Thursday, 23 May 2013

it's been a bad week for jews...

This week has been a bad week for Jews.

This week, i read a blog by a charedi Jewish woman calling those who criticise charedim, or even refer to a person as charedi when that information is not relevant to the rest of the sentence, are racist.
 When one makes statements about “black people” and “Chinese” and “Hispanics” its rightly called racism and discrimination, and it’s wrong. Even when it’s not something negative per se. Just making assumptions about people because of their race, whether good or not, isn’t being fair, and is wrong. Just because one person or even many people in a group do something doesn’t mean you should assume the same about another person in that group. Even if there are reasons for the stereotypes existing in the first place. (There always are reasons why stereotypes are formed.)  [...]
When all Jews are lumped together and criticized/blamed for something that is going wrong, that is called antisemitism, discrimination, and wrong. When someone isn’t hired to a job because he is a Jew, that’s illegal and religious persecution. When someone is attacked because he is a Jew, when Jews are described with disgusting words like comparing us to rats or infectious diseases, it is despicable and defamation and 100% illegal, not to mention immoral.
When it happens to Chareidim though… its seen as fair game.
It’s routine for people to get rejected from jobs, merely because they’re Chareidi. Many have told my husband, for example, that he should change his yarmulka, shave his beard, and cut off his peyos, and he’ll have more success finding a good job, because “no respectable company will hire him if he looks like that”.
If that’s not discrimination and hate crimes, what is? When someone gets attacked or accused because of his religious/communal affiliation, how would that be any different than antisemitic attacks? Or like blacks getting attacked because some other black hurt someone? Or like Arabs getting treated despicably and cursed out and attacked after 9/11?

 Then i read a piece by an american teen, saying that Naftali Bennett, those who live in the 'settlements' and anyone who supports either of them is racist

I interrupted Naftali Bennett’s speech because I could not allow him to pass off his fully fleshed-out plan for apartheid as a seemingly benign blueprint for stability. I could not sit idly while MASA Israel hid his insidious intentions to disenfranchise millions behind the smiling apolitical façade of the end of the year event. I could not watch as the organizers of the event portrayed his colonialist, jingoistic, and racist ideology as a mainstream political position.
MASA Israel, without providing an alternative voice or giving context to Bennett’s role in the continuing occupation, shamelessly promoted Bennett as the event’s central speaker. His time as Director of the Yesha Council was listed on the invitation, which was sent out to thousands of diaspora Jews on gap years and study abroad programs, without any mention that the Yesha Council is the organization of settlements in the West Bank. He was introduced as leader of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) political party without any allusion to its political orientation. MASA Israel had planned for Bennett to simply ascend to the stage as any other leader, without any mention of the nature of his political commitments.
 Then i read an article by another young american jew, saying that to put allegiance to Israel above one's allegiance to the US is to be guilty of dual loyalty.
The remorseful sentiment that Hannah describes is something that reflects a real challenge to our community, and there are perhaps many American Jews who share her feelings. But saying that her views are shared by a majority of America’s Modern Orthodox Jews provides fodder for racist accusations of dual loyalty. And frankly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend against those accusations.

So where does that leave us? I think most of us are by now racist, or stuck in the stone age, or intolerant, or oppressive, or traitors to our homeland (not sure which one). Wouldn;t it be nice if we could all take a collective deep breath, wipe all those blogs clean, and start again?

Next week's assignment: a thousand words on  "I love all Jews because..."

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

the repression of the feminine

In yirimiyahu (jeremiah), there is a verse that is understood to be about messianic times. It says 'נקבה תסובב גבר'. This is really hard to translate. i'm going with super-literal here (even though it won;t make too much sense) of feminine shall revolve masculine. I'm sure that many of you can give me a better translation (and please do). It's generally understood as meaning that in some way, on some level of meaning, women shall turn into men, or rather more conceptually that the feminine shall turn into the masculine. There are a lot of ways that it could be understood, and i'm not going to give a parshanut (exegesis) of what they are and could be.

instead i want to make some observations of the world around me. because i truly think that we are living in the foreshadowing of that time. across the world, across religions, across cultures, there is a zeitgeist of the repression of the feminine. not a repression of females, but of the feminine. in the secular world, there is feminism, which basically set out to give women the right to be like men. nowadays, women can get ahead in work as long as they behave like men. more and more studies show that women do not get promotions or pay rises, not because of direct discirmination, but because they do not ask for them or conduct business in accordance with the typical male practice. the female approach to doing business is shunned.

within the world of jewish feminism, too, women increasingly want to serve G-d not in a way which fully expresses their femininity, but in the same way that men do. (friends who might be offended, don't be: this is an observation of a trend not a personal criticism). women want to learn torah from men - rabbis - far more than from women who teach a feminine torah (although b"H there are exceptions and there are women who teach a feminine torah).

The increased sexualisation of women which is so widespread is not a celebration of the feminine. Quite the opposite: it is something that is done to please and give pleasure to men. the ideal of beauty in the western world is increasingly unrealistic in relation to the realities of the female body. the catchphrase for female beauty now is 'boys with breasts' - that is, women with large breasts but whose figures are otherwise straight up-and-down like a boys. no curves. breasts only feature in the current beauty image as a sexual aid, not as an aspect of reproduction. a year or two ago, there were two stories in the papers at the same time: a woman had been arrested (i think in australia but it may have been america) for breastfeeding her baby in public (modestly, under a blanket in a quiet corner of a car park). at the same time, in australia, a former stripper (or perhaps she was a pole dancer) was running for public office, and part of her campaign was that women should be legally permitted to walk around topless. the juxtaposition was comical; on the one hand, a woman was arrested for carrying out a natural biological act. on the other, someone was attempting to enshrine in law the rights of women to be sex objects. you couldn;t make it up.

and i see this repression of the feminine in the jewish world as well. as i see it, the aim of most chumras in tznius now are to hide and disguise the female body. capes and cloaks are to hide the shape of the chest and the curve of waist and hip. the recommendation to buy your clothes a size too big intends to cover a woman's natural body shape so that she appears to go straight down from shoulder to skirt hem (albeit straight down in a cone shape, rather than the vertical straight down of the secular world's attempt to repress the feminine physique). women are encouraged to wear clothing loose enough to hide their pregnant bellies. The trend is for the only body parts which may be seen or have their shape distinguished is that which is asexual - hands, face, feet, lower legs.

The traditional feminine role is also being repressed. in the secular world, a woman's worth (and a man's) is measured by how much she earns. looking after children and a home are not valued. In the Jewish world, this phenomenon exists as well. In charedi society, what is important is for women to work so that the men can learn. no longer is it valuable for a woman, like sarah our mother, to remain within the ohel to raise her children and look after her family and immediate environment. instead, what matters is that the woman go out into the world to work, so that her husband can remain in the ohel of torah.

and of course, the way that islam approaches the feminine nowadays does not even need me to detail it.

so, what i see is not that everyone, everywhere, elevates the masculine and represses the feminine. but that it is a real trend, a zeitgeist, which is manifesting itself everywhere. I hope, personally, that it is yet another marker on the long road to moshiach. but the trend is certainly there.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

in the merit of three things were the jews redeemed from Egypt...

Have you read this article about the need to address the haredi exclusion of women? have a look here

It all makes me think of two things.

A year or two ago i read - or heard - an excellent dvar torah. it was one of those explanations which makes everything make sense. i wish i could quote it b'shem omro, because it is so good, but i totally cannot even remember if i read it or heard it.

We are all familiar with the famous medrash that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt because they did not change their language (lashon), their names (shemos) and their way of dress (levush). You may have also heard it quoted in such a way as to make it clear that Jews have not been redeemed now because the women of Israel are not tzanua enough (=changed their levush).

You are probably also familliar with the teaching of the holy Ari, that the Jewish people were on the 49th level of impurity when they were redeemed from Egypt, and they had to leave s ofast so that they did not sink to the final level from which there would be no possiblity of return or redemption.

I had always wondered how both of these teachings could be true, and the dvar torah i read explanined them. It pointedo ut, how could it be that the Jewish people were so holy that they preserved their dress, language nad names, but were also on the 49th level of impurity? It's because we always misudnerstand what the first midrash means. It wasn;t something praiseworthy of them, that they were so holy that they even kept these three things the same. it's that this was all they had. All that the Jews in Egypt had which connected them to the traditions of their Fathers was that they dressed differently, they spoke differently, and they had different sorts of names. they didn;t know why  they did all these things differently, just that they did. this was the 49th level of impurity. One more level down, and they would not have even preserved those things; they would have nbecome irredeemable. Makes sense now, doesn;t it? such a light-bulb moment. As the unique and wonderful dayan lopian says they were junkies - Just Uniform No Knowledge.

Our Sages teach us that the exile and exodus from Egypt serves as a model for all future exile and all future redemption. We all know that we are near to the time of Moshiach, near to the time of redemption. As i look around, i think that we are in that 49th level now. all we have to connect us are those three things - language, names, and dress. All this obsession with how women dress and making them dress more and more modestly - to me, that reminds me of this vort. 49th level of impurity. i just pray that we get out of this soon.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

why do you live in ramat beit shemesh, then?

people seem to keep asking me why we live in ramat beit shemesh.

so i'll answer you all, once and for all.

first of all, ok, i know, i've been complaining a bit. that's becasue this is my blog, and i treat it as my therapeutic outlet to let off steam. i'm alot more likely to write about something that annoys me than about things which are, really, pretty much of an alright. also maybe i indulge a little in poetic license. but only a little.

so. why do we live in ramat beit shemesh and not anywhere else in israel? surely there's plenty of other options. well first of all i am not going to go into detail about why we did not choose any particular other place, because people who live there might get upset.  but much of why we chose to live here was due to the process of elimination. i wanted to live near to yerushalayim: that ruled out the north, where ben would have loved to have moved to. we wanted somewhere with a decent percentage of anglos, which ruled out quite a few other places. a couple of places we seriously considered were ruled out because i decided i would not manage with the heat (even worse than ramat beit shemesh). after a lot of consideration, i concluded that i was not such a country girl as i had liked to think i was, and i would stultify on a moshav or yishuv. this ruled out a few more places.

now for the positives. ramat beit shemesh has a lot of anglos (this is also a bad thing, because it's harder to integrate into israeli society, and also there are a lot of teenage off-the-derech and at-risk kids who were brought by their parents and couldn;t fit into such a charedi environment). because it has alot of anglos, it has a lot (more) school options than just the charedi cheder/beis yaakov or the dati leumi mamad/mamad torani. neither of which would suit us in their usual israeli incarnations. two of our three children are, we think, in schools which are very well suited for them (ok, i realise we might have found schools that are ideal for them elsewhere also, but suffice it to say that we are happy with the schools two of them are in).

we - together - have a rather interesting concatenation of hashkafot, vis a vis medinat yisrael, working men, learning women, secular education, and other minor topics like daas torah. ramat bet shemesh has, possibly despite appearances from the outside, something of a variety of people who represent a variety of hashkafot (on the range from dati leumi all the way to israeli-learning-in-kollel-charedi). although there are alot of people here whom i have met and felt a real disconnect with, i have also met and made friends with lovely people who talk my language and share my values, concerns, and approach to serving Hashem. i don;t agree with everyone i meet, but then where would that be likely to happen?

there is a lot of support here for new olim. this does go along with rather an abundance of anglos, which has its down side, but the support programs have been wonderful.

i have been thinking a lot about the different groups of jews here, and the friction that sometimes results between them. although it can manifest itself in unpleasant ways sometimes, on the whole i think that it is a good thing, to have these different jews with different hashkafot living together. rav aryeh kaplan wrote once
"perhaps even more than zionists or anti-zionists, Hashem wanted the tension and polarity between them. the polarity itself creates energy. If the energy is not dissipated in machlokes, then i has positive aspects..."
i think that might be the same for living here. there is polarity and tension between different people here, but that polarity creates energy. i think that one is forced to continue to think about who you are, what you are doing and why you are doing it, when you are constantly faced with people who do things differently - sometimes very obvious things, and sometimes very differently - to how you do them. there is an energy here, with all the different groups, which i think might not be present in a more homogenous place.

finally, i do not think that there is anywhere that is perfect for us. even my husband and i don;t think the same on some key haskafic issues, how would we find one place that suits both of us on every issue? so we are going to have to do some accomodating and accepting wherever we live. the only other option to us was yerushalayim. but we have landed in ramat beit shemesh, and even if that is not the best place for us, we are going to stay here and make it be the best place for us for at least the next 5 years or so, maybe the next 10 years.

Friday, 17 May 2013

pedalling through time

three times a week, i get up early and go out on my bike. I cycle out of our ancient hasmonean-era settlement of ramat beit shemesh (that's right, there were fanatical jews who would harass other jews who didn't keep their understanding of halacha living here 2000 years ago, too! it must be something in the air...). i watch the sun rise over the hills of yehuda. i pedal along a road, part of which follows the boundary between jewish and phillistine lands, the towards a monument to the 35 soldiers who died fighting for gush etzion in the war of independance. if i carried along this road a bit further, i would reach the battlefield where david fought goliath. on my way home i see the clouds clinging to the tops of the mountains of jerusalem.

it is an awesome way to begin my day. in israel, history is geography, and also vice versa.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


there is a boys' school here, in ramat beit shemesh, which i shall not name. we'll call it school X. It's led by a rabbi - naturally - he is the menahel and general Leader. we'll not name him either, let's call him rabbi Y. I can think of many other names i'd like to call him, but we'll stick to Y.

I heard something else about this man - sorry, rabbi - tonight, which made me feel sick. Oh no it's not what you're thinking, just some light objectification of women and elevation of chumra to a place where it does not belong. small beer.

there's this family we know who applied to school X for their son. they had a great interview with rabbi Y, everything was fine, the boys interviewed well, they interviewed well, it was all groovy - until they were turned down for the school. they had no idea why. they pressed and pressed rabbi Y until finally they were told...the wife's skirt was too short. it covered her knees, yes, but it was just a little too short.

there was no woman interviewing them. only rabbi Y. so you know what that means? oh yes, he must have looked at her legs, and looked at them again, had a pretty decent long glance to ascertain that yep, those legs were too visible. Or, in my re-interpretation, i imagine that he felt those legs made him feel uncomfortable. maybe her legs were rather more attractive than some other legs that walk into his office for an interview. in that kind of situation, there are two conclusions: either there is something wrong with her tzniut, or there is something missing in my concentration on Hashem. we know which he chose.

we interviewed at school X for our child, also. we did not get in. we were asked about whether i would cover my legs - he is very liberal, is rabbi Y, a long skirt and closed shoes are just as acceptable as a short (not toooo short) skirt and tights. I replied that i do not view it as a halacha, but that living in a society where it is the norm, i am willing to follow those societal norms. it was not good enough. we did not get a place.

at our interview, rabbi Y himself told us a story to emphasise their dedication to their values, that they do not just take in people who pay lip service to the takanos and then ignore them. he told of this woman - woman Z, how about that - whose son was given a place in the school, but during the summer vacation, before he took up his place, she was seen without socks on. upon being confronted about this, she apologised and said that she had just run out of her house for a moment to get something quickly, and she really always covered her legs (and feet) - but to no avail, she was told that school X just perhaps is not the right shidduch for her and she should look somewhere else for her son.

i heard from a friend who has a friend who also interviewed for this school. my friend's friend told her that rabbi Y at school X had told her that he was not sure if she was right for the school, so they would not give her son a place, but they would watch her and her family, for a year, to see if they were appropriate for it, and then they might give him a place. or not.

at our interview, not once was my husband asked how often he learnt. nor was i asked how often i learnt. or if i make challah with a bracha ever, or how much tzedaka we give and which causes we prioritise, or to explain rashi on bava kama, or if we are ethical in our business dealings and always pay our cleaners on time, or if my husband ever wears a coloured shirt or a t-shirt or jeans. the very idea of such questions sounds laughable, doesn;t it? it should be as laughable as asking a woman if she always covers her legs and feet.

all this is what makes me sick. there is this man, rabbi Y, who looks hard enough at women to be able to tell that their skirts cover the knee but not quite enough, who looks at women's legs to see if they are wearing tights. he tells us that he believes in ahavat yisrael, that he can't stand it when people make insulting jokes about rav kook zt"l or rav soloveitchik zt"l, but he considers that families with kids in school A are just 'not a good shidduch' with his students in his school. this man is the 'respected and chashuvah' leader of a shul, leader of a school, he speaks oh-so-passionately about torah and mitzvos, and yet he takes a chumra - which he knows is a chumra - and elevates it to a place somewhere beyond being kovea ittim batorah.

the objectification of women takes my breath away. the hypocrisy of claiming a deep commitment to ahavat yisrael, while gently drawing a distinction between all those families in gush etzion who are committed to learning torah but the women don;t cover their legs ("it's a great mehalech but it's not our way", he told us that in our interview also).

and what else makes me sick is the reason why i have said school X and rabbi Y all the way through. i've anonymised this because my husband asked me too, because school X has a reputation for great chinuch, and we might want to send one of our boys there one time (though i wonder if a school built on chitzoniyus and superficiality can have great chinuch, all the way down, but it does seem to). it makes me sick to feel that i am not confronting rabbi Y and speaking my mind (and those of you who know me well know i would) because i am scared that my children will suffer. i am infuriated that i have been muzzled and cuffed by the power rabbi Y possesses.

all i can repeat to myself is 'olam hafuch hu olam hafuch hu'. rabbi Y is only chashuvah because we live in a olam hafuch, where that which is superficial is rewarded. one day i imagine rabbi Y will be called to account for his actions. and he will say 'but i meant well, i did it all l'shem shamayim'. it reminds me of where chazal tell us that in the time to come esav/edom will say to Hashem 'look at the torah i supported! look at all the ways i have served You!' and Hashem will say 'no, you did it all for your own purposes'. you can say that i am being too harsh, but this is my rant and i'll be as harsh as i like.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

why we need to be better educated, for our own sakes

Coda: a couple of people have pointed out that all of these betrayals of faith - breaches of trust - by rabbis in recent months shows the need to have more rabbaniyot (or whatever word you would wish to use). I absoultely agree that we need to see more women trained as rabbinic-style counsellors (with or without the title rabbi). Any woman who needs to talk about a sensitive subject, or to share her innermost fears and hopes and desires, should do so to a woman, if at all possible.

We also need more women educators. I have sat in women-only shiurim given by charismatic rabbis, and in some cases there is almost a flirtation going on between teacher and students. a benign one, naturally. Any of us who have been to sem as teenagers know that it is almost an obligation to have a crush on a rav during that time. I'm not trying to call for a removal of men teaching women; although there are many female educators whom i admire and follow, i do not believe anyone could replace my rav for teaching me Torah and expanding my mental horizons. But there should be more of them, they should be turned to more often,and they should be teaching more torah (and not just parenting, shalom bayis, and pleasant fluff that is detached from any torah text).

But i think that the biggest thing that we need is more educated women. And men, for that matter (but i think it is more pressing amongst women). Some of the betrayals which i wrote about could not have happened in a case of better education. The naive girls and young wives who were seduced by halperin and berland; i am not chas v'shalom blaming them. I observe that if they had been better educated about their bodies, about sexual desire and its strengths, its beauty (it is from God, after all), and its dangers, they would not have been taken in that way.

And i think about myself, that if i had not been so quick to silence my inner doubts about certain rabbonim by reminding myself of their superior knowledge, then i would not have been taken in. all i have suffered is disillusionment and disappointment, but Hashem also gave me binah (and chochmah and, b"H, learning opportunities) and i should use it more. i wonder how we could set up a gym for binah-strengthening?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Only a rosh yeshiva

My friend Rifki asked me, what do i mean by 'only' a Rosh Yeshiva? Well, it's fairly straightforward.

In the business world, let's say in a large finance company, there are different levels of hierarchy. There are the entry-level workers who sell stocks and shares or watch the stock market or whatever they do (I really haven't a clue).There are their supervisors, who have more responsibility. There are the partners in the company, the members of the board, the CEO, etc. This analogy may a bit weak because of my ignorance of the details of the structure of a finance company. But you get the idea, I'm sure.

In the yeshiva world, the set up is similar. (Let's leave out the chassidishe world for now because it does operate slightly differently, but not very differently because nowadays the differences between chassidish and litvish are only a little more than how you dent your hat and what time you pray. Ok, I do exaggerate.) Boys go into yeshiva to learn Torah - entry-level workers. They may have madrichim (student leaders) or older chavrusas (learning partners) for guidance, but they are all entry-level. Some of them become rebbeim, who teach and guide the entry-level learners. Then there are the maggidei shiur, who teach bigger and more 'important' lessons. There are the higher-level rebbeim and the less-high-level rebbeim (in a yeshiva, everyone knows which is which but it's not always through official position appointments, it is just 'known'). There is the mashgiach, and there is the Rosh Yeshiva at the top.

Outside the yeshiva, there is a bit of a parallel track in that there are chinuch rabbonim, who teach in schools (let's stick to the charedi world for ease of analogising). As well as the teaching staff, there are mashgichim (guidance counselors), and menahelim (principals), and in high schools there may be a menahel and a rosh yeshiva, one with administrative responsibility and one with responsibility over the Torah aspect. There are also pulpit rabbis, some with large important pulpits in big population centres, and some with small ones in small communities. There are dayanim (rabbinical judges), who sit on a beis din and issue gettim (bills of divorce), and supervise kashrus (depending on the size of the area, there may be other rabbonim who are in charge of that), and give halachic rulings.

So. There are men who are excellent at learning gemara. They are skilled at it, they are dedicated, their knowledge and understanding increases exponentially every day. They become a rebbe of a small shiur (lesson) of boys. Their lesson grows; they become the maggid shiur of a big group of boys, then they teach the most important lesson. Then they might be considered so knowledgeable that they are asked to become the Rosh Yeshiva. But what if they don't really have the skills to teach gemara, only to learn it? Then they might become a rebbe of a small shiur, but their small shiur may never progress to become a bigger shiur. Or they might become a big important maggid shiur with wonderful empathy for their students, but not have the ability to be able to juggle all the details that make up a yeshiva - when to insist on rigorous learning and when to schedule a hike, when to change learning matter, which commentators will be learned and how many differing opinions will be accepted in their yeshiva, what the tone and style of the yeshiva will be that will make it different from the yeshiva next door or down the block. It is entirely possible, I think, that a Rosh Yeshiva might be less of a talmid chacham than his top maggid shiur is. He just has those extra skills and mode of thought that enables him to run a large company (ie, a yeshiva). But the rosh yeshiva might not be able to be a mashgiach, who usually has responsibility for overseeing the mental health of the students, keeping an eye on who is learning well, who is depressed, who is stagnating because they have outgrown their shiur without realising it, etc, and needs an unusually large amount of empathy, sensitivity, and responsibility.

Outside of the yeshiva, there are rabbonim and dayanim who are excellent at kashrus questions. there are rabbonim who excel at niddah questions, or even in the very complicated halachic fields of issur v'heter, or eruvin, or at unraveling tangled business questions of compensation and ownership. But they do not have the sensitivity to deal with a question that involves people. Emotional implications are lost on them and they cannot deal with the topic competently. Not because they lack knowledge or closeness to God, but because they do not have that skillset. Some rabbonim are excellent orators and inspirers, but when people turn to them for halachic guidance (beyond the basics), they are misled, because these rabbonim do not have the halachic knowledge and inspired understanding to rule in the correct way.

All of these individuals are important, they are all serving God, and we need them. We need maggidei shiur, we need good orators, we need experts in kashrut, eruvin, nezikin and issur v'heter, we need rebbeim teaching small lessons and big ones, and we need roshei yeshiva and mashgichim. We need dayanim. The tragedy arises when we turn a rosh yeshiva into a posek, or make an inspirational orator answer complex halachic questions, or seek emotional guidance from the kashrut expert. When this happens, we end up with a lot of broken, betrayed and bemused Jews. As I think we are seeing now.

Some people can - and do - excel in more than one of these categories that I've sketched out. Very few individuals excel at all of them. To be honest, possibly no one ever has (even Moses was not a good orator). Rav Moshe Feinstein was a posek (halachic decisor) par excellence, but I have heard that his shiurim were never well attended. The Lubavitcher rebbe gave halachic rulings rarely, but the emotional guidance and understanding of people that he displayed and exercised was legendary. Rav Soloveitchik did not give much emotional guidance (from what I have heard), but he was a superlative rosh yeshiva and teacher.

But there are some rabbonim who can understand Torah authentically, and divine the mood and understanding of a whole widespread community, and who can unite one with the other without either compromising Torah or breaking the community. Rav Moshe, Rav Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe could all do this, within their different spheres. We call those people, a leader.

Today, we have a lot of people in all the roles I mentioned above. But we have very, very few (if any) leaders.


I've returned to re-read libby purves' excellent uplifting and funny book on parenting, called 'nature's masterpiece'. I just have to share some of my favourite parts:

In her profiling of the six types of women you'll encounter as a mother, she adds one last 'most dangreous' type:

Competitive Clara: Her baby rolled, sat, teethed, crawled, walked, talked and aimed accurately at the potty before anyone else's. So she says. He is also amazingly sensitive, musical, athletic and socially well-adjusted....

This business of Mum-upmanship is worth going into, if only because it blights so many happy moments and clouds so many relationships. There are two great vices which mar the fair face of motherhood. One is guilt, and the other is competitiveness. Both are rampant from the very start: maternity wards are full of women weeping guiltily because they are good enough at breast-feeding, while at the same time noting that none of the other babies in the ward is as good-looking and alert as their own. The fact that most of us see no contradiction in indlging in these two emotions simultaneously is a great tribute to the blurring power of hormones.

Maternal guilt tends to wither away after the first few years. This is probably because as soon as your children can talk clearly, they start periodically accusing you of being a hateful Mummy, thus saving you the bother of accusing yourself. But competitiveness does not wither.  "

Here's to us, and wha's like us? Verra few, an' they're deid.

It's been a bad week for me, as far as Jewish leaders are concerned.

Well, to be honest it's been going on for a while. Years, i suppose, but certainly a good few months. In the winter, there was the Chaim Halperin scandal. A 'chashuva' (important and well respected) dayan (Rabbinical judge), with a synagogue, a school, and a position on the Beis Din, who sexually abused naive women. It turns out a lot of people knew about it, but no one said anything - some were scared, and some thought it was ok because he's so holy.

Overlapping with that was the Weberman trial in New York, when the whole world learned that a man whom everyone already knew violated the laws of yichud (isolation with members of the opposite sex, intended to prevent opportunities for sexual activity) and forced vulnerable girls to visit him for private counselling, also sexually abused them in the most degrading way. AND then used his 'chashuva' status to blackmail and threaten them into staying quiet, to convince all around him that they were mentally unstable, non-'frum' individuals, and was supported in all of this by the top rabbis of his chassidus. Who, like with Halperin, continued to stand by him as the evidence piled up against him.

Both of these men gave in to their evil inclination  for sexual activity, again and again, and abused their positions of authority and trust to do so. And others around them permitted it, again and again, whether out of fear, or denial, or a desire to keep their own power as well I do not know and don't really want to go into now. 

Then a few weeks ago, it was revealed that Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde had used pseudonyms to praise his own work, increased his importance by writing positive reviews under an assumed name, and, it now seems, made up important halachic source material in order to bolster his arguments. I have again heard that 'everyone' knew he did this and accepted it.

Last week, I heard that 'rabbi' Berland (I put the word 'rabbi' in inverted commas, because it is a title that connotes respect and he does not deserve any) has fled to Morocco after he was found naked with a girl (also naked) on whom he was performing a 'purification ritual'. Not surprisingly, it wasn't the first such 'ritual' he'd performed. One of his biggest students, Rabbi Shalom Arush, the famous author of 'Garden of Emuna' and many other inspirational books, has allegedly stated that Berland is a kadosh (holy man) and that anyone who believes the 'claims' against him has no part in the garden of Eden. See above, Halperin and Weberman, but add in 'cult of personality'.

Alongside this, last week also brought a 'firestorm' around MK R' Dov Lipman. I don;t know exactly what he said in the name of R' Yaakov Weinberg zt"l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, but it brought down the wrath of R' Aron Feldman - the current Rosh Yeshiva - upon him, in a letter which said that Dov Lipman does not at all represent the views of Ner Yisrael. I read Rabbi Slifkin's response to this, in which he wrote that when he was weathering his own controversy about Science and Torah, R' Feldman - who had been his rabbi - was very supportive of him for the first 6 months or so, flying in to talk with gedolim (Torah world leaders) to try to convince them to rescind the ban they had placed on R' Slifkin. But that then, R' Feldman changed his position dramatically and published a letter that fully supported the ban.

A couple of years ago, I heard from my own Rabbi whom I do trust and respect that, after R' Feldman published his recent book ('Eye of the storm', I think it is called), he was asked why he included articles on so many 'burning issues' but did not address the issue of poverty in the charedi world at all. R' Feldman's response was that if he did write about that, no one would then listen to him even about other matters.

In my mind, I have been putting all of these together. I have come to the conclusion that Rav Feldman is a weak-willed coward and is not a leader. I still accept that he is a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) and extremely knowledgeable, but that does not make him someone I respect. It is time that we allowed people to be 'only' a rabbi, 'only' a halachist, 'only' a maggid shiur (teacher), even 'only' a Rosh Yeshivah, because they do not have the backbone to stand up for what is right.

I have realised that i should have followed my instincts about Shalom Arush's sect long ago. I had bought a couple of his books and begun reading them, but never got very far. I have read various of Lazer Brody's Torah articles and found huge holes in them. I have been able to demolish them in terms of Torah, and what do I know of Torah? I pushed these things to the back of my mind before now, on the basis that it is just me, it will mean something to others, and fine. But now I realise that there is something rotten in the whole shuvu banim structure. It stems from Berland. and it can be smelt in even Shalom Arush's Torah guidance, and even in Lazer Brody's inspirational writings. When the foundations are rotten, the whole edifice is unstable, but you can;t tell that from looking at the outside.

This is real chillul Hashem (betrayal of God's name). A rabbi is a representative of God (like it or not). When a respected, knowledgeable, 'frum' rabbi betrays the trust of those who had followed him, he destroys the image of God which he represented in their eyes. When other representatives of God support that man, they make the betrayal exponentially deeper. And you may point out to me that Broyde and Feldman have not abused anybody and I shouldn't lump them in the same boat with sex abusers. And you are right, it is of course not the same. But what is the same is the betrayal by a would-be, once-was leader. At least in my eyes. 

Has this rocked my faith in God? Not at all. I know that this is not from Him. But it has rocked my faith in man. I shall try to trust my instincts more, not to be impressed by someone whose torah i have never probed, or to ignore my qualms when i do pick holes in someone's teachings. I used to feel that it was wrong of me to probe and question and argue with rabbonim/s divrei torah. After all, I'm only a woman, I haven;t spent as long in yeshiva or learned as much Torah as they have, who am I to question them? But now I think that perhaps I know more than I think I do.

Most of all I wonder - what is the higher meaning behind all of this? i jolly well hope that this is one of those final unravellings before Moshiach arrives, because when i think about what our Sages wrote about how the time immediately preceding Moshiach;s arrival would be so terrible that they said 'let him come, but let me not see it', i wonder how things can get much worse.

WoW - take two.

I just read this article by ronit peskin, who organised teh Women for the Wall prayer rally on friday, at the same time as the Women OF the wall have their regualr rosh chodesh tefillah. I shan;t restate her article - you can read it yourself - but having read it and thought about it, i'm going to respond.

I'm really glad that i read her article. I'm glad to know that it was women who organised the non-WoW prayer rally, and that her intention was to demonstrate achdus and show that the kotel is precious to all women of all stripes. I apologsie for having said that i am annoyed at the gedolim who encouraged teenage girls to go to a riot. I am also glad that intendeding to block out the WoW was not her intenton (but dislike that the 'gedolim' did intend that). I think that she had good intentions - which i was relieved about - buit i think it was a mistake.

First of all, i think that she should have realised that there would be a riot going on. that there would be out of control men there who would behave in unpleasant, aggressive ways, and so every woman there would be in a riot zone. i agree with her plea that the men withdraw from any involvement in this issue and let the women discuss it. ideally with drinks and snacks, of course. but that is not going to happen.

And i stand by my initial response. All this fuss and balagan against the WoW is unecessary, unjustified, and unhelpful. The kotel is a public place. People come there to pray. How they pray is their decision (so is who they pray to, for that matter). The WoW can come in their tallis and tefillin, just like the women who come in their strappy heels, short skirts, and tank tops clutching kotel-issue blanket-type-thingies around them in a vain attempt to cover up; just like the japanese who come and take a bunch of photos and stick a note in; just like the christian woman who was next to me last time i was there, kneeling (as in church) and fingering her rosary. no prizes for guessing to whom she was praying.

The kotel is not a private place of worship. There are always disturbances and distractions. Noisy ones, too. I mentioend loud (mostly-)sephardi barmitzvahs with loud singing by the women and men, ululations, sweet-throwing, and often rather scanty dress. children also, making alot of disturbance. But that's the package deal at the kotel.

And all this fuss is coutner-productive. The more that the WoW are opposed, shouted down, and struggled against, the more people who only care about the fight will be attracted to their cause. If they are left to daven at the kotel in their own way, privately, without a big fuss, then the only people who will go will be the ones who care about davening in that way. All the WoW who are primarily interested in proving something to the men, or doing just the same as the men, or forcing the men or the charedim or whoever to legitimise their position, they will stop coming. If you really want to act effectively against the WoW, you should make sure to not go to the kotel for that hour on rosh chodesh, and to move away from them and daven in a different area when you are there at the same time. Oh, i would think a bit of 'shushing' is fine too (we do it to everyone else, after all).

but i'm glad to know now that there were good intentions in the counter-WoW prayer rally. As far as the women are concerned, i would say that both sides seem to mean well but miss the mark a little. Shame about the men.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

England Expects

Let us pause to consider the English
Who whenever they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish,
Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz:
That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club that there is:
A club to which benighted bounders of Frenchmen and Germans and Italians et cetera cannot even aspire to belong,
Because they don;t even speak English, and the Americans are worst of all because they speak it wrong.
Englishmen are distinguished by their traditions and ceremonials,
And also by their affection for their colonies and their contempt for the colonials.
When foreigners ponder world affairs, why sometimes by doubts they are smitten,
But Englishmen know instinctively that what the world needs most is whatever is best for Great Britain.
They have a splendid navy and they conscientiously admire it,
And every English schoolboy knows that John Paul Jones was only an unfair American pirate.
English people disclaim sparkle and verve,
But speak without reservations of their Anglo-Saxon reserve.
After listening to little groups of English ladies and gentlemen at cocktail parties and in hotels and Pullmans, of defining Anglo-Saxon reserve I despair,
But I think it consists of assuming that nobody else is there.
And I shudder to think wehre Anglo-Saxon reserve ends when I consider where it begins,
Which is in a few high-pitched statements of what one's income is and just what foods give one a rash and whether one and one's husband or wife sleep in a double bed or twins.
All good Englishmen go to Oxford or Cambridge and they all write and publish books before their graduation,
And i have often wondered how they did it until I realised that they have to do it because their genteel accents are so developed that they can no longer understand each other's spoken words so the written word is their only means of intercommunication.
England is the last home of the aristocracy, and the art of protecting the aristocracy from the encroachments of commerce has been raised to quite an art.
Because in America a rich butter-and-egg man is only a rich butter-and-egg man or at most an honorary LLD of some hungry university, but in England he'll be Sir Benjamin Buttery, Bart.
Anyhow, I think the English people are sweet,
And we may as well get used to them becasue when they slip and fall they always land on their own or somebody else's feet.

-Ogden Nash.