L. Damos published in the International Journal of Aviation Psychology in 2013.

“If there were more flight attendants who were able to monitor the cabin and trained in what signs to look for, and we were actually able to identify this as a potential threat on board the aircraft, we might be able to better address this problem,” Ms. Nelson said.

The flight attendants’ union has been working with members of Congress and victim advocacy groups on legislation that would expand crew training to include dealing with victims of sexual assault on a flight, as well as to create new industry reporting standards. She said it was too soon to provide specifics.

An F.A.A. spokeswoman said the agency wouldnott comment on pending legislation.
An earlier effort by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat from the District of Columbia, failed in 2014. Her bill, “The Protecting Airline Passengers From Sexual Assaults Act,” would have required the F.A.A. to collect and publish data on sexual assault. Her office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which was involved in helping the Transportation Safety Administration change its passenger screening guidelines, has not been involved with the legislative efforts, but its spokeswoman said that, based on other research, more can be done to address airline sexual assault.

“There is a strong body of research that lets us know when people are given the tools to understand what sexual violence is, how best to intervene in instances of sexual violence, and have training and policies as well as those steps, it can lower rates of sexual violence and can be in the best interest of passenger safety,” Ms. Palumbo said.



For too long, believers have ignored warnings signs that their rights were under siege. ‘That should not happen in America,” exclaimed a left-leaning friend of mine upon hearing that a federal judge had prohibited some Jewish Californians from engaging in a ritual that Jews have performed for thousands of years. Unfortunately, it did happen in America, and it is not an isolated event. It is part of what Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito has described as an “ominous” trend that should cause “great concern” to “those who value religious freedom.” In United Poultry Concerns v. Chabad of Irvine, a group of chickens’-rights activists petitioned a federal judge to prohibit a California Jewish organization, Chabad of Irvine, from engaging in Kapparot, a Jewish ritual.

This tradition is associated with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and involves symbolically casting off one’s sins. Some Jews, including the defendants in this case, symbolically “transfer” their sins to live chickens. The chickens are then killed and, typically, donated to needy families. The judge initially granted the plaintiffs’ request and prohibited the Chabad rabbi, Alter Tenenbaum, from engaging in the ritual use of live chickens. Eventually the judge lifted the ban, but only after it was already too late for Chabad to perform the ritual this year.

The damage had been done and can never be entirely remedied. That a federal judge granted such a ban highlights a disturbing trend currently playing out in America’s public and legal understandings of religious liberty. I have written about how foes of religious liberty seek to re-categorize that liberty as an indulgence, doled out at the discretion and convenience of the majority, rather than a fundamental right that may be denied only in rare and exceptional cases. That desire is manifest in this case.

 In their briefing, the United Poultry plaintiffs lay out a vision in which private morality and individual conscience are replaced by a one-size-fits-all, government-mandated morality. Religious liberty stands in the way of their dystopian dream, and therefore they and their allies seek to diminish and ultimately eliminate it. For the same reason, every American who values living in a religiously tolerant country that respects individual conscience ought to oppose the plaintiffs’ project. The plaintiffs (“chicken people”) are not subtle about their hostility toward religion and its role in American life. In their complaint, the chicken people caricature religious liberty as a matter of religious people asserting that “they are above the law and can conduct themselves as they wish because of their religious beliefs.” The plaintiffs’ objections are not limited to the realm of law. They object to Chabad’s desire to “determine for themselves what is . . . moral conduct.” They argue that only the legislature can determine “legal and moral behavior in the State of California.” The plaintiffs do not want to control only Chabad’s conduct.

They want to control its conscience. The chicken people describe the Jewish tradition as a “societal evil” and mock Kapparot as “taking out vengeance on an innocent animal for one’s own shortcomings.” These are not quotes cherry-picked from the comments section of an anti-Semitic blog; they are quotes taken from a legal document that won a favorable ruling from a federal judge. The plaintiffs are no more subtle about the scope of their ambitions. They acknowledge that their lawsuit is merely “the first step” toward their “ultimate goal” of banning the religious ceremony nationwide. The legal arguments advanced by the chicken people make it clear that they want American courts to view the exercise of religion as an ordinary activity enjoying no special legal, moral, or constitutional status. The chicken people sued Chabad under California’s Business and Professionals Code, citing a provision aimed at prohibiting unfair competition. The plaintiffs admit that the statute applies only to activities that “can properly be called a business practice.”

They cite cases indicating that courts have previously held that religious organizations can sometimes engage in “business practices” within the meaning of the statute, but they do cite not a single case indicating that a religious ceremony has ever been considered a business practice. It is one thing to argue that a religious institution engages in a business practice if it runs a restaurant or a shoe store. It is an entirely different matter to argue as the plaintiffs do here: that core religious functions are business practices. Jewish synagogues typically sell holiday seats as a fundraiser. Some synagogues even auction off the honor of leading particular prayers. Under the plaintiffs’ preferred interpretation, this would make Jewish holiday services into business practices open to government regulation. The plaintiffs asked the court to take the extraordinary step of granting a temporary restraining order to stop Chabad from exercising its faith while the lawsuit progressed.

The plaintiffs were not content merely to sue Chabad. They also asked the court to take the extraordinary step of granting a temporary restraining order to stop Chabad from exercising its faith while the lawsuit progressed. The chicken people expressly asked the court to rule on matters of Jewish doctrine and to determine that Chabad and Rabbi Tenenbaum would suffer “no harm” if they were prevented from exercising their religion in the manner that they desired. In order to grant a temporary restraining order, a court must determine that the harm caused to the plaintiff absent the entry of the restraining order outweighs the harm that the order would cause to the defendant. In other words, the chicken people had to show they would suffer more harm if Chabad were allowed to exercise their religion than Chabad would suffer if it were prohibited from doing so. One might assume that, in a country that considers the free exercise of religion a fundamental constitutional right, a prohibition to practice one’s religion would be seen as the infliction of a grave injury.

Astonishingly, the plaintiffs did not see it that way. Even more amazingly, the judge, at least initially, agreed.

The plaintiffs openly dismissed the importance of Chabad’s fulfillment of its religious obligation as understood by Rabbi Tenenbaum. They argued that “the relative harm to Defendants” in preventing them from exercising their religion was “minimal.” The chicken people argued that not all Jews use live chickens for the ritual and that therefore doing so must be “completely optional” and a “mere preference.” They implied that Rabbi Tenenbaum preferred to use live chickens because doing so was “more lucrative.” Whether the chicken people’s explanation of Jewish law is the only valid interpretation of Judaism — it is not — is beyond the point. Even if such a “single correct” form of Judaism existed, American courts would be neither qualified nor constitutionally empowered to settle such doctrinal disputes. And yet, on October 10, the District Court for the Central District of California granted the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, without explanation. In order to grant the request, the court necessarily accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that the rabbi’s religious practice was less important than he believed. Such a holding is ominous. The court did lift the restraining order moments before the start of the holiday, but the plaintiffs had already been irreparably harmed — it was too late for the rabbi and his coreligionists to exercise their religion. Giving the judge the benefit of the doubt, we might say that he did not understand the cruelty that he was inflicting on Rabbi Tenenbaum and his congregation. But the judge’s inability to understand the importance of a religious obligation demonstrates precisely why the American notion of religious liberty has traditionally prohibited — and must continue to prohibit — judges from making such determinations in all but the most extreme of cases.

 Despite the dire facts of this case, there are hopeful signs. Some of the largest and most prominent religious organizations in American Jewry quickly condemned the judge’s anti-Kapparot order and defended Rabbi Tenenbaum’s religious liberty. In perhaps the swiftest and most forceful demonstration of this awaking, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, America’s largest association of Orthodox Rabbis, properly recognized that the judge’s initial decision represented part of a “worrisome trend” whereby “government actions . . . aim to limit religious expression when it clashes with values embraced by parts of society.” One practical step that religious organizations can take is to support the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in all 50 states.

 For far too long, religious Americans in general, and Jews in particular, have ignored warnings signs that their fundamental rights were under siege. However, recent events, including the Obama administration’s attempt to coerce nuns into providing their employees with abortion-inducing drugs, have started to alert religious Americans to the mounting danger. One practical step that religious organizations can take is to support the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in all 50 states. Opponents of such laws have successfully misrepresented them as being “anti-gay” and providing a “license to discriminate.” Such critiques are nonsense. Those laws merely state that the government cannot substantially punish a religious believer for exercising his religion unless it can prove that it has a compelling reason to do so and that it would not be possible to further that interest while preserving the adherent’s religious liberty. Defenders of religious liberty — and, in fact, of individual liberty — should stand united and refute the chicken people’s argument that only the government can determine morality and that an individual’s understanding of his own consciences has “minimal” value. —


Friday, October 14, 2016

"Thus in the haredi communities where the demand for gedolim is high, the threshold for making a gadol is comparatively low...."


 "Thus in the haredi communities where the demand for gedolim is high, the threshold for making a gadol is comparatively low. Soon after the passing of a reigning gadol, the best available talent is promoted to gadolhood. A gadol passes, and the next one is crowned; Kaddish is invariably followed by the exuberant singing of “Yamim al yemei melekh tosif” (Tehillim 61:7)—which is “Jewish” for “the king is dead; long live the king.”A gadol is not a naturally occurring resource found amidst the shtenders of a yeshiva. Rather a gadol is a social phenomenon characteristic of a community whose members are willing to talk, act, speak, and conceive of themselves as being led by a rabbi who is not merely smart and competent on a human scale, but who, on some level, has divine imprimatur if not direct divine inspiration."


The Market for Gedolim: A Tale of Supply and Demand

Sooner or later, almost every conversation about contemporary Orthodox Judaism veers into a discussion over the “gedolim.” Gedolim is the term used to describe leading sages who command reverence and allegiance of large segments of Orthodoxy, and whose ideological and halakhic pronouncements exert considerable influence over their communities. Moreover, within Orthodox discourse, invoking the gedolim serves as a powerful rhetorical tool. A viewpoint approved by a recognized gadol is automatically deemed in the bounds of acceptability, even if a majority find it wrong, novel, or idiosyncratic. By contrast, positions that fail to garner support of gedolim live under a perpetual cloud of suspicion, no matter how widespread amongst the laity.

On the whole, rabbis classified as “gedolim” are far more supportive of haredi viewpoints than of those associated with modern Orthodoxy. This  situation begets the question “why there are so few modern Orthodox gedolim?”In my experience, this conversation quickly turn to a question of supply. That is, who is that elusive Rabbi/Dr. who has the entire Talmud, halakhic codes and commentaries at his fingertips, who has mastered the literature of Jewish thought and philosophy, and who is also fully conversant in cognate fields such as the humanities, law, and social sciences? Centrist Orthodoxy seeks a gadol who understands the social and intellectual currents of the time, yet exudes authenticity as he articulates our timeless tradition in a timely manner.
These discussions typically have a strong “if only” quality to them. If only, someone would meet these lofty qualifications, centrist Orthodoxy would have its next gadol. If only there was a centrist Orthodox gadol, he would validate the approach, carry centrist Orthodoxy’s banner, articulate its halakhic and theological viewpoint, demonstrate how it is part of time-honored tradition, and defend its practices and ideology from inevitable attacks. If only there was a gadol, he would invigorate and re-energize centrist Orthodoxy with new religious inspiration and direction. 

Centrist Orthodoxy’s ongoing failure to find its share of gedolim, however, leads the community both to question whether it is even capable of producing gedolim, and alternatively, whether it should continue to feel inferior to communities that routinely produce them. Inevitably, the conversation shifts to critiquing the modern Orthodox educational system for failing to supply the needed quantity of gedolim.

The problem with the structure of this conversation is that it focuses almost exclusively on the supply side of the gadol market, while wholly neglecting the question of demand. A gadol is not a naturally occurring resource found amidst the shtenders of a yeshiva. Rather a gadol is a social phenomenon characteristic of a community whose members are willing to talk, act, speak, and conceive of themselves as being led by a rabbi who is not merely smart and competent on a human scale, but who, on some level, has divine imprimatur if not direct divine inspiration.

To be sure, on the supply side, anyone worthy of the title gadol must have certain baseline qualifications. But equally important, is that for someone to become a gadol—or, to borrow R. Nathan Kamenetsky’s felicitous term, for a gadol to be made—he must exist within a community searching for a gadol. There must be demand for a gadol, because a gadol is made at the point where the supply and demand curves meet.

Thus in the haredi communities where the demand for gedolim is high, the threshold for making a gadol is comparatively low. Soon after the passing of a reigning gadol, the best available talent is promoted to gadolhood. A gadol passes, and the next one is crowned; Kaddish is invariably followed by the exuberant singing of “Yamim al yemei melekh tosif” (Tehillim 61:7)—which is “Jewish” for “the king is dead; long live the king.”

In sports terminology, a haredi gadol is like a third baseman. Ideally, the position is manned by an all-star, or better yet, a Hall-of-Famer. But if none are available, then a solid regular will have to do. And while no team wants to field a replacement-level player, lacking better alternatives, that is what the team will do. Likewise, a gadol will be crowned because the position needs to be filled, or as the Sages put it: “Jephthah in his generation is as Samuel in his generation.

For this reason, it is not necessary for every hasidic rebbe to be Hall-of-Fame or even of all-star caliber. Rather, the rebbe has a role to play and he plays it. The salient point, however, is that the role is created by communal demand and is filled with (hopefully) the best available talent the community can produce.

To let this sink in, note just how important the communal response and expectations are to the making of the gadol. Upon being crowned, the gadol is addressed in the third person, and stories attesting to his greatness circulate in the subculture. Everyone stands to attention when he walks into a room, and he takes on a distinctive style of dress. These critical components of the making of a gadol have little to do with a gadol’s erudition or qualifications, but speak volumes about the communities’ demands and expectations of what a gadol is.

Each of these stage management techniques reflects the community’s desire to view itself as being led by someone who is different and apart. A gadol is someone whose intellect, piety, pedigree, or some combination thereof (this is where differences between various haredi subgroups become relevant), is keyed into the divine will at a qualitatively different level than other pious and learned members of the community. This qualitative difference is construed as authority, which generates the obligation to follow the gadol’s vision. In broad terms, this describes the state of affairs in the haredi community.

Turning to centrist Orthodoxy, the threshold for gadolhood is considerably higher. This community is both willing to hold out longer without a gadol and maintain higher standards for crowning one. To return to the sports metaphor, centrist Orthodoxy will only fill the position with a Hall-of-Famer. If there is a gadol worthy of the title, he will be treated as such, but, as many sports teams have learned, nothing assures Hall-of-Fame talent can be drafted. In these situations, several trends are likely to emerge. First, the shadow of previous gedolim is cast longer, which is why one can still find arguments about what the Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, 1903-1993), or, more recently, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015) would have said about subject X,Y, or Z. Likewise, the role of authorized interpreters of these prior gedolim becomes more important—here, too, we see the proliferation of different “versions” of the Rav that flowered amongst his students in the wake of his death. Finally, the community is likely to “borrow” Haredi gedolim who share certain sensibilities with the centrist community. R. Asher Weiss’s status in decidedly centrist Orthodox communities illustrates this phenomenon.

Despite their differences, the centrist and haredi communities use a fundamentally similar model of gadol-leadership. To be sure, R. Lichtenstein and the Rav stretched the mold of who a gadol could be, what a gadol might say, and what he might look like. But given how they spoke and conducted themselves, the portraits that R. Lichtenstein painted of his own rebbeim—Rav Yitzhak Hutner, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, and the Rav—and, more importantly, how disciples of the Rav and Rav Lichtenstein speak of their rebbeim, makes it clear that we are dealing with variations on how gedolim are processed in the haredi world. Put differently, the stories that alumni of Yeshivat Har Etzion (“the Gush”) tell about R. Lichtenstein are far more similar to the stories that Beth Medrash Govoha (“Lakewood”) alumni tell about R. Aharon Kotler than to stories that Harvard alumni tell about their favorite deans and professors. So while haredi and centrist Orthodoxy conceive of different species of gadol, they belong to the same genus. Each community understands gedolim and their authority to define halakha and its practice in substantially similar ways.

What then of the liberal Orthodox community? Does it have a similar idea of rabbinic leadership embodied by a gadol? Perhaps we can reframe this broader question in more concrete terms: Is Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber a liberal Orthodox gadol?

Examined from the supply side, there is a strong case in favor of R. Sperber’s gadolhood. Over his long career, he has demonstrated vast knowledge of the rabbinic and halakhic corpus, and in some areas is unsurpassed by anyone alive today. His books and articles display a mastery and virtuosity that rivals and often exceeds that of many rabbis the haredi community regards as gedolim.

And yet, to ask the question is almost to answer it. In my view, he is not processed as a gadol—not because of any lack in his Torah knowledge, but because he does not live or operate within a community that seeks a gadol or that thinks it needs one. His formal job title is university professor—a respected position for sure, but not one that inspires large numbers of people to seek and follow his advice on central matters of religious life. Nor is there a community that constructs its religious identity based on the values that R. Sperber exhibits and espouses. As far as I can tell, R. Sperber is viewed as a sage advisor, a scholar of the halakhic tradition, and in some cases even as a posek, but there is no community that stakes its halakhic identity on R. Sperber’s authenticity.

Occasionally one hears this impression expressed—incorrectly, in my view—as if people only ask R. Sperber questions when they are looking for a permissive ruling, but are not interested in hearing his more stringent interpretations. This may be true in a narrow sense, but misses a key structural point. The central issue is that there is no coherent community that sees itself as being fundamentally bound to how R. Sperber views the halakhic world or that sees his authority as something beyond that of a learned scholar. Thus, while people may ask for his ruling on a contested subject, this is because the practice at issue is sufficiently at odds with existing practice that the approval of someone with suitably broad shoulders—a gadol—is required. The reason that this move rarely convinces those invested in the culture of gadolhood, however, is that a gadol cannot be created ex nihilo for a limited and specified purpose. Gadolhood is less about the individual erudition of a given rabbi and more about a social fact, reflecting the experience of a community bound by a concrete conception of Torah, halakha, and rabbinic authority. This sense of authority cannot be manufactured by simply turning to a rabbi to ask a few questions here and there, no matter how great the rabbi or how significant the individual question. Thus, even should the market supply many potential gedolim, a community will not find a gadol unless it truly demands one.

Allow me to offer another example. When viewed from the supply side, there is a good argument to be made that my close friend, R. Ethan Tucker, head of Mechon Hadar, is qualified to be a halakhic decisor and, in time, perhaps a gadol of the community he is building. On occasion, Ethan and I have discussed how his views on a given halakha, or on Halakha as a whole, might penetrate the Orthodox discourse. My own view is that the Orthodox community will be forced to take him seriously when there are identifiable communities committed to living their Jewish lives in accord with his halakhic worldview. However, as long as the halakhic vision of Mechon Hadar remains a niche project, limited to those in the yeshiva’s direct orbit, the broader rabbinic world will feel little need to take it into account. As the Sages put it, “ein melekh belo am.” There is no king without a people.

The different attitudes towards gedolim are indicative of what is emerging as the deepest fault line within the Orthodox community. As noted, for all the differences between the centrist and haredi communities, they share similar concepts of gadolhood and the role of a gadol within the community. Less clear, however, is whether liberal Orthodox communities share in this concept or are looking for the same thing. After all, central to the idea of a gadol is submission to someone who stands apart from the community and whose authority is qualitatively different from the other forms of authority experienced in modern life. This norm of submission, however, runs deeply counter to the democratic social ethos of the American educated class, and in particular, the socially mobile, elite college-educated slice of American life that typifies liberal Orthodoxy.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the fault line between liberal Orthodoxy and other segments of the community runs just to the left of Yeshivat Har Etzion. Though liberal by yeshiva standards, the Gush has been able to produce and sustain a culture of rabbinic authority and gadolhood that is structurally similar to what exists in the haredi world. True, it is a less authoritarian model which respects the intellectual autonomy of its constituents far more than in haredi circles. Moreover, there is no doubt the success of the Gush model is due mainly to R. Lichtenstein’s once-in-a-generation intellectual mastery of the rabbinic corpus and his unsurpassed personal integrity, rather than the reverence of his pedigree, charisma, or fuzzier notions of a spiritual aura that often accompany haredi gedolim. What made him a centrist Orthodox —as opposed to haredi—gadol is that he was perceived as authoritative rather than authoritarian.

And yet, when R. Lichtenstein reached a decision or articulated a position, the entire social, moral, and intellectual force of the Gush, along with its subsidiary communities, and the secondary and tertiary elites, opinion makers, and influencers who function as part of its social sphere coalesced around the ruling and treated it as binding—even when individuals disagreed or wished things were otherwise. This impression, the sense of living under an authority, both pre-existed and outlasted any specific issue, and applied whether R. Lichtenstein staked out a position perceived to be on the left or on the right of the Orthodox consensus. R. Lichtenstein’s authority is a social fact that pervades the fabric of the community and in many ways, is what constitutes the Gush, together with its students and satellites as a community. Moreover, the binding nature of R. Lichtenstein’s views is tied to the fact that his mastery and understanding of halakha transcended that of even his most learned disciples. At some point, this quantitative superiority transformed into a view amongst his students that R. Lichtenstein attained a qualitatively different role within the halakhic tradition than of ordinary rabbis or scholars.

The question is whether the liberal Orthodox community can function under this model. My sense is that the answer is no. But whereas in the past communities may have answered no as a concession to the laxity of the laity, the emergence of open Orthodoxy as a movement suggests that this default “no” may be morphing into something of a prouder and ideologically driven “NO!” The rift between centrist and open Orthodoxy, is thus not only about who is a gadol in the narrow sense, but about the nature of gadolhood and the structure of rabbinic authority more broadly. This can be seen both from the fact that many lay led partnership minyanim reject the idea of having a rabbi as a matter of principle, and even from the founding statement of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which states:

The alternative and preferred model of rabbinic authority is one in which that authority is not consolidated into the hands of a few, but proliferated into as wide a circle of responsible rabbis as possible. In this model, the role of the rosh yeshiva is not to control his students, but to empower them to think for themselves, to assume responsibility, and to act on their own.

The IRF’s vision of “horizontal” rabbinic authority stresses the primacy of local, close-to-the-people authority chosen by the congregation at the expense of the naturally arising hierarchies of rabbinic authority that exist in haredi and centrist Orthodoxy. Moreover, at least in this statement, there is no sense that the degree of halakhic authority required modulates in response to the complexity or stakes of the question at hand, the reputation or authority of the individual decisor, or the degree to which the ruling runs counter to longstanding practices. Instead, “the local rabbi is encouraged to have the autonomy to think for himself and to take direct responsibility for his congregation and community,” because only he “can fully appreciate the nuances of a situation as it arises.”

This line of thought contrast significantly with assumptions of the rabbinate of  centrist Orthodox. Though centrist Orthodoxy likewise stresses the unique role that a rabbi can play in the lives of his constituents, in the case of centrist Orthodoxy (and even more so in haredi Orthodoxy), the rabbi also functions as the local extension of a hierarchical network of rabbinic governance where the gedolim sit at the top From the communal perspective, choosing a rabbi is not only about who will deliver the sermon each Shabbat morning, but is a choice of the rabbi’s “upstream” rabbinic network and the understanding that the local rabbi may become the vehicle who presses the authority of the recognized gadol on the lay community.

The liberal Orthodox critique of the centrist model is that in an era of mass education and radically democratic and non-hierarchical attitudes, rabbinic authority must be founded on well-defined, rational qualities, rather than the metaphysical and oracular qualities typical of the gadol discourse or what some call gadolatry. The argument is that essential to the modern condition is understanding that it is childish to think someone who wears a funny hat, dresses in clothes ill-suited to the local climate, and is addressed through awkward sentence structure is more elevated or connected to authentic divine truths than those who we engage forthrightly and travel among us.

I admit to having deep sympathies for this view, but I also place the burden on liberal Orthodoxy not only to supply an alternative theoretical model to the paradigm of gadolhood, but to demonstrate that its vision is attainable within the current social reality. There is little doubt that among a self-selecting group of highly educated and engaged members, it is possible to create a sense of commitment to halakha without recourse to gadolhood. Indeed, as I explore in my forthcoming book, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law (forthcoming, Princeton University Press), one of the most sublime experiences known to those who frequent the beit midrash is how direct encounter with the texts and ideas of the Talmudic corpus creates a compelling mixture of submission to the authority of halakha which emerges from intellectual exploration and significant autonomy. Here, there is little need for the input of gedolim or any other rabbinic hierarchy or establishment. But as one moves to broader populations, and to communities who are less engaged and Jewishly educated, the model becomes harder to sustain. In a radically autonomous culture, it is very difficult to promote voluntary obedience to a demanding system of law whose norms are out of sync with contemporary mores. Particularly in (post) modernity, the sense of commitment to and commandedness by halakha must emerge from somewhere. And if I am correct in sensing that the liberal Orthodox demand curve for gedolim is almost non-existent, then no matter how long we wait, nor how erudite the rabbi, a liberal Orthodox gadol is extremely unlikely to emerge.

This, to my mind, is the critical question in the ongoing Orthodoxy wars. To the extent that liberal Orthodoxy has moved away from the gadol-based paradigm, its critics are right to ask: how will it generate a sense of halakhic authority?

If liberal Orthodox communities can create a structure of commandedness that feels consonant, even if not identical, with classical forms, then eventually other Orthodox subgroups will come to recognize it—much as centrist Orthodoxy eventually gained the begrudging acknowledgment of haredim. But if it fails to do so, then claims that liberal Orthodoxy is engaged in a qualitatively different project than Orthodoxy will ring true, and comparisons to the trajectory of Conservative and Reform Judaism may yet prove accurate. So while I am rooting for liberal Orthodoxy’s success, it bears the burden of proving its vitality. From where I sit, the jury is still out.
An earlier version of this article was delivered at the “Orthodoxy, Halakhah, and Boundary Anxiety” conference hosted by the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America in March of 2016.