Sunday, November 25, 2007


Somehow, I'm on the President's Office's Jewish Public Liason mailing list. Now usually, I don't bother reading it, but this time I did. It was about the Annapolis Conference, scheduled to take place this coming week. Other than a perfunctory introductory and and closing paragraph, this is what the letter said:

This conference will signal international support for the Israelis' and Palestinians' intention to commence negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of peace between these two peoples.

It will also provide an opportunity for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors to recommit to implementing the Roadmap, with the U.S. monitoring their progress by the parties' agreement. Finally, the conference will review Palestinian plans to build the institutions of a democratic state and their preparations for next month's donors' conference in Paris.

I remain personally committed to implementing my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

This, I thought, fit in perfectly with last week's rant. See, Bush is "personally committed" to the "vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine." How nice for him, since he's not the one who has to live with the neighbors.

Once again, we're dealing with a country; an administration; a President who just don't get it. You simply cannot make peace with people who just want you dead.

Ironically, I'm watching the movie The Siege, and one of the characters, the terrorist Samir, has just explained that, "You believe that money is power. What you don't realize is that belief.. belief is power." Yes, that's the crux of everything I've been trying to say. What we don't understand is that belief is power. Belief... religious fervor. American's have largely lost their ability to truly believe in anything. So they no longer really understand what that sort of belief can do. I would have thought that, after 911, they would have begun to figure it out, but they haven't.

God save us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Real Americans and The War - A Rant

This evening, I was listening to WCBM (AM 680). I don't remember the name of the host, but he was talking to some families of soldiers who have died during the war. He then went on this mini-rant about how sick he is of all the war protesters, sitting in their BMWs, and bad talking his country. He said that his next guest was another "Real American," like the previous caller, and that he wanted us to all hear from Real Americans.

Now please forgive me, but I thought that one of the things that make us "Americans" is that we can say things against the government. So, kind of by definition, the folks who protest are Real Americans, right? It really bothers me that some people on the Far Right seem to have forgotten that it's our liberties that make us what we are! Let's not become a dictatorship, in the interest of preserving our American way of life, shall we?

And as long as I'm on the topic, I want to tell you that I am personally against the war - but probably not for the same reasons most people are. I am against the war because I don't believe we can win it - at least not right now. I am against the war because I don't think we truly understand our enemy, and until we do; until we're willing to do what is really necessary to beat the enemy, we are doomed to failure.

The Muslims understand the situation far better than we do. They say this is a war against Islam itself, and their fight against us is a Defensive Jihad. They are fighting a holy war; a war with (in their eyes) God backing them up. Any brutality they commit, or lies they tell in defense of Islam is sanctioned by God. And they are very willing to commit those brutalities, as Muhammed himself had no problem committing what we would, today, term atrocities, in service of his beliefs. They will behead our soldiers, as Muhammed beheaded his enemies, and as he sanctioned in the Quran. They commit acts of terror because they know that Muhammed himself committed them. They know that committing such acts will psychologically weaken us and our resolve. They believe us to be an enormous paper tiger, and at the moment, I fear they may be right.

I don't mean that as a slam against our service men and women, who daily put their lives on the line in service of our country. They have heart and ability, but they are hampered by political realities at home. People here have no stomach for having soldiers beheaded, so they protest against the government. They insist that the soldiers be brought home now, as if that were possible or even really desirable. They elect weak-willed representatives, who also don't understand the nature of the enemy or the war we're fighting, and make it hard for our soldiers to do their jobs. They think that cutting funding to the soldiers will make us bring them home sooner, but the reality is that it just results in more soldiers dying, which, frankly, also serves their cause.

So what should we do about it? I say we bring the mountain to Muhammed, as it were. Let's take the gloves off and show them what it really means to pick a fight with us... That's what I think we should do, but the Pentagon hasn't called me for advice yet.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dumbledore Outed - So What?

This month, Newsweek reported that, in front of a "full house of hardcore Potter fans," at Carnegie Hall, J.K. Rowling "outed" her character, Dumbledore. She told them that, in her mind, "Dumbledore had an unrequited love affair with Gellert Grindelwald."

I can't say how this news played out in other communities, but in at least some parts of the Orthodox community, it was fairly predictable. Disgust and anger. Statements about how no one should read Harry Potter books anymore, much less let their children read them.

And me? I say, SO WHAT?!

Now, I don't really mean "so what if he's gay." I actually do think that could be problematic, particularly for kids. It helps make homosexuality acceptable, and even somewhat normal - if you can call Dumbledore normal. It's clearly not what we believe in. The Torah is unequivocal in its condemnation of homesexuality, calling it a To'eva - an abomination. No, I mean, "so what if she says he's gay." She's allowed, and I'm allowed not to agree.

See, once the author releases the book into the public, it sort of takes on its own life, and the author loses some of the control of those characters. Much like the works of poets and other artists, the same work can mean different things to different people, and none of them necessarily mean exactly what the work-creator intended.

Now, if she had specifically written that into the books, that would have been different. But, wisely, she decided not to step into that fight directly - it would have hurt book sales. She wrote it with what could be construed as allusions to it, but not necessarily so. And I'm entitled to interpret those allusions as I please. Well, I choose to disagree with her as to the sexual predilections of her fabulous but flawed Headmaster.

But stop my kids from reading those wonderful books?! Books that have almost single-handedly brought Reading back to the forefront among this country's children? Books that have made reading "cool" again, and that are so skillfully written that both adults and children can enjoy them equally? Now that would be a shanda!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Man of the Earth

During his speech last week, the Rabbi noted that there's a not-so-often-quoted midrash at the end of the parsha that compares Noah to Moshe. The Midrash points out that, at the beginning of the story, Noah is referred to as Ish Tzaddik - A righteous man. At the end, he's referred to as Ish Adama - a man of the earth. It then contrasts the Torah's descriptions of Moshe. At the beginning of the Moshe story, he's referred to as Ish Mitzri - a man of Egypt, but at the end of his life, he's referred to as Ish Elokim - a man of God.

So Noah went spiritually downwards, while Moshe went upwards. Why? The Rabbi explained that it was because of how they went about trying to perfect themselves. Noah went for isolation. The world was a bad place, and the best way for him to stay right with God was to keep to himself; to work on himself, and his family. Moshe, on the other hand, was always outwardly focused. He focused on helping everyone else, and by so doing, was raised up himself in the process.

Now I found that fascinating, and immediately related it to a conversation I had, about a year ago, with a young man from a very charedi family. He told me about an article he had read, in Israel, about a group of secular Jews trying to start a Rabbanut Chiloni - a secular rabbinate. He thought it was funny, in an ironic sort of way. What does it mean to have a rabbinate if you're secular?

I answered that I thought it was very sad. Here was a group of secular Jews looking for some religious experience in their lives. But not like those Charedim! Anything but that!

And why? I think it's because, by and large, the Charedi community isolates themselves from all external influences. Of course the do it for their own protection, but in the process, they have often become insensitive to the needs and concerns of those outside their own folds. They take very hard-line positions, and often refuse to budge a millimeter - they're on the metric system there. ;) - on those positions. They are too often terrified of anything "modern," and very quick to point the cherem-gun at those who choose to view things differently. (Just look at what they did to Natan Slifkin! Moreover, look at how they did it!)

The Charedi community, at large, has not done much to endear itself to the non-Charedim, much less the secular. And that's a shame, because there's much within their communities to praise: Their commitment to Torah and its values; their commitment to family, and much more.

But look at the ones who have put themselves out to the broader Jewish community! Look at Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach - both having a clear Charedi bent. Look at Meir Schuster's Heritage House. Look at (my alma mater) Neveh Zion, which has been working with "At-Risk Teens" since before there was such a term! These, and many others, are the ones working from the bottom up - the ones growing toward kedusha.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Political Conservatism and The Greens

I listen to a fair amount of talk-radio. I find it interesting and informative, often dealing with things I wouldn't have otherwise thought of. I listen to NPR for the stories, and I listen to a lot of "Conservative Radio" on our local WCBM AM-680, with folks like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (I also listen to music. I sometimes even enjoy listening to 99.1 El Zol, but I'm odd like that.)

There's been a lot of talk, lately, on Conservative Radio about Global Warming. They don't like it. Well, nobody likes it, but what I mean is that they don't even like the idea of it. They view it all as nonsense. If they even admit that things do seem to be warming up a bit, they insist that it has nothing to do with us, and that we couldn't do anything about it anyway.

Now let's say, for the moment, that they're right: There is no such thing as Global Warming, and if there is, there's nothing we could do to stop it anyway. I can live with that as a possibility. But why is it that what follows seems to be, "so let's pollute the air, water and earth as much as we feel like?" In other words, from a Conservative perspective, is there something wrong with taking care of our environment?

Years ago, I heard Rush talking about nuclear proliferation. There was something about some environmentalist wacko group (and many of them are wackos) complaining that we could already destroy the planet and somesuch. I don't remember the issue exactly, but I do remember Rush's response. He said, "I simply don't believe that God would allow us to destroy the planet." Now I thought about that statement. I agreed with him. God seems to have plans for us, and wiping all life off the Earth doesn't seem to be included in those plans - at least not yet. But I thought about it more, and discovered that, while I still agree with that, I don't think I do quite the way he seemed to.

See, we believe that God doesn't like to do things outside of derech tevah - Natural Law. And that even when He does do nisim - miracles - He does them such that they at least fall within Natural Law somehow. God didn't just make the Egyptians pursuing us, as we left Egypt, disappear or suddenly drop dead in their tracks or fall into a black hole that just happened to pass by at that moment. He also didn't just teleport us across the water. Ostensibly, He could have, but He didn't. He chose to work with Natural Law, even when performing a miracle. That's why the Torah specifically tells us about the winds that blew all night before the Red Sea split, for example.

So I decided that it would only make sense for God to do His work to protect us from ourselves, also through natural means. In other words, Rush was right: God isn't going to allow us to destroy the planet, but perhaps some of the mechanisms He's using are the environmentalist wacko groups who put political pressure on the EPA and the rest of the Gov't. That, while their beliefs and methods may be extreme and even illogical, they too have a purpose in God's world. (Which is ironically amusing considering that many of them are also rabid Atheists!)

The same thing applies to Global Warming. Ultimately, God may want to use Global Warming as a mechanism for His works. The US put pressure on Israel to make Gush Katif Judenrein. The day Israel finally complied and kicked the Jews out, Hurricane Katrina kicked hundreds of thousands of Americans out of their homes. Environmental groups point to Katrina as a harbinger of cataclysmic events that will be brought on by Global Warming. I see God's fingerprints on that. So maybe they're right - perhaps we can't do anything to stop it, really. Be we can do the best we can, can't we?

Lo alecha ha'm'lacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben-chorim l'hitbatel mimena. It's not up to you to finish the job, but that doesn't free you from your responsibility to do what you can.

G'mar chatima tova to all!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cardinal Lustiger, A"H

A friend of mine forwarded me this brief article, which can also be heard from its source at NPR.

The following commentary was given by Scott Simon in NPR radio, Saturday morning August 11, 2007:

"There used to be a joke in Paris, what is the difference between the chief rabbi in France and the Cardinal of Paris? The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!

Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger was buried yesterday; he died this week of cancer. He was born almost 81 years ago to Polish parents who ran a dress shop in Paris. When the German army marched in his parents sent him and his sister into hiding with a Catholic family in Orleans. Their mother was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

In 1999 as Cardinal of Paris, Jean Marie Lustiger took part in reading of the names of France's day of remembrance of Jews who had been deported and murdered. He came to the name Gesele Lustiger, paused, teared and said, my mama. The effect in France during a time of revived anti-Semitism was electric.

He was just 13 and in hiding when he converted to Catholicism, not to escape the Nazis he always said, because no Jew could escape by conversion, and not of trauma, he said. Among his most controversial observations, I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyem. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.

There were a great number of rabbi's who consider his conversion a betrayal. Especially after so many European Jews had so narrowly escaped extinction. Cardinal Lustiger replied, to say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers.

I am as Jewish as all other members of my family that were butchered in Auschwitz and other camps.

He confessed to a biographer that he had a spiritual crisis in the 1970's, provoked by persistent anti-Semitism in France. He studied Hebrew, and considered emigrating. He said I thought that I had finished what I had to do here, he explained and I might find new meaning in Israel. But just at that time the pope appointed him bishop of Orleans. He found purpose he said in the plight of immigrant workers. Then he was elevated to Cardinal. The Archbishop of Paris.

Jean Marie Lustiger was close to the Pope. They shared a doctrinal conservatism. He also battled bigotry and totalitarianism. For years Cardinal Lustiger's name was among those who was considered to succeed John Paul. Without putting himself forth, the Cardinal joked that few things would bedevil bigots more than a Jewish Pope.

They don't like to admit it he said, but what Christians believe, they got - through Jews.

The funeral for Cardinal Lustiger began at Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday, with the chanting of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead."

What an unfortunate, confused man he was. How do you shine the light of Torah to the nations, by turning away from it? May God have mercy on his Holocaust-survivor's soul.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's the Little Things...

We spent Shabbat in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. The Rabbi's drasha was very interesting. I've been thinking about it quite a bit since...

He was talking about the Minneapolis bridge collapse that has occupied so much time on the news lately. He said that what failed were the little things; the bolts and whatnot, and that the engineers had been saying that there were problems for a long time. But the major structures were intact, and things seemed okay... Well, those little things, that hadn't been attended to, collapsed under the massive weight of the bridge.

He then likened the bridge collapse to the fights we all have daily within ourselves. He, correctly, pointed out that, it's not the big things we wrestle with. Most Orthodox Jews don't have difficulty with things like belief in God or keeping Kosher and Shabbat. We're used to it, and we do it. No, it's the little things that begin to wear at the seams. Going to minyan every day, not to mention for 3 services. Setting time to learn on a regular basis. Complimenting our spouses, and children, for the good that they do, instead of just pointing out their faults. Things like that, he said, are the underpinnings that we tend to forget about, because they're small. But when they go, the whole structure can go with them.

I liked it, so I thought I'd share.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Accentuate the Negative?

In response to a recent post, one reader made the following comment:

Lvnsm27 said... lashon hara is more interesting to people. But we need to think of the consequences. People just think of the popularity they'll have. They don't realize the punishment for this aveirah...

She's right, of course, but it did make me think about the emphasis she, and many others put on things. Why do we always tend to think about things in terms of "the punishment for this aveirah?" Why do we feel like we have to say, "I'm a bad boy, but please don't punish me, Abba?"

Wouldn't it be better to look at it from a more global perspective? Speaking Loshon HaRah is a bad thing to do for so many reasons; on so many levels. It's bad personally. It's bad communally. It's bad for business. It's just... bad. It gives us an excuse not to improve ourselves because, in our minds, we're better than the competition. But that still doesn't make us better. It doesn't really help us.

There are so many better reasons, in my mind, for us to avoid speaking Lashon HaRah, or committing other aveirot for that matter. Yet we usually wind up speaking in terms of punishment. Our teachers teach it to us in terms of punishment.

It's weird to me.

But then, maybe that's just my not liking the idea of being a little boy again...

Perfidious Jews

Interesting post about Pope Benedict XVI's decision to re-adopt the Tridentine Mass. And for those of you looking for the meaning of the word, Perfidious... well, there it is.

The American Israeli Patriot: The Tridentine Mass: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Irony Wall?

This isn't news. Just something I was thinking about the other day, for no apparent reason. (Actually, I think I was listening to an NPR piece about the U.S. border).

On July 25, 2003, President George W. Bush said (in reference to the Israeli Separation Wall), "I think the wall is a problem." This "wall" has drastically reduced the number of successful Islamic attacks in Israel.

In November, 2006, that same President Bush signed a bill authorizing the construction of a fence along one-third of the 2,100-mile (3,360-kilometer) U.S. border with Mexico.

Can someone please explain that to me?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Well, Waddaya Want?

I had an interesting conversation with someone who had objected to one of my earlier posts. Among his complaints, which were valid, was that you have to be careful about what you post online, as it goes out to the Internet, and you can't control who will read what you write. Better to avoid controversial topics.

So last week, after posting nothing whatsoever for quite some time, I posted a Torah thought on Mishle. I then forwarded him the link to it, partly because I thought he might be interested in what I had to say (or ask, rather), and partly to demonstrate that I was no longer posting the kind of things he had found so objectionable.

His response surprised me, a little.

He said (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember it word-for-word), "I just glanced at it and didn't have the chance to read it through yet, but it looked like it was just Torah." When I said that's what it was, he said, "Ah - that's all? I don't need to read that!"

Now, this was not someone who doesn't value Torah, and I know he didn't mean that Torah isn't important. The way I took it was that there is (thank God) lots of Torah available on the Internet, and you couldn't possibly sit and read it all. But, now, if it had been something more titillating, it would be worth really reading.

I do understand that perspective, of course, but I find it to be a bit like speaking out of both sides of one's mouth. On the one hand, I shouldn't write about things that are controversial. On the other hand, things that are more pareve aren't very interesting to read.

This is the same reason that most people speak Loshon Ha'Rah. With the exception of the folks who are actually trying to hurt people with their speech, most people talk about other people because other people find it interesting, and everyone wants to be listened to. Nobody wants to be boring. Not even those who genuinely are.

So if I'm not supposed to speak Loshon Ha'Rah, and I'm supposed to stay clear of things that are controversial, and Torah topics are boring, what should I write about?! I know, I know... No one says I have to write about anything. No one says I have to write at all! But I like to write, and it's flattering to think that people read it.

I guess I'm going to continue writing what I write anyway, and like I said in my first post here, if you don't like what you read, feel free not to. But this was sort of eye-opening to me... a little... but not entirely... which is, frankly, sad.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My wife and I were talking, this evening. We do that on occasion. Somehow we got onto the topic of the overwhelming number of people on anti-depressant meds. It got me to thinking: Is it bad medicine, i.e. are doctors just over-diagnosing Depression and doling out pills like candy in an effort to make us all Happy People? Or could it be that, societally, we truly are increasingly depressed?

While I think there is likely much of the former, I also think that the latter is very true. Somehow we, and I mean in Western Society at large - not just the Orthodox Community - are increasingly unhappy in our lives. We've lost sight of the ideal expressed in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 4, Mishna 1) that says, "Eizeh hu ashir? Ha'same'ach b'chelko" - "Who is wealthy? He who is happy with what he has."

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. At first, I didn't really appreciate the wisdom of those words. To me, they seemed to be anti-ambition: "Why can't you just be happy with what you have?" This never really satisfied me as a child, or as an adult. So I just chalked it up as one of those pithy sayings you see sometimes, that sound good but aren't really very useful.

Lately, though, I've taken another view on it. My wife and I have been working very hard on improving ourselves, personally and financially. So, we've been reading books and listening to books-on-tape (well, CD's really.) Among them are things like Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" and "The Secret," by Rhonda Byrne. Both books are very similar in many ways, speaking of the importance of a positive attitude, and of giving charity. (Ayn Rand is doing backflips in her grave.)

One of the concepts that both those books, and others we've read, suggest is that the starting point for everything else they're trying to teach is Gratitude. That's the foundation, without which you really can't get anywhere.

Now I don't know about you, but that wouldn't have been my thought. I would have said something like, Organization or Creative Thinking or Persistence, etc. So I had to think about that for awhile, and have concluded that it's true.

Gratitude is the appreciation of what you already have. It doesn't mean you don't want more, but it does mean that your life won't be governed by what you don't have. If that's your focus, you'll never be happy - because there will always be something you don't have, and you'll be consumed by your wanting of it. You'll convince yourself that, if you just had that thing, you would be happy. And so, even if you inherited Bill Gates' fortune, you wouldn't be happy.

On the other hand, if you appreciate what you do have, you'll always be happy. You can focus on increasing material wealth, if that's your bent, or anything else you want to work on, and you will be happy. Once you've accomplished that, then you're ready to use the positive energy or Law of Attraction or good karma or whatever you want to call it, to your benefit.

So that's what I now believe Chaza"l meant in Pirkei Avot. Be grateful, and the rest will come.

But today we're continually fed a stream of negativity. Gasoline prices are going up. The war in Iraq. Bush is bad. Global warming is going to kill us all in 15 minutes. I mean, when was the last time you saw a happy story on the news? Alright, I don't mean the ones they play at the very end, showing the duck who's learned how to rollerblade or the kid who saved a puppy trapped in a meat grinder. I mean a real newsworthy story about something good. Almost never. And we're bombarded by media all day, every day.

No wonder we're all depressed!

The trick seems to be in getting back to gratitude. I'm working on that. So thanks for reading this post.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Midot Award

Last night, my oldest daughter graduated high school. We're very proud of her.

She didn't win awards last night, but that doesn't bother me. I know who she is, and so does she. So even the "Midot Tovot Award" went to someone else.

A boy came from Silver Spring (about an hour away) because he was "close friends" with two of the graduates. My daughter wasn't one of his friends, but somehow, after graduation, this kid wound up having no place to go. His friends didn't want him messing up their after-grad party plans.

So he came to our house, and my daughter and her friend drove him home. She didn't go to the after-grad party.

The Midot Tovot Award winner did.

But I still think she won.

Etz Chaim?

I'm learning Mishle (Proverbs) for the first time. I'm back on my track of trying to go through Nach, at least so's I can get some idea as to what's in there. Most kids - even Orthodox kids - aren't exposed to very much Nach in their school careers. This is especially so with boys, who are instantly shunted to Mishna and Gemara once they're old enough. Nearly 20 years ago, while trying to learn a particularly difficult piece of Aggadic Gemara, I realized that part of the reason I was finding it so difficult was that I didn't know the events and people the Gemara was referring to. So I embarked on this effort.

Anyway, enough about that.

In Proverbs, Chapter 3, there are two verses that I find interesting, both in terms of their placement, and in terms of reference. I'm including the Hebrew here both to show off that I can (and that I'm practicing typing in it), and because the verses are well known in Hebrew.

17: "דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבותיה שלום" - It's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.
18: "עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאשר" - It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate.

Now here's what interests me:

First, we say these verses during davening, when putting the Torah away. Except, we say them in the reverse order. I'm wondering why?

Second, these verses, usually quoted in reverse, as mentioned, are often used by rabbis as referring to Torah. In other words, when it says "It is a tree of life...", the it is said to be Torah.

The problem is that's not what the verses seem to indicate.

To find what the verses are referring to, you have to go back until you find the apparent definition of "It" (or "She", if you want to be technical). So let's go back some verses:

16: Length of days is in its right hand; in its left hand are riches and honor.
15: It is more precious than pearls, and all your desirable things cannot be compared to it.
14: For its commerce is better than the commerce of silver, and its gain is better than fine gold.

Nope. None of these tell us what it is. You have to go all the way back to verse 13.

13: Fortunate is the man who has found wisdom and a man who gives forth discernment.

Aha!! We've found the elusive it! It is WISDOM.

So Wisdom is the tree of life.... Wisdom's ways are pleasant.

That does make sense. The problem is that rabbis all over the place don't tell us that. They say it means Torah. Now I suppose you could say that Torah is the Mekor Chachma - the source of Wisdom, and I wouldn't argue that point. But it does seem a little bit dishonest to tell us that the verse is referring directly to Torah, when it clearly isn't.

Once again, I don't, as yet, have an answer to these. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Maybe Talk Isn't So Cheap

I recently posted a blog entry about something having to do with sexual abuse (Other than my Touched By a Rabbi post). It related a conversation I had with someone about it, and what might be done about it. I made efforts to keep things anonymous and not to let identifiable information slip, but evidently I didn't go nearly far enough in that. Upon request, I pulled the post, first temporarily; now permanently. It seems that, in my efforts to describe my struggle to decide what to do in a particular situation, I may have hurt people, and jeopardized the entire thing. I hope I didn't.

To be honest, I didn't think there were more than 5 or 6 people who actually read my blog. (My suspicion is that, other than the previous two posts, there aren't.) And I guess I failed to really understand the reach of these things. After a long conversation with someone I respect (more now, even, than before,) I think I understand it better.

Writing helps me sort out how I feel about things. It's cathartic, somehow, to set down my thoughts, sift through them, and try to really get to the crux of it all. But they say that Abraham Lincoln used to write letters to all sorts of people, that he would then put in his desk and never send. I guess that was one post I should have never let out either.

In any case, I'm sorry, and am pretty much done blogging on this topic. I do hope you'll continue reading, though. It's nice to think someone actually reads this.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Touched by a Rabbi

In it's February 23rd issue, Phil Jacobs, of the Baltimore Jewish Times, led with a cover story called "Today, Steve is 25." (I'd link to it, but the article seems to be no-longer-available on the JT website.) The article was important because it began to open a dialog in our community that has been long repressed: Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community. This article generated a lot of response, both the to BJT and to Phil, personally. (See Phil's blog - As of this post, pay particular attention to the articles: "Way Too Much Fear," "It's About the Victims," and "Is This Orthodox Bashing?")

Two weeks later, the article was followed up by a short piece describing Phil's visit to a local weekly kiddush, where many of the participants are men (age ranges from 20's to 40's) who were abused by teachers and others in their youth. (Again, I would link to it if I could find it.) These guys talk about the subject most weeks, both reliving past events, and discussing things that are going on currently. I know this because I periodically go to the kiddush as most of these guys are my friends. The title of this post, in fact, is something one of them came up with.

Sexual abuse, particularly by an authority figure, is a terrible thing. It's insidious. It messes with people's lives in ways they can't even explain. It effects their marriages, their relationships with their children, their self-esteem, their careers. In some cases, it leads to further abuse, as the abused become abusers themselves. For some victims, there can be tremendous guilt as though they might be partially to blame. This is especially so in cases where a boy was abused and his own arousal was required for the abuse to take place.

It's horrible, and I will never say anything to defend the perpetrators of these crimes.

But I have a few questions:

  1. The problem, historically, has been one of power. The authority figure held power over the victim. His word was more likely to be believed than that of the victim. Sometimes the power came from powerful families whose names were seen as better not besmirched.

    The problem today is that the power is shifting to the other extreme: to the victims. One has only to say that there has been an abuse, and the "abuser" can be destroyed, even without proof. "Where there's smoke, there's fire," is the attitude, and while that may protect some people from a real danger, it may also destroy a career and/or a family, even if the person is innocent. As Ray Donovan put it, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"

    A byproduct of this is that good-quality teachers and leaders are sometimes choosing to stay away from these fields that could potentially cost them so much with so little effort. I know personally of one situation in which an excellent educator, with many years of experience, is being pressured by his family to leave teaching because of their fear of this. It will be a terrible loss if he does.

    So how do we structure this to both protect our children (and even young adults) from sexual predators disguised as teachers and community leaders, while also protecting good teachers and community leaders from unfair accusations?

  2. How should the community react towards a person who has been accused, or even convicted? Should we ostracise them? Place them in cherem? Should we refuse to do business with them, have them in our shuls or even to acknowledge them on the street?

    How about their families? Should we hold them accountable? What about parents who know that their son is a predator, and try to protect him instead of turning him over to the police?

    Similarly, what about school administrators who knowingly get rid of a problem teacher by sending him elsewhere (which has happened many times)? Should they be punished too? How?

  3. Finally, for whatever we do decide is the appropriate community action, for how long? I mean, a teacher who abuses students should never be allowed to teach kids again, as far as I'm concerned. The recidivism rate is too high. The Torah tells us "Don't put a stumbling block before a blind man." Putting a predator back in with the prey would just be asking for trouble. But if, for example, ostracism is part of the community reaction, should he be ostracised forever? And again, how about those that enabled him to continue?

These are serious issues that need to be considered and addressed by our community leaders. And the guidelines need to start coming soon.

Yesterday, I sat and talked with one of my friends, who was abused, about this. See, I know someone who is a predator. So I asked my friend, "How do I react towards him, when I see him? When he comes over to me and wishes me a 'gut Shabbos' and asks after my family, what do I do?" My friend said, "It's always harder when there's an actual person associated with the name." He's right on that. But it still doesn't help me.

Today was the last day of Pesach, and rabbis across Baltimore spoke publicly about this problem, and some of the things the community is working on to deal with it. We're expecting materials to be coming in the mail, discussing the issue. This coming weekend, we're also expecting another major article on the topic in the BJT. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Crossed Line

I do a lot of networking. Not the kind with wires and computer (although I do that too), but the kind with people. I go to several networking events regularly, and run a "chapter" of one group once a week. On occasion, I go to visit other group meetings within the same organization - it's a good way to meet new people and see how other folks run their meetings. Several weeks ago, I made such a visit. It was a good meeting, and I came away with a few people with whom I wanted to have further contact with.

I met one of them in his office. Nice guy. Seemed very interested in talking to me. When we sat down in his conference room, he made sure to mention that he had a bar-mitzvah. Now I go to my business meetings and such with my kippah on, so I'm used to people saying things like that to me. They want to make sure you know they're Jewish, so they'll say things like, "... and I said, 'Oy gevalt!'" or something like that. I figure that it's nice that they're trying to connect with me, so I kind of nod and smile, and continue on to the business at hand.

So this guy is obviously not frum, so I was a little surprised when he said, "You know, I have a book I'd really like you to read. It really helps deepen our understanding of Torah." Now, I know quite a few people who would have things to say that could deepen my understanding of Torah, but this guy wasn't one of them. It made me very suspicious, and my first thought was, Jews for Jesus. Nonetheless, I said something non-committal and continued with the meeting. By the end of the meeting, he hadn't really said anything else like that, and he hadn't handed me any books, so I figured it was over.

Three weeks passed by before the package showed up in my mailbox. Sure enough, it was a book essentially trying to reconcile Christianity with Judaism, and trying to prosyletize me. The book's called Betrayed, and it's about this one particular guy's struggle with his daughter's decision to become a "Jewish Christian." PS - in the end, he and his whole family wind up converting to Christianity. Nebach.

Now from a religious perspective, I'm not worried. See, Christianity is something of a hobby of mine - I don't practice it; I just find it fascinating that so many people believe in it. Anyway, I have no doubt that I've spent far more time studying Christianity than he has studying authentic Judaism, and am not worried that he's going to "get" me.

But I'm offended by his behavior. I met with him in good-faith, to discuss business. This is sort of a violation of generally unwritten groundrules. It's chutzpah. (I guess I gotta admire his "brass," though.)

Oh, he also included a note suggesting that we could go out for lunch, on him, if I read the book and had any questions.

Two weeks later, he called me to make sure I got the book. I wasn't ready to speak to him about this. Frankly, I was still mad. After speaking with him for about 15 mins... well, mostly I was trying to get a word in edgewise, I've come away unsure about his real intentions. He told me that he really didn't have any Jewish background growing up - which I'd figured - and that he really didn't find anything "spiritual" until he was introduced to Christianity. I told him that it was sad that he felt he had to go out there to find what was truly available (and in the original yet) in here. He said that if I sent him some information, he'd be glad to read it.

Now I'm not sure if he means he'd be willing to give his own heritage a real chance, or if he's after something else, and I'm not sure what to send him. I don't want to send him something combative, like You Take Jesus, I'll Take God, because it attacks his beliefs. That's not the way to convince anyone.

Have you had an experience like this? What did you do? Any suggestions on materials to send, if any?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chirac Reveals French Opinion

From the NY Times:

PARIS, Jan. 31 — President Jacques
said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.
He went on to try to call journalists back in, to retract his statement, saying, “I should rather have paid attention to what I was saying and understood that perhaps I was on the record.” In other words, "That is what I truly believe, but I didn't want to go on record as having said it."

So there you have it, folks. In case there was still any doubt as to what France thinks of Israel, you are hereby on notice: The French don't consider it a big deal if Israel is destroyed by nuclear weapons.

Not that this is a surprise...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Borat: The Joke's On You, America!

I don't know why I never posted this, back in January. It's now the end of June and here it is.

Alright, I admit it. I watched Borat, Sasch Baron Cohen's movie about a "Reporter" from Kazakhstan who comes to America to learn about us, and Pamela Anderson.

Now, I can't say it was a hilarious movie, although parts of it were amusing. I can't even say it was a good movie. In fact, just as a movie, it was somewhat boring, and even a bit disturbing. But the most interesting thing about the movie, to me anyway, was that the vast majority of the audience, didn't even get it, and that was part of the joke.

One of the central jokes Mr. Cohen seems to bring out is the ease with which our Non-Jewish neighbors can be drawn into anti-semitism; how very close beneath the surface it lies. Of course, his earlier foray into that realm was with his character, Ali G, and his famous "Throw the Jew Down the Well" video, which took place in a honky-tonk in Arizona. He had those folks dancing and singing, with one woman even making horns with her fingers while singing the lyrics, "You must take him by his horns..."

But while the people directly involved in the overtly, if not downright exaggerated anti-semitism, in Mr. Cohen's work are clearly demonstrated to be anti-semites, the real joke seems to be on the American public; the audience.

Let's consider some of the numbers:
  • According to the latest (as of this writing) US Census Bureau data, there are approximately 299.4 million people in America.
  • According to American Jewish Committee data, there are 6.4 million Jews in America; about 2% of the American population.
  • According to the movie-industry analysts at, "Borat" has grossed $126,738,371, as of 1/11/2007.
  • According to the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the average ticket price in the US in 2005 was $6.41. For my calculations below, I'm going to raise it to $6.50 for 2006, which is probably at least close to accurate.
  • Using these numbers, we find that approximately 19.5 million tickets have been sold for this movie, since it opened on Nov. 3, 2006.
  • This means that, even if every single Jew in America saw this movie, there would still be over 13 million non-Jews who also saw it.
  • Borat was the #1 movie in the country for two weeks, and was still in the Top Ten for an additional four after that.

Now you don't get to be the #1 movie if people don't like it. So that means that, for at least two weeks, people thought this movie was the best thing running! They recommended it to their friends. They thought it was hilariously funny!

And who wouldn't? I mean, what could be funnier than that scene with "The Running of the Jew," where two ultra-stereotyped charicature "Jews" run down the street in Kazakhstan, complete with horns, big noses and sidelocks (on the man, of course)? And when the Jewess lays an egg, and all the children are encouraged to go break the egg with sticks to make sure it doesn't hatch? I mean, that's comedy right there!

Virtually none of them realized that the joke was not only on them; it was them.

I wonder how many weeks it would have been in that slot if he were making fun of any other minority