Friday 19 September 2014

042) What They Forget To Tell Us - Reforms of the Ultra-Orthodox Part 2

So now the three Israeli students who were kidnapped and killed, were according to some, a punishment from above, for the new draft law requiring Haredim1 to serve in the army2. In a similar spirit, Haredi leader, Rabbi David Zicherman, threatened the Israeli authorities with ‘suicide squads who will give their lives for the Torah’3, if they were forced to join the army.

This is the way the religious far-right is beginning to think. I feel compelled to write about this, because many unsuspecting and well meaning Jews are pressured into supporting, financially and otherwise, institutions aligned to this way of thinking. And the fundraisers forget to tell the whole story.

Recently, Mishpacha magazine4 described in headlines, what it called the utter financial collapse of the Haredi world. Haredi children, it said, are starving and hundreds of marriages cannot take place because there simply is not enough money. Learning institutions have had to close, because donations are just not coming in as much as they used to. Haredim themselves blame this on Israeli politics, but the fact that many of them choose not to work, is probably the main contributing factor. Many Haredim believe that it is the duty of everyone else to support them.

It should be pointed out that much of Israeli Haredi funding comes from American Haredim, who generally have a different mindset to their Israeli counterparts.  American Haredim, to a large extent are more open to secular education and many do believe in working for a living. But they too are feeling the financial pinch, and are no longer able to offer as much support as they have till now.

Pardon my cynicism, but there may be another way to combat this financial crisis. Take a look at the net worth of some of our leading rabbis (in descending order): Rabbi P Abuchatzeira 1.3 billion shekel, Rabbi D Abuchatzeira 750 million shekel, the Gerrer Rebbe 350 million shekel, the Belzer Rebbe 180 million shekel, Rabbi Nir Ben Artzi 100 million shekel, Rabbi Ifergan 90 million shekel, Rabbi Pinto 75 million shekel.5 

Mishpacha magazine6 interviewed social workers from the Haredi city of Bnei Brak, who reported that ten percent of their teenagers were no longer interested in being religious, and that many others become addicts or even criminals. A new Sefer7 has had to be published, expounding laws for people who are in prison. Laws for people who break laws.

Coca Cola has Rabbi Landau’s kashrut approval. It ran a campaign where it printed people’s names on the bottle labels. Some Haredi communities asked Rabbi Landau to put pressure on the beverage company, not to distribute bottles with names of women, to their areas. I have seen pictures of bottles of coke that had the women’s names covered by pieces of paper, before they would use them. Religious intimidation is a tactic often used by some Haredi communities. Their leaders published a letter saying that according to Torah authority, or ‘daat Torah’, a certain Rabbi Rubenstein should be the next mayor of Bnei Brak. Of course this is what happened, and the new mayor got voted in unanimously. Someone, however, filed a criminal complaint, saying this was intimidation because it deprived people of their democratic rights, and was therefore illegal.8
The Shas religious party had come up with a clever life insurance policy for kollel students, at a cost of 30 shekel a month. This was opposed by Rabbi Shteinman who said that the ‘merit of giving charity to widows and orphans is what is saving this generation from destruction9”.The Toldos Aharon Rebbe said that if one finds a ‘non-kosher’ cell phone on Shabbos, one may destroy it even if it necessitates the desecration of the holy day (and furthermore, there would be no need to pay damages). The Satmar Rebbe offered to pay 100 dollars to anyone not voting in the Israeli elections. All you had to do, was hand in your identification documents to one of their offices before the elections, and the money was yours.

I have a copy of a Decree from a Beth Din in Jerusalem stating that ‘It Is A Severe Prohibition To Walk In A Public Space With One’s Wife’. It goes on to state that ‘because of the power of Torah, we know that all problems are caused by husbands walking in the street with their wives’.
The Skverer Chassidim have published a new Chumash for girls, that omits the entire portions of Bereishit and Noah. This is because the contents raise too many theological and moral questions. It also censored Lots affair with his daughters, the story of Yehuda and Tamar, and the incident between Yosef and Potiphar’s wife.

A Haredi magazine10 (I call it a Haredi magazine even though it was banned by other Haredim11), featured a cover story about the Boyaner Rebbe. Yet although going into great detail about his family history, it concealed the fact that the Rebbe’s father and brother were modern orthodox. His father, Rabbi Brayer is a doctor of psychology, who taught at Yeshiva University, while his brother holds a PhD and works for NASA. This information was considered too sensitive for its readership.

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, spiritual leader of Shas, published a letter12, prohibiting women from academic studies, saying ‘students should not even consider going to learn academic studies in any setting, because this is not the path of Torah’. This raises the interesting question of who will support the family if the husband sits and learns while the wife is not allowed to further her studies. In December 2010 a ban was issued against listening to the radio, any radio, even those with ‘kosher’ stations13.

It’s interesting that the Chazon Ish referred to the ‘Kanaim [fanatics] of Yerushalayim’ as incarnations of Jews who lived before the Torah was given, because they were motivated by zealousness and not by Torah. Rabbi Berel Wein said; ‘I do not believe that the Torah wished to create an entire society that is unemployable.’14

In the Kotzker Rebbe’s view, one who can cross over to the secular world and do productive work is greater than a scholar. 

Nonetheless, from the few contemporary examples cited above, it is clear in which direction Haredism is moving. What will happen to our Yiddishkeit when these voices become even more radical, and when their followers begin to outnumber the mainstream? Haredim have one of the highest birth rates in the world and, at present, number about 15 percent of the Israeli population.  However, as much as one-third of children of school going age, are Haredim. This means, that soon, one-third of the population will be Haredim. What kind of society will we have when such huge numbers of Israelis will not work, will not have qualifications, and will not want to serve in the army?

Not all Haredim share these radical views, but a significant number do. Are our fundamentalists mapping out a new de facto norm for future Judaism, or has it already been created? 

If moderate voices are not heard, speaking out against what is arguably an abuse of ‘daat Torah’, then they too may be guilty of perpetuating this abuse. If it’s not already too late.

Sunday, 31 May 2015



The following is an extract from a recent pamphlet distributed by Kupat Haír, a charity endorsed by many contemporary Gedolim: "..when you give a poor man money - you feel great, but....With Kupat Ha'ir you get to be part of feeding tens of thousands of poor people, each a evyon mehudar...We're not talking about people who need a bit of assistance...we are referring to twenty-five thousand people who truly lack bread to eat." 
What amazes me is that notwithstanding what is being described here as a humanitarian disaster and tragedy by any standards, if you were to offer these 25 000 people the possibility to work - how many of them would accept your offer? Any way, their leaders forbid secular studies which to a large extent precludes the possibility of ever being able to earn a living. Is it really such a mitzvah to help people who refuse an opportunity to better their lives and instead opt for charity in the first instance?
And the crowning insult to humanity is calling these poor people 'mehudarim' (glorified).

Counter this attitude with someone like Rabbi Soloveitchik who rejects views held by religious thinkers who see no religious significance in participation in secular society. He was fascinated by space exploration, established Yeshiva University and encouraged religious people to get degrees and professions. He said; "I hardly believe that any responsible man of faith, who is interested in the destiny of his community and wants to see it thriving and vibrant, would recommend the philosophy of contemptus saeculi (contempt for the secular)."

Rabbi Soloveitchik tells us that the concern should rather be for secular man, not secular knowledge.
He also warns us not to confuse religious faith for religious culture.

It now seems as if modern day Belzer Chassidim have inadvertently aligned themselves with Saudi Arabian ideology, which imposes a driving ban on women. The fifth and present Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, has thrown his weight behind a directive to expel school children in London’s Stamford Hill, if their mothers drive them to school. This is because in his view, women should not be allowed to drive, as this transgresses the Torah laws of Tzniut (modesty). The Belzer dynasty is no small insignificant sect. They number among the larger and more powerful of international Chassidic movements, with strong communities in the West, including Great Britain, Canada and America.[1]

In 2013, Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak, a leading Sefardi Hareidi, cited HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner (considered by many to have been the Posek HaDor or leading Halachik authority of the generation), who also said that it was forbidden for women to drive. This, said Rabbi Amnon was forbidden by Rabbi Wosner, “Betachlit HaIssur” (as an absolute and serious prohibition). He further said that “this is halacha because it is not tzniut for a woman to be a driver”.[2]

This is yet another example of the reform and radicalization of Judaism slowly moving across the globe, and an utter misrepresentation of genuine Halacha.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, said; “If there is a student with an iPhone, thgen he needs to be kicked out of the yeshiva...” He went on to say that he had in fact told a student who had such a device, to bring a bowl of water to class and “...I put it inside, it bubbled and was gone.”  He further claimed that he did not have to pay damages to the student who, he suggested, could go to the Beth Din if he had a problem with the decision.

This, however is not a new innovation of the Chief Rabbi. Even the illustrious scholar Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said; “It is forbidden to be in possession (of an iPhone) and one must burn it.”
Rabbi Kanievsky was asked by a businessman if he could use such a phone for his urgent business, and he replied; “It is forbidden to own one, and one is obligated to burn it. It cannot be sold to a non-Jew under the prohibition of selling weapons to a gentile.” [3]

1. In this article, the term ‘Haredi’ refers, for the most part, to the extreme far-right of the religious spectrum.
2. Yeted Ne’eman June 18 2014.
3. Jewish Press. Com Feb 9 2014.
4. May 2014.
5. According to Channel 2 Israel.
6. January 2014.
7. Asurei HaMelech by R Mordechai Agasi.
8. Kikar HaShabat April 2013.
9. Mishpacha quoting R Shteinman Nov 2011.
10. Mishpacha April 2013.
11. Yated Ne’eman Dec 30 2011.
12. Kikar HaShabat June 2014.
13. There may be some uncertainty as to whether this was a repeat of an earlier ban. Some of these bans can be viewed here .
14. Rabbi Wein’s weekly blog Aug 2014.

UPDATE; 16 June 2015

Talking about the growing shift to the right, this is what Rabbi Berel Wein says about the institution of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel:

"Another organization, which is seemingly bent on self-destruction, is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel... The haredi section of Israeli society has long abandoned the rulings and personages of the official Chief Rabbinate of Israel. (Yet) it has successfully infiltrated that institution, which it regards in contempt and derision, and has gained control - granting itself power, patronage, jobs, money and an entrenched bureaucracy. This is a remarkable achievement since it loudly proclaims that it does not support the institution itself nor even deem it to be legitimate.
Because of the ineffectiveness of the Chief Rabbinate and its disattachment from Israeli society, it also has very little influence or presence in Israeli secular society. Except for official marriage and/or divorce proceedings, the secular Israeli has no connection whatsoever to the institution of the Chief Rabbinate." (Rabbi Wein's Weekly Blog 6/11/2015)

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