What’s a bit of bribery got to do with dignity?

He never lets on But I know 'cause he once told me He let me know a secret about the money in his kitty He's gonna buy a dinghy Gonna call her dignity

“He never lets on
But I know ’cause he once told me
He let me know a secret about the money in his kitty
He’s gonna buy a dinghy
Gonna call her dignity…”
Lyrics to Dignity by Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue
Image source: WikiMedia

From the You Could Not Make It Up department:

Bribe-taking ex-chief rabbi invited to speak on ‘Dignity of Rabbinate’
Despite pleading guilty to corruption charges on Tuesday, Yona Metzger was not disinvited to Thursday’s conference

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This is the whole Torah

Torah Tidbits is a regular publication put out by the Orthodox Union Israel Center, and widely distributed throughout the religious communities. It has a mix of Torah relevant articles, with notes on the week’s parsha, candle lighting times, and more. It is quite popular – so much so that for some people, their Shabbat is not complete without a copy to read over Shabbat during the boring bits in shul.

Last week’s issue included an article – Yom Kippur’s Magic Moment – by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students of the Diaspora Yeshiva, which had a thoughtful piece about introspection and Yom Kippur.

I was struck by the following:

The great tragedy of our generation is that for many people, even on Yom Kippur, there is no longer a feeling of fear or trembling before G-D. Even when we fast and pray we are not bothered by the question of having been created vs not having been created.

You could have a whole discussion on that paragraph alone. For now, let’s accept that – from a religious perspective – fear of G-d is desirable, and that it would be worthy to at least wonder about whether the world would be better off if we had not been created. How does Rabbi Sprecher explain this? He says:

In secular society, there is no longer a feeling of shame and guilt regarding what we do with our lives. Anything goes! We have been degraded by our desires and pleasures.

One way of summarizing his explanation for the lack of fear of G-d is that it is all the fault of secular society. I will admit he seems to include himself in that group by saying “We have been degraded…” but it is possible he is making two separate statements: on the one hand, secular society has lost its shame. On the other, we have all been degraded by pleasure.

What I found particularly offensive was the reference to secular society. Sure, there are parts of secular society that are not a great example. But equally, if not more so, there are parts of religious society that are just as awful. Have there not been orthodox people in positions of leadership and power that have been imprisoned for offenses of dishonesty or corruption or sexual or physical abuse? Did they maintain a sense of shame or guilt?

What about the religious protests against army conscription? Are they a positive example? Even the protests against those who do not keep Shabbat are a disgrace. Since when was it a part of Judaism to behave like that?

On a less serious level, how common is it to see obviously orthodox people behaving badly – driving like lunatics, dropping litter, queue jumping, being rude and aggressive, and so on and so on?

It should be patently obvious that not all orthodox people are bad people. Far from it. I know many who are outstanding examples of good, honest, selfless people. They do not discriminate in their dealings with people based on their religiosity. By the same token, of course, I know many secular people who are also good, honest, and selfless. So, it ill behoves the author to put the blame on secular society. That is wrong. That is offensive.

I would go further. It would do the religious community a power of good if the Rabbinic leadership of the country took a good, long, hard look at themselves, and realized how deficient their behavior is – not only personally, but in setting an example by publicly and prominently denouncing the behavior of religious people where it is lacking. No (so called) religious person should feel it is right to behave badly. They should, indeed, be trembling and in fear of G-d.  They should remember Hillel’s declaration:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

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Rabbis, thugs, and thieves

Unfortunately, as well as the economy, there are other issues our politicians need to do a better job with. Like law and order.

This (from Ynet) is a description of thuggery:

Military police force attacked by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod

Riot begins when word gets out that police came to arrest an army deserter; rioters overturned police vehicle; large police force sent to rescue fellow officers.

Military police who came to an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Ashdod Monday night to arrest an army deserter were attacked by protesters.

The riot began once word that military police had arrived in the neighborhood got out. Tens of ultra-Orthodox men came, surrounded the police vehicle, and began to insult them. The rioters then overturned the vehicle.

A large police force was then sent to the scene and they rescued the military police and dispersed the crowd. Several police cars were slightly damaged as a result of stone throwing.

What part of Judaism does that behavior belong to? Where is the Rabbinic leadership that would allow such a thing to happen? These people who dodge the draft are – apart from being a bad example of what it is to be a Jew – stealing from our society; they take, take, and take, but won’t give what they are legally obliged to: army service. They make me sick.

I don’t want to criticize the police, but I wonder if the same low key response – no gunfire – would follow the same event happening in an Arab village. I hope the police are going to be equally forcible in applying the law as far as they can. (While they wait for the politicians to pretend to fix the mess. Ach, don’t get me started…)

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From the balcony

The Elder of Ziyon has an interesting story about an illegally constructed Jerusalem building being demolished (in Israel) with nary a mention in the press; certainly not in the western media. As is (probably correctly) pointed out, this is because the said building was a synagogue. To quote the Elder:

Jews bitterly complained that dozens of illegally built mosques are left untouched in Jerusalem because of “tolerance” but this Jewish house of worship was destroyed.

The story didn’t make it into the English-language press.

Because it was only a synagogue that was destroyed, not an Arab house..

Seems strange, but in the topsy-turvy world of today, not a complete surprise.

Then:

I looked at the archives of the site “Rabbis for Human Rights” for February 2014, and could not find a single article about the demolition of a synagogue, even while they have dozens of articles about Israel demolishing illegally built Arab homes.

The impression that these “rabbis” want to give is that Israel only destroys Arab homes, and that Israel’s assertions that the buildings are built illegally is a lie.

This story shows that they are the ones who are lying. And the fact that they did not want to publish a word to defend a synagogue being demolished shows that they aren’t rabbis in any real sense of the word.

Harsh. But, he’s right.

This unreported story proves that Israeli authorities will demolish buildings that violate building codes no matter who the owner is.

OK.

The fact that it was unreported shows that there are many people who do not want the truth that might disrupt their anti-Israel memes to be revealed.

Very true. The case is worth noting for future reference, the next time there’s a complaint about demolitions in Jerusalem.

However, before we go, one point the Elder does not make. It is unrelated to the universal application of the law. Instead, I have another observation and question, based on this:

The synagogue itself, run by Rabbi Avital Maimon, wasn’t illegal, but a balcony built above it was too large, and that balcony was on top of the synagogue roof. So the synagogue was destroyed, even as members of the city council tried frantically to delay the demolition to find a solution.

How in hell do you get a synagogue with an illegally constructed balcony? In many ways, that is a rhetorical question. I know the answer. Some – not all – have a reckless disregard for authority. So they build whatever they want and bugger the consequences. But it’s wrong. Any way you look at it, that approach is wrong. It’s even worse for a synagogue. What kind of spiritual leadership is it, that tolerates this? I have no sympathy, because there is no excuse. If only there were a possibility others would learn from this.

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One law

Let me make this crystal clear. Whoever is involved in these so-called price tag attacks – whether directly perpetrating them, or supporting or inciting them or even just turning a blind eye to the acts and the actors – should be punished to the full extent of the law.  For a recent example, see here.

It is not part of any Judaism I know or recognize. It is vandalism, thuggery, and the start of a slippy journey towards mob rule. It is wrong.

By words and deeds:

  • The head of each household must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.
  • The head of each community must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.
  • The rabbonim must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.

Failure to do so should amount to ostracism and exclusion. And since we know that these places are under the sway of rabbinic leadership, in the main, this is a test of such leadership. They could make it all stop.

Over to the rabbonim.

 

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Quote of the week (so far!)

“It is an embarrassment for the entire Jewish people that hooligans and bullies like these wear a kippa and tzitzit.  Their rabbis should wake up and speak out against this.  And if they don’t then they are not worthy of being called leaders or rabbis. The place for these people is in jail!”

Well done Dov Lipman. You can see the hooliganism that inspired Dov Lipman’s quote, here.

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When orthodoxy and bigotry collide

A shameful interview (on Israel’s largely unwatched tv channel 10) with the mayor of Beit Shemesh, as reported on by Ynet:

Mayor: No gays in Beit Shemesh

In Channel 10 interview Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul suggests Health Ministry, police should handle gay community.

‘Abutbul not worthy to be public official,’ resident says

What does the mayor of Beit Shemesh think of the gay community? In a channel 10 talk show interview that aired Friday the recently reelected ultra-Orthodox mayor, Moshe Abutbul, said that it was the responsibility of the Health Ministry and the police to handle the LGBT community.

Does this guy have a direct line to Putin?

Asked if the city has gay residents, he replied, “We have no such thing. If you mean what I think you mean – then no. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.” Asked how the city handles the gay community he said, “There’s the Health Ministry, let them handle it. The Health Ministry, the police.”

If there’s one thing the mayor proved, it’s that his city is neither holy nor pure.

The interview caused uproar among many current and former Beit Shemesh residents. “There are hundreds of gay men and women in Beit Shemesh and it saddens me that he thinks we should be treated by the Health Ministry and the police,” said Segev Israel Afriat, a resident of the city.

“He is a contemptible man who is not worthy of being an elected public official. He is unaware of the situation in the city, he chooses to see only the yeshivot. If he has a problem, he’s welcome to pack his bags and move to Bnei Brak. We will not be silent.”

Segev was being polite.

Elinor Sidi, director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, and former Beit Shemesh resident, added: “As one who was born and raised in Beit Shemesh, I can only lament the transformation the city has undergone in the past couple of years. Xenophobia, ignorance, homophobia and racism have replaced the warming of hearts which once characterized Beit Shemesh.

“I studied at a religious school in a tolerant atmosphere which embraced the other instead of rejecting him. Abutbul’s Judaism is not the Judaism I learned as a child. Beit Shemesh had gay residents long before Abutbul.”

Abutbul’s Judaism is not my Judaism; it’s not anybody’s Judaism. Indeed, Abutbul’s Judaism is not Judaism. He let the mask slip.

Abutbul’s communications director did not wish to comment.

Hello, Mr Communications Director. Time to communicate! Time to pass a message to Mr Abutbul: his bigotry, his homophobia, and his righteous mask are not welcome. He should go. Far away. And soon.

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A life in question

It’s the experiences of people like Racheli Ivenboim that measure the continuing failure of many – not all, but many – Rabbinic leaders to lead by example: to show what Judaism’s true values are. One thing’s for sure, this (from Arutz Sheva) does not do the Gur hasidim much good:

Chairwoman Racheli Ivenboim of the Meir Panim-Co’ah Latet food charities, a member of the Gur hareidi-religious community, has withdrawn her candidacy for the Jerusalem city council on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) list following threats, according to a Tuesday report by the Yediot Aharonot daily.

Ivenboim told the newspaper, “They simply took all the threats they can make against a hareidi person and directed them at me. They threatened to kick my children out of educational institutions immediately and to cast my family out of our synagogue and community. They told me everything hung in the balance and made it clear to me that my whole life was in question if I fulfilled my basic obligation to vote and be elected.”

Does anyone else feel sickened by this? It doesn’t matter that the threats might have been empty ones. I well understand the reluctance of Mrs Ivenboim to call their bluff.

Ivenboim’s candidacy had been the first of its kind, not only because she was a hassidic Jewish woman running for public office, but because she chose to do so with the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party. What’s more, she claimed she initially received significant backing from the hassidic leadership.

“I had a lot of doubts about doing this [joining the race – ed.], and what decided it for me was a decision from an important Hassidic rabbi,” she said.

And where is that leadership now?

Speaking to the hareidi-religious Kikar Hashabat website, Ivenboim clarified that it was not hassidic leaders who put an end to her candidacy, but rather local activists.

“Those who worked to block my candidacy were ultimately low-level askanim [hareidi political activists] who felt threatened by the fact that there was a hareidi woman planning to serve the public with honest intentions, not for personal benefit,” she accused.

She later warned, “The [hareidi] community needs to decide if we’re going to go according to the personal interests of some askanim, or if we prefer to listen to halakhah [Jewish law] and to the rabbis.”

Although she seems to be saying the Rabbis support here, I ask again: and where is that leadership now? Surely real leadership would be able to swat these threats in seconds?

Relating the story on her Facebook page, Jewish Home Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked said, “Until now, hareidi politicians have claimed that there are no hareidi women in politics because they don’t want to be. So here is one who wanted to be and they wouldn’t let her.”

You mean they lied?

The party issued a statement that said, “We are working to bring a list of women, hareidim and secular people to Jerusalem and to our delight are receiving many contacts on the subject, as a matter of fact, because of what was done to Racheli. We won’t let extremism and disagreement raise their heads in Jerusalem.”

It’s somewhat ironic that this is happening in the run up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I hope these low level “askanim” repent in time, and it’s not long before there is a female hareidi involved in politics. It would be an important bridge between communities, and a help to fostering mutual understanding. Meantime, perhaps all we can do is pray for change.

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That’s fine

Last week there were riots in Beit Shemesh about proposed construction over possible gravesites. Although I had not posted about this particular development, it did strike me as another failure of rabbinic leadership. What were these people doing?

In the interests of fairness – and with considerable joy at this positive development – we have the first signs of rabbinic leadership stepping up to the plate, and looking to show real leadership, as reported in Arutz Sheva:

Hareidi Rabbi will Fine Beit Shemesh Rioters

Eida Hareidit rabbis have had enough of violence over construction at Beit Shemesh site.

Rabbis from the Eida Hareidit stream have come out strongly against the violent demonstrations at the Golobentzich construction site in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and one of them has announced that the monthly stipend of “kollel” students who leave their studies in order to demonstrate in Ramat Beit Shemesh will be cut.

The demonstrators contend that there are ancient graves at the site, and that the construction work is disturbing these graves.

The announcement was made after extremists harassed Rabbi Sternbuch, Head of the Beit Din of the Eida Hareidit, and following a sharply worded letter issued by Rabbi Amram Ofman following this harassment. Rabbi Ofman and other rabbis within the Eida came out strongly against the rioting after Rabbi Sternbuch came under attack over his opinion that construction at the site could continue unimpeded.

A leader of the Eida Hareidit, Rabbi Avraham Simha Hanun, told students at his Beit Midrash in Beit Shemesh that whoever absents himself from studies in order to demonstrate at the Golobentzich site will pay for it from his stipend.

Rabbi Ofman wrote a special letter of protest in which he accused the extremists of “taking the law into their hands and making a mockery of the Torah.”

“There is a disagreement between the wise men of the generation, and kings are holding discussions with each other,” he wrote. “What do we care? This matter is up for them, and only them, to decide. It is, therefore, my duty to write a protest over the fact that our rabbi, the Minister of Torah, the Head of the Bit Din shlita is being defamed. This is an unforgivable crime, and he who defames a great scholar will rot in hell.”

The Eida Chareidit is an organization representing the more hard-line streams of hareidi Judaism in Israel. It is avowedly “anti-Zionist,” and – as opposed to the United Torah Judaism factions of Degel HaTorah and Aggudat Yisrael, and the Sephardic Shas party – rejects any form of political participation in the Israeli state, believing that its very founding prior to the messianic era is sacrilegious.

The fact that even the Eida Chareidit – which has often attacked the more moderate hareidi factions for not towing their ultra-conservative line – is now being forced to contend with extremists of its own, may indicate that the group is losing control of its more radical elements.

It’s a start.

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Amalek

Be warned; this is not pretty.

First, some context:

This nomadic nation was, in ancient times, Israel’s eternal foe. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt and were wondering the desert, the Amalekites attacked the weary nation, slaughtering the weak and elderly. The Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, later avenged the attack and defeated the Amalekites, but failed to completely eradicate the nation. Israel was then plagued with raids Amalekite raids. Today, the name Amalek is a symbol for evil and hatred against Jews, and Haman, the Persian leader who vowed to destroy all Jews, is considered a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites.

Source: the Jewish Virtual Library.

And in modern Jewish orthodoxy:

We are meant to remember Amalek’s cowardly assault both mentally and verbally. This is one of the “six remembrances” that we should recall daily. We fulfill this mitzvah through the reading of parshas Zachor in the Torah. (The custom is to read it close to Purim, as Haman was an Amalekite.)

Source: Orthodox Union.

And now, the lunacy (from Ynet):

Rabbi Shteinman: Yair Lapid – ‘Amalek’

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, leader of haredi public, instructs pupils to think about Lapid, Piron when saying prayer against enemies of Israel

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has long been known as an enemy of the haredi public, but now, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, a prominent leader in the haredi world, says that Lapid is Amalek, the archetypical enemy of Israel from biblical times. This Saturday, when the parasha of Amalek is read, Shteinman instructed his disciples to have Lapid on their minds as they utter the words telling of the great enemy of the Israelites.

Twice a year, synagogues read the three verses that command to remember Amalek and destroy his descendants; once as part of the Ki Teitzei parasha, which will be read this Saturday, and once as a separate reading that in itself fulfilled the mitvah of memorial.

The next Hebrew year, 5774, is a leap year and longer than usual, which means there will be 13 months between this reading and the next; certain interpretations in the halacha claim that the second reading must also be done as a mitzvah, to continue the tradition of reading the important Amalek verse every 12 months.

Like any ‘enemy of Israel’

Towards the upcoming Shabbat, in which synagogues will read the Ki Teitzei parasha will be read, Rabbi Shteinman has instructed his pupils to keep the finance minister in mind while reading the parasha, in order to illustrate the historic Amalek.

Sources close to Shteinman also said that he tells pupils to think of Lapid and of Education Minister Shai Piron when saying Birkat haMinim, which is said three times every day other than Shabat, and that is read with the purpose of destroying the enemies of Israel: “And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the noẓerim and the minim be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous.”

On the basis of this report, the good rabbi – and at least one of these three words is said in jest – seems to have lost the plot. What he is spouting is not Judaism; it’s the political posturing of a cult, determined to hold onto power, influence, and all that material stuff that truly spiritual people have less interest in.

His contemporaries should have a word in his ear; they won’t. His fellow leaders should put him right; they won’t. His followers should stop and ask themselves some serious questions; they won’t. His hate is a dead end that should be put to an end.

Which truly holy, spiritual man, will stand up and stand out and sort him out?

Calling the Chief Rabbi. Calling the Chief Rabbi. Calling the Chief Rabbi. Where are you? (Repeat, ad nauseam.)

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