With Partners Like These…

First published on Israel National News / Arutz-7

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the respected Chief Rabbi of Efrat, began his career guiding people towards traditional Jewish observance. Appointed Rabbi of the new Lincoln Square Conservative Synagogue shortly after receiving Smicha (ordination), he quickly persuaded his congregation to drop "Conservative" from both name and practice. Under his leadership, Lincoln Square grew into an early leader in Jewish outreach.

This makes his near-endorsement of a greater Israeli presence for the American Reform and Conservative movements all the more mystifying. While there have been significant changes since he made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 1983, he emphasizes his own “contact with Reform and Conservative Rabbis” – and thus should remain familiar with their activities and outlook.

One might make a credible argument that access to a public Mikvah (ritual bath) in Israel should be open to anyone, regardless of affiliation or intended use. But that was not Rabbi Riskin's claim in a recent interview with Arutz 7. Rather, he suggested one should permit liberal Rabbis to use Mikvaot (for non-Halakhic conversions, no less) because “they're not our enemies, they're our partners.”

To love and pursue peace is a religious imperative. But as the Kotzker Rebbe once quipped, “when truth is discarded, peace is easily achieved.” The sad truth is that the American liberal rabbis and movements are anything but partners.

Most Israelis are unfamiliar with these groups; when they are introduced, they are often dismayed. Israel's current President, Ruby Rivlin, was invited to visit an American Reform Temple when first elected as an MK in 1989. He told the Israeli media afterwards that "as a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked… I felt as if I were in a church."

Reform leaders objected and professed insult – yet it was not so long ago that the rabbi of New York's Temple Emmanu-El boasted that "a prominent Christian lawyer… told me that he entered this building at the beginning of a service on Sunday morning, and did not discover that he was in a synagogue until a chance remark of the preacher betrayed it."

So are they encouraging similarity to churches, or not? They want to have it both ways; this is a recurring pattern.

Whereas Jewish tradition frowns upon conversion for the sake of a Jewish partner, the Reform and Conservative movements both actively encourage it. In 1983, Reform went yet further, pronouncing the child of a Jewish father to be Jewish – leading to a precipitous decline in those same conversions for marriage. But even if the mother of an intermarried son now believes that she will have Jewish grandchildren, this is usually wishful thinking: children of intermarriage remain unlikely to identify as Jews.

Having seen the failure of patrilineal descent, the Conservative movement refused that change. In most other matters, however, it has followed Reform's lead – with regards to driving on Shabbat, ordaining women, and even same-sex marriage. The average American Reform or Conservative Jew is today so far removed from basic Jewish practices that, comparing Pew Surveys in both countries, Israel's self-defined hilonim (secular Jews) are observant by comparison – more likely to light Shabbat candles, attend a Pesach Seder, or fast on Yom Kippur.

In 2013 the Pew Survey identified 1.8 million Reform Jews in the US, under 1 million Conservative Jews, and just over a half million Orthodox – but if the birth, intermarriage and assimilation rates of the distinct groups continue apace, the Orthodox will constitute the majority within several decades.

Israelis can certainly see the extent to which the American liberal movements strive for partnership. When Anat Hoffman ran for Jerusalem City Council on the Ratz-Shinui ticket in 1989, her platform was one of anti-Orthodox animus so poisonous that even many secular Jerusalemites condemned her advertising as crossing into anti-Semitism.

The Reform movement enabled Hoffman to rebrand herself as an advocate for “women's rights” – primarily the “right” of American liberal women to disturb the prayers of traditional Israeli women at the Western Wall. Her “Women of the Wall” group claims to merely wish to pray on the one hand, while rejecting alternate locations and expressing the desire to change Orthodoxy on the other. The Reform movement, which rejects the unique sanctity of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the Western Wall as a site for prayer, finances her efforts.

The movement pays Hoffman to be the director of its Israel Religious Action Center, which Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum described in 2005 as “determined to make life miserable for Torah organizations in any manner possible.” IRAC delayed the building of a religious center in Rechovot for over a decade despite City Council approval, attempted to prevent Chabad from operating at Ben-Gurion Airport, and recently announced that it will sue ElAl to prevent even voluntarily accommodation for hassidic travelers who prefer not to sit next to someone of the opposite gender.

Yet it is not merely the idea that they are partners with Orthodoxy that must be questioned. The liberal movements believe that they know Israel's needs better than those who live there.

The current head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Rabbi Rick Jacobs, served on the Board of Directors of the pro-Palestinian J Street, and the ultra-left New Israel Fund. On her American speaking tours, Hoffman deliberately distances her audiences from Israel: she claims that women do not have full civil rights, using Women of the Wall's own antics as her prime example. She also points out that American liberal Judaism – that which rejects the entirety of Jewish tradition – is not accepted by Israel's Chief Rabbinate as authentic Jewish practice. “Israel is way too important,” she concludes, “to be left to Israelis.”

The Reform movement erased the return to Jerusalem and rebuilding of the Holy Temple from its prayer books, yet these same liberal groups now threaten the Israeli government with “rupture” should it fail to transform the Western Wall Plaza, at tremendous cost and irreversible damage to archaeological sites, to meet their demands.

Last week they called for a “show of force” at the Western Wall; it drew less than 100 people. Their American adherents rarely visit Israel – would American liberal Jews care at all, were their leaders not fomenting discord?

They are not partners. They are not partners with Israel, and certainly not partners with Judaism.

Lessons of a Viral Video

This article is written under the assumption that most every reader is by now familiar with a viral video which has taken the Jewish world by storm — very much against the wishes of its subjects, two Bais Yaakov students. If you are among the few who has not seen it, I know that they would prefer that you not go find it now. The secular media may not understand why these girls might not want their “15 minutes of fame,” but I admit that I’m surprised an organ like the Jewish Press would publish the video. [Notably, some upload sites, e.g. “Ellentube,” have removed it.]

But now that this video is “out there,” and has been commented upon by so many, it’s quite apparent what people have missed. This video dispels many stereotypes about the Orthodox world and is in many ways inspirational… but you won’t see that in any of the coverage.

First of all, describing the video as “illicit” (as the Forward did) is a disservice, as it implies the girls did something wrong. So too all the idle speculations about whether they’ll get suspended. Did these commenters not attend high school? Certain of my high school contemporaries were rumored to have done any number of (truly) illicit things, none of which they did in the high school hallway in the middle of the school day. I imagine that if these girls attended a school that would suspend a girl for rapping, and intended to do a rap anyways, that they wouldn’t do so with teachers around every corner. I could be wrong, but that’s my feeling.

The only thing wrong with the video was someone foolishly uploading it to social media without their permission (the story I have heard is that it traveled from one private WhatsApp group to another, and from there to Facebook), and people sharing it all over. And even that was foolish and/or wrong, but not “illicit.”

But what do we learn?

1) People in the frum (“ultra-Orthodox”) community do know what’s going on “out there,” and choose to be “in here.”

One cannot, of course, fail to notice that the girls rap and beatbox — well. Credit the Times of Israel for observing that “it goes to show you that you can’t assume that young women wearing long, dark skirts and educated in a sheltered environment don’t know what’s going on in popular mainstream culture.”

2) These girls know they may be choosing a life of financial sacrifice in order to support a husband in Kollel, raise a projected seven children and send them to day school (while, of course, paying full taxes in most states). They expect at one point to live in a two-bedroom apartment with three kids, and that’s what they look forward to doing.

To the outside observer, this may be inconceivable. The Times of Israel calls the rap “critical of widespread poverty in [the] ultra-Orthodox community” and claims that “the middle verses describing the life of young parents in the Orthodox community can be understood as being less than complimentary, if not sarcastically critical.”

Perhaps I do not share that writer’s cynicism, because the lyrics simply don’t read that way. The girls are being sarcastic and funny — “the kitchen’s so spacious, two people almost fit” — about their own projected lack of income; they’re not rebelling or criticizing the system. They hope to say on their deathbeds that they have “lived a full full life dedicated to Hashem,” and consider a small apartment simply part of the process.

3) They are focused upon the future, upon serving HaShem, and even upon the arc of their lives.

Excuse me for a moment here. Master of the Universe! Look what your children talk about for fun! Their version of fun, and play, and recreation, is rapping about a full life dedicated to You. They’re looking at their futures instead of “living for the moment.” They have a mission in mind — to build a Jewish home, to raise children, even to be “bubbies” who “wait for our grandchildren to come make noise.” What the Forward describes as a “somewhat morbid ending” is the girls thinking about their final moments on earth and what they hope to have accomplished by then. It’s phenomenal.

Two of my own daughters were just on a Shabbaton. At three in the morning, several girls were sitting around discussing one of the talks they had heard, and one girl thought to compare what she would be sitting around talking about with her friends at three o’clock in the morning, if she didn’t have the privilege to be part of the Torah community. Yes, the girls on the video may have been rapping and beatboxing, but the world hasn’t heard rapping this positive and inspirational since Matisyahu was frum.

4) They are proud to be Jewish women. They don’t have any aspiration to be men, or to take the role of men in Orthodox Jewish society. On the contrary, they delight in the prospect of being mothers and bubbies, and express the belief that their lives will be rich and fulfilling.

5) They very much value their Tzniyus (privacy), and are mortified this ever became public. Yes, they didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, everything they rapped about was commendable. But it was a rap, the kind of thing a frum person doesn’t care to be known for. It was meant only to be shared with a close circle of friends, and they simply don’t want the “fifteen minutes of fame” that those outside our community would be delighted to have. [Full disclosure: while in Ohr Somayach, a few friends and I wrote and performed “The Yeshiva Rap” on Purim one year. Thankfully this was in an earlier era, when there were no camera phones to point at us, and no YouTube to which to upload the result.]

6) People outside our community just don’t get us, at all. They don’t understand the mission the girls were rapping about, or their preference that the video not be spread around. The Forward might find the video “delightful,” but none of us can, simply because the girls never wanted it public. As I said, the Jewish Press at least should have had the good taste not to publish it.

Many of us have argued in writing that talk about Orthodox Jews not understanding the “other side” is an exercise in projection — that we have far more contact with non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews than most non-Orthodox have with us. These girls proved it, through their demonstrated familiarity with the world outside, and that world’s inability to understand them.

Speak the Truth, with Conviction

KidsTV32Today as always, our enemies are unafraid to speak lies with complete conviction. Just as their predecessors claimed as fact that Jews are disloyal, controlling and murderous, so too today. But in our day, we are afraid to speak the truth with similar conviction.

Consider the following example.

A well-meaning individual posted to Facebook a compilation derived from two separate lists: one, entitled “How to Criticize Israel without Being Anti-Semitic,” and the other, “How to Support Israel without Being Racist.”

The first of these is largely uncontroversial, if too apologetic in itself. To describe Israel as “murderous,” “inhumane” or “vicious” demonstrates a serious disconnect from reality — yet it is true that the term “bloodthirsty” is uniquely reminiscent of ancient anti-Jewish slurs.

The other, however, comes across as a desperate attempt to accuse Jews of equal racism — and must invert fact with fiction in order to do so.

For example, it instructs us: “don’t claim Palestinian children are ‘taught to hate’ or somehow less innocent than other children.” Are we to pretend, then, that children’s TV programs are not lauding the killing of Jews (not Israelis or Zionists, but Jews), that children are not interviewed expressing their desire to be murderers and “martyrs,” or that they are not paraded in the streets wearing mock suicide belts? Are we to honestly believe that 13 and 14-year-olds shot while stabbing Jewish youths and grandmothers were innocent victims of Israeli aggression?

It even tells us that “we made the desert bloom” is a racist trope, used to excuse taking land that rightfully belongs to others. Apparently, Robert F. Kennedy was a Zionist hasbara specialist, as he wrote for the Boston Post just a month before Israel declared independence, “The Arabs are most concerned about the great increase in the Jews in Palestine… The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs, in the 12 years between 1932-1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state.”

And finally it requires, “don’t claim there is ‘no such thing’ as Palestine or Palestinians.” According to the writer, Minister Fathi Hammad of Hamas must secretly be an anti-Palestinian racist, as he declared in 2012:

Al-Aqsa and the land of Palestine represent the spearhead for Islam and for the Muslims… When we seek their help it is in order to continue to wage Jihad. We all have Arab roots, and every Palestinian, in Gaza and throughout Palestine, can prove his Arab roots — whether from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, or anywhere. We have blood ties… Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri (Egyptian)… they may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta… We are Arabs! We are Muslims! We are a part of you!

Zuheir Muhsein, leader of the pro-Syria faction of the PLO from 1971-1979, was yet more adamantly a racist, declaring that “Palestinian Arabs” were a fabrication, a “country” that would only exist until Israel was destroyed. He informed the Dutch Trouw newspaper in 1977:

Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, there are no differences. We are all part of one people, the Arab nation… Only for political reasons do we speak about our ‘Palestinian’ identity, since it is of Arab national interest to posit the existence of a ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism… Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is only for tactical reasons… the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not postpone for one second the unification of Palestine and Jordan.

No. Equating lies with truth may pass for sophistication in the PC-coated halls of academia, but does nothing for justice or morality.

This is not about Israel, Zionism, or a political dispute. When confronted by strident anti-Semitism in new clothing, we must be brutal in only one respect, so very unlike our enemies: we must be brutally honest.

Political Posturing at the Western Wall

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Rabbi Pesach Lerner/JNS.org

Charlie Kalech is upset. Kalech is the Internet entrepreneur who broke Israeli law last year on behalf of the Women of the Wall (WoW), taking a Torah scroll from the men’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Those scrolls may not be removed by law, respecting traditional Jewish practice. Kalech broke through the divider between men and women to give WoW a Torah scroll, and he was detained for his trouble. Now he feels betrayed — because WoW announced plans to hold a “birkat kohanot” this Passover, an imitation “priestly blessing” by and for women.

Large crowds come to the Western Wall twice each year for birkat kohanim, the Jewish priestly blessing. The blessing itself is hardly extraordinary — kohanim in Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues perform it on each holiday in the Diaspora; Sephardim do it daily, as do all traditional synagogues in Israel. The special event at the Western Wall, however, held during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, began less than 50 years ago.

It was initiated by the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gefner of blessed memory, based on an 800-year-old teaching that when 300 kohanim deliver their blessing together, it is a sign that the Holy Temple will soon be rebuilt. This is why nearly 100,000 Jews now come to receive the priestly blessing from hundreds of kohanim. There is no mandate in Jewish law for this service or for conducting it at the Western Wall, and no reason besides simple convenience to do it specifically during the holidays. Yet this is what WoW aims to mimic.

Kalech is agitated because Israel’s Conservative Jewish movement does not approve of women performing this ceremony, and therefore WoW’s “birkat kohanot” will not be “inclusive.” In actuality, this particular idea is equally offensive to every denomination.

There is, of course, no way to reconcile“birkat kohanot” with traditional Judaism, which defines kohanim as male descendants of Aharon, the original high priest. But the Reform movement also rejects birkat kohanim when conducted by anyone. They point out that priestly status itself is not egalitarian: it separates the kohanim from other Jews.

So WoW plans to show preference to daughters of kohanim over other women in a way unsupported by any version of Judaism, doing a “Jewish” ritual supported by no version of Jewish ritual, in imitation of a ceremony that aims to restore Judaism’s doubly undemocratic Holy Temple. And it claims to be doing all this in the name of egalitarianism.

If that reads like self-parody, so does Kalech’s complaint. He decries WoW for “blatant disregard for respect of different streams of Judaism,” and declares that the group has been “usurped by those who disregard halachic (Jewish legal) observance for their own political agenda.” Apparently he did not recognize this last year, although their “birkat kohanot” is no more or less religious, and conversely no more or less political, than their use of a Torah scroll. Kalech is absolutely right, save for his use of the word “usurped.”

The correct term is “founded.” From its inception, the Women of the Wall have demonstrated “blatant disregard for respect of different streams of Judaism.” Their behavior towards those praying at the Western Wall belies their claim to merely wish to pray in their own fashion and their own style.

One of their most active members uncomfortably admitted that her WoW colleagues consciously deviate from any normal style of prayer. On the contrary, she wrote, “they may not pray every morning at all. Some women pray/sing at the top of their lung [sic] in an operatic voice. I don’t think they would do that at home or in their local beit knesset (synagogue).” Another WoW member stated openly that she doesn’t even know how to pray, and that she came to “choose a potential victim to argue with” from among the traditional women there for prayers.

All of this is relatively obvious to anyone who has witnessed their behavior. Besides the aforementioned singing “at the top of their lungs,” they have 10 women blow shofar in unison before Rosh Hashanah, wave their prayer books overhead, and in general do as much as possible to attract attention. Although the new “Ezrat Yisrael” egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall is sufficient for a group many times WoW’s size, it sits empty — WoW comes only to where traditional women are praying, and many of its members declare that they will accept no alternative.

This conduct reflects the expressed belief of WoW leaders that change must be forced upon other women. Bonna Haberman claims that WoW “catalyzes engagement in healthy democracy” by ensuring that “ultra-Orthodox” women are “aroused by the subversive possibility of women’s autonomous public prayer.” Anat Hoffman says that WoW’s presence in the women’s section is about “bringing about change in the Orthodox world,” while Susan Aranoff and the late Rivka Haut wrote that WoW will “shock” traditional women and “change their world view.” WoW’s agenda is politics, not prayer.

Perhaps it was possible until now to ignore these statements, and credibly believe that WoW simply wished to conduct their own services. But only an alternate agenda demands that they continually push the envelope — by, for example, inventing an entirely new “Jewish” practice. It is simple political theater, busing in women to ape Orthodox men, with a performance as foreign to atraditional movements as to the most ardent traditionalist.

Perhaps WoW has finally taken things one step too far. Perhaps the media will finally ask why a group claiming to simply wish to pray “in its own fashion” keeps making its “fashion” more and more extreme. Perhaps people will wonder about a purported spiritual need for “birkat kohanot” found nowhere else in the Jewish world.

Even previous supporters of WoW must be discomfited, as Charlie Kalech is, now that WoW’s true agenda is manifest and undeniable: forcing feminism upon women who simply wish to pray peacefully, in their traditional fashion, at what they regard to be the holiest place for their prayers. The Western Wall is a religious site, and not the venue for WoW’s feminist politics.

A Declining Reform Movement Wants To Reform Israel

A recent Pew survey brought disheartening news to the American leaders of Reform Judaism: despite investing decades and millions of dollars to increase their presence, they are making little to no headway in Israel. reform-e1459122897687 A mere 3 percent of Israeli Jews identify with the movement, and even fewer attend one of the only 42 Reform congregations in the country. Even members may have little understanding of the Reform philosophy, only that it is atraditional and advocates for complete personal autonomy.

Reform is not simply a different nusach (prayer service), a different minhag (custom), or merely about men and women praying without a mechitzah (gender separation). In terms of Jewish practice, Israeli hilonim (non-observant) would be surprised to learn that compared to Reform in America, they are practically haredi. Even half of self-described “secular” Israelis claim to light Shabbat candles (at least sometimes), and one-third keep Kosher at home. Among American Reform Jews, only one in ten usually lights Shabbat candles, and only 7% keep a Kosher home. Hebrew Union College Rabbinical students claim the college itself serves non-Kosher meat.

Israel’s current President, Ruby Rivlin, was a freshly-elected Likud MK in 1989 when Reform Rabbi Uri Regev brought him to the United States to learn more about American Jewry. Upon his return, he told the Israeli media that “as a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked… Any connection between [Reform] and Judaism didn’t approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.”

From its beginning, the Reform movement rejected essentially all that we have called Judaism for millenia. The Torah is hardly the final authority for its version of Judaism. Its founders dispensed with the entirety of Jewish Law as found in the Talmud and later authorities, and also severed the historic connection between the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel. The 1843 Reform Declaration of Principles stated that “we know no fatherland except that to which we belong by birth or citizenship.” Or, put more succintly by leaders of that day: “Berlin is our Jerusalem.” Prayers for return to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, and the restoration of a Jewish government, were among the first deleted from their prayer books.

Nearly 100 years later, faced with surging anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazi Germany, the movement reversed course. Its 1937 platform endorsed “the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren” in Palestine, and called upon all Jews to “aid in its upbuilding as a Jewish homeland.”

At no point, however, did the movement make aliyah a priority. Even today, the ReformJudaism.org web page on aliyah says only that the movement encourages Jews to “strengthen their ties with Israel” and to participate in “organized visits” (especially under Reform auspices). Reform encourages congregants to visit Israel as tourists, while the overwhelming majority of American olim are Orthodox.

The movement also seems to be openly at odds with the Israeli consensus regarding Israel’s security needs and the dangers of terrorism. The current head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Rabbi Rick Jacobs, served on the Board of Directors of the leftist and pro-Palestinian J Street, and the ultra-left New Israel Fund which donates to organizations supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Jacobs strongly advocated for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to accept J Street as a member, and even threatened to withdraw the URJ from the Conference after it declined to do so.

These attitudes, to be sure, affect the membership of Reform congregations. A previous head, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, admitted that Reform has produced the most Jewishly ignorant generation in history; in a recent column, Caroline Glick tied this ignorance directly to Jewish leadership in today’s anti-Israel movement.

In addition to all of the above, the Reform movement is also in precipitous decline. Besides having merely 1.7 children per family, 60% of recent marriages have been with non-Jews. Only one of every five intermarried parents raises children as Jewish (more than one in 4 raise them “partly Jewish by religion and partly something else”). Looking at the comparative birth and intermarriage rates, it appears likely that the Orthodox will constitute the Jewish majority within several decades.

While one might expect Reform leaders to focus upon their internal issues, or at most to simply try to expand their Israeli presence, instead they seem bent upon fighting the Orthodox. The movement sponsors the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an organization described in 2005 as “determined to make life miserable for Torah organizations in any manner possible.” At that time, it was suing to prevent building of a religious center in Rechovot – one which had already won City Council approval in three separate votes, and which was supported by 1000 residents’ letters in favor of its construction vs. 200 opposed. That center finally opened last year, after over a decade of harassment.

More recently, IRAC announced that it would be suing ElAl. The announced reason was that when a male Chassidic Jew requested an accommodation so that he would not be seated next to a woman, the helpful steward asked the woman in the next seat if she would prefer an open seat closer to first class. If that sounds like shaky grounds for a discrimination case, that is only because you are not Anat Hoffman, the current director of IRAC. To her, any accommodation for observant Jews is good reason for a lawsuit.

Hoffman began her career running for the Jerusalem City Council on the radical left Ratz-Shinui ticket. Her campaign distributed an orange map of Jerusalem with black splotches representing Orthodox “encroachment” into various neighborhoods. Even many secular residents were incensed by a depiction that, used against different communities, would have been termed racist or anti-Semitic. She was unapologetic; her own informal poll confirmed that they had captured the anti-Haredi vote in that election.

One thing, though, is certain: a properly-motivated person can do far greater damage to the rights of the religious through Israel’s leftist-dominated court system than on a democratically-elected City Council. What is perhaps surprising is that a movement which in America touts its commitment to tolerance, pluralism and liberal values, hired as Director of the Israel Religious Action Center a woman who built her political career upon anti-religious bias.

Hoffman is also the Director of the Women of the Wall, the ideal platform from which to claim to crusade for women’s rights while trampling the rights of thousands of women to pray undisturbed, in traditional fashion, at the Western Wall – a site which she previously stated she would like to see converted to a (secular) monument, with neither mechitzah nor prayers. Women of the Wall arranges monthly disturbances in the women’s section, singing loudly and shouting in an effort to force change upon other women. The organization dismisses and denigrates as “controlled by ultra-Orthodox rabbis” the much larger group of traditional women who pray regularly at the Western Wall and who oppose WOW’s politically-motivated provocations.

The Reform movement funds Ms. Hoffman’s speaking tours of America, in which she distances her Reform audiences from Israel. In her speeches she claims that women do not have full civil rights in Israel, using Women of the Wall’s own antics as her prime example. To be certain, she also points out that American Reform Judaism – that which rejected the entirety of Jewish tradition – is not accepted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate as authentic Jewish practice.

Two examples illustrate the extent to which Hoffman and her Reform colleagues will exploit what they consider long-discarded Jewish religious symbols for political gain. First, the Reform movement calls its American synagogues “temples” as a conscious repudiation of the special holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem. As recently as 1999, Israel’s Reform rabbis reaffirmed that to them, the Temple and the Western Wall have no special sanctity. Yet Hoffman and the American Reform movement are demanding that the Israeli government provide a plaza for their use, equivalent to the one provided for those who revere the Temple Mount as the holiest place on earth.

And just this week, the Women of the Wall announced that they plan to hold a “Birkat Kohanot” this Passover, with funding from the estate of the late actor Leonard Nimoy – who used the Kohanim’s parting of the fingers while portraying an alien on the Star Trek TV show – to advertise and bus women to the Kotel from across Israel. Yet the Reform movement proudly “rejected the notion of priestly status,” and states that Birkat Kohanim “is not seen in Reform synagogues.” Why are they twisting a traditional practice which they do not follow, and doing so in the faces of traditional Jews whose practices they denigrate and lampoon – if not because WOW hopes to provoke yet another riot, to exploit for future public relations in America?

This is the “contribution” that Reform is making in Israel: denigrating Jewish tradition, fighting religious organizations and the rights of religious Jews, all while making Israel look bad in the eyes of American Jews and a world already delighted to misportray the Jewish state as bigoted. In America, the movement honors intermarried congregants and their non-Jewish spouses as it presides over what sociologist Steven Cohen termed “a sharply declining non-Orthodox population.” Must we wonder why religious MKs are alarmed by the thought of official recognition of the Reform movement as legitimate “Judaism” in Israel?

This article first appeared on Arutz-7.

Someone Should Remind the University of California Regents That It’s Purim

This coming Thursday, March 24, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim. This holiday does not commemorate the inauguration of a new country, a great victory for freedom, or even the birth of a great leader. Rather, it celebrates the reversal of a decree of genocide against the entire Jewish nation. No other ethnicity or nationality has such a celebration – primarily because there is no other nation or ethnicity pursued globally by those seeking its eradication.

Following the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem nearly two millenia ago, Jews have lived in communities scattered around the earth, and been subjected to bigotry and persecution. The Holocaust was unique only in its magnitude and modernity. The world has largely forgotten the Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and Arab riots that annihilated Jewish populations, destroyed their synagogues and displaced their survivors from the seventh century through as recently as the 1960s.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, coincident with Purim, as it happens, the University of California (UC) Regents will debate and vote on a “Report on Principles against Intolerance,” one which aims to address the latest iteration of that same ancient hatred – as it has expressed itself in a disturbing wave of anti-Semitic incidents across numerous UC campuses.

The Regents boldly identified and condemned “anti-Zionism” as little more than a cover for bigotry against the Jewish people: “In particular, opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance towards Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

Just as many people fought against references to anti-Zionism in the report of the U. S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism — according to which some forms of anti-Zionism constitute antisemitism — so this part of the report has proven controversial, as there are many discomfited by the inclusion of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of discrimination. Nonetheless, this statement in the report is not merely accurate, but a prerequisite for any substantive effort to combat the antisemitism facing Jewish UC students, staff and faculty. Without mention of hatred masquerading as mere “anti-Israel” protest, what will be left is a meaningless condemnation of antisemitism that omits its primary campus stimulus.

Particularly damaging opposition to this necessary statement comes from scholars like Eugene Volokh, a legal expert on the UCLA faculty, a writer generally recognized for clear thinking, and one who describes himself as not only “ethnically” Jewish, but pro-Israel. Writing in the Washington Post, he claims:

Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states.

This is true – it is appropriate to analyze whether there should be an independent state for Jews just as for the others. It is appropriate when it is at the same level, and arrives at the same objective results. When it fails this test, however – when discussion of the Jewish right for self-determination is guided by standards different from discussion of others’ rights – it becomes clear that this particular “discussion” is a mask for bigotry. This leads to an objective conclusion which is the converse of Volokh’s own.

No one but the dictators of mainland China – and their equally anti-democratic allies – begrudges the Taiwanese their independent country. Had the Scots voted for independence last year, neither the British nor anyone else would have denied them self-determination. Were the Tibetens, Chechens or any of the others to democratically secure their own independence, the civilized world would greet this with universal acclamation.

The Jewish people went through all appropriate diplomatic and democratic processes to secure a modern state to call their own. The British, whose mandatory Palestine covered both ancient Judea and a much larger territory to the east of the Jordan river, concluded that a modern Jewish state was desirable and appropriate. A plan for independent Jewish and Arab countries was endorsed by the United Nations itself, granting the modern state of Israel an unparalleled level of legal “legitimacy.” Israel’s borders expanded only when it successfully defended itself against threats of annihilation. Yet today, no one questions why the vast majority of mandatory Palestine was given to an undemocratic Hashemite clan stemming from Saudi Arabia; only the Jewish democracy is condemned. This is anything but “just as” the way other indigenous populations are treated.

These are double standards applied to Zionism, pure and simple — invocation of which the State Department’s definition rightly categorizes as being antisemitic, and the Regents should do as well.

A recent report from AMCHA Initiative, an organization combating campus anti-Semitism, demonstrates the strong correlation between so-called “anti-Israel” activity and open bigotry and even violence. Only one-third of the over 100 colleges surveyed had anti-Semitic activity in 2015 – unless there were calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. 95 percent of schools with BDS activity had anti-Semitic expression, and with greater frequency.

The study concluded that anti-Zionist student groups and faculty who call for an academic boycott of Israel are “very strong predictors of overall antisemitic activity” – and that “BDS activity is the strongest predictor of incidents that target Jewish students for harm.” In short, the anti-Israel movement is the only “humanitarian” cause whose activities lead directly to open bigotry and discrimination.

Even if you think that anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily antisemitic, it’s incontrovertible that it directly leads to and fuels straightforwardly antisemitic speech and behavior.

This is no coincidence. The leading speakers of this movement repeatedly present ancient anti-Semitic canards of Jewish claims of superiority and control of banks and the media to impressionable students. They repeat old and deadly fictions of Jews poisoning wells from the era of the Black Plague, and the blood libels of Jewish murders of children. They assert false claims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and “state-sponsored terrorism” against Israel, and then incite violence with calls of “we support the Intifada” – a program of knifings, bombings and other acts of terror directed against Jews in Israel and around the globe.

The Regents’ Working Group must be heartily commended for recognizing the true nature of anti-Zionism and condemning it as such. It would be a tremendous disservice to beleaguered Jewish UC students – and to the cause of truth and justice – were this language to somehow be dropped from the final, ratified version of the Report.

On Purim, we Jews celebrate the end of an unbridled attack on our national identity.

This Purim, with the Regents’ vote, may we be able to do the same.

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner.

Point Counterpoint: Keep the Focus on Jewish Substance

To the editor,

Rabbi Steven Wernick’s response (“Rebranding helps USCJ envision its future in a rapidly changing Jewish world”) to my op-ed, “Conservative Jews deserve more than PR,” is very interesting — yet saddening. Rabbi Pesach Lerner and I wrote about Jewish substance, and he differentiated between PR and branding. Regardless of that narrow distinction, neither can save a company selling a product of little interest to consumers.

His quote from Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is apt indeed: “We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life” (my emphasis added). It’s not about PR or branding, it’s about Judaism.

In that vein, Rabbi Wernick points out that “those impacted by Conservative Jewish communities” are “more likely” to be Jewishly educated and involved. More likely than whom — those who connect with no Jewish community at all? He makes a tremendous leap, making the bold assertion that these Jews are “highly engaged.” All the evidence at hand refutes that claim entirely.

He similarly states that we “denigrate” what he describes as a “diversity of Jewish wisdom and practice.” Yet we spoke of the beliefs, standards, and educational opportunities that the Conservative movement itself once considered mandatory. Diversity in Jewish practice is found in flourishing Jewish communities of North African, Iranian, Yemenite, German, Lithuanian, and Hungarian origin — often within blocks of each other, or side by side at the holy Western Wall.

Laxity vs. involvement is a poor-man’s diversity, and neither PR nor branding offers a rich solution.

—Rabbi Yaakov Menken, director of Project Genesis – Torah.org and co-editor of Cross-Currents.com

Rabbi Gordimer and his Critics

That Rabbi Gordimer has become the standard bearer in the face of the Open Orthodox onslaught is truly quite remarkable.

Until he started writing for Cross-Currents, we had not met, and it was only perhaps two years later that we spoke by phone for the first time. I have to say, the contrast between his clear, forceful writing and his soft-spoken persona could hardly be more profound. It is obvious that he is not a fighter by nature, and it is similarly clear that he is seeking no personal gain from his criticism of Open Orthodoxy.

This simply makes personal attacks upon him all the more unseemly, and I feel the need to rise on a question of personal privilege on his behalf.

I am truly impressed at the conclusion of the argument between Rabbi Gordimer and Dr. Shapiro, though, as I said, from what I know of Rabbi Gordimer I am not much surprised by his forgiving response. Dr. Shapiro himself confessed that he merely “knew people didn’t like OO because of women rabbis and partnership minyanim,” yet did not realize that “the opposition is much greater than that” — and that he now regrets his posting.

So I think we would do well to accept what RAG refers to as Dr. Shapiro’s “kind comments and messages clarifying that the issues were not personal.” I would like to critique the content of Dr. Shapiro’s posting with that understanding — to address what I view as unfair criticism after dissociating it from Dr. Shapiro himself.

The post in question spoke of RAG having “assumed the mantle of defender of the faith” and proceeded to excoriate him for failing to refer to Open Orthodox rabbis by name.

To address the latter issue first, Rabbi Gordimer has now been attacked both for making it overly clear whom he is speaking about, and for making it insufficiently clear. He was also similarly criticized for providing too little evidence of OO’s divergence from Torah, and then criticized for “obsessively” publishing the very quotes that were previously demanded. None of this, of course, is true. As Cross-Currents wrote when threatened with a lawsuit for publishing RAG’s essays:

Despite your assertion that you were attacked personally, in none of your chosen examples were you even quoted by name. It is the ideology of Open Orthodoxy and YCT, as expressed in your articles and those of your colleagues, that we, among many others, have criticized.

Omission of names makes it clear that RAG is interested in debating ideas, rather than expressing personal animus towards a writer.

As far as Rabbi Gordimer being cited as a “defender of the faith,” I question — is it not obvious to the well-read that Rabbi Gordimer is saying nothing new or revolutionary, nor relying upon his own judgment? YCT graduates are not accepted for RCA membership or for any position under the Conference of European Rabbis. I understand that Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg shlit”a refuses to test YCT graduates for semichah. The Agudah published a Kol Korei declaring Open Orthodoxy outside the pale, and just two years ago, Avi Weiss involved the New York Times and the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee — Eliot Engel, who represents the district encompassing Riverdale — in his effort to force the Israeli Rabbinate to recognize even his own conversions, much less those of his YCT acolytes. [Reform and Conservative Rabbis, to be sure, immediately leaped onto his bandwagon.] I am unaware of any recognized Orthodox Rabbinic authority that authenticates Open Orthodoxy’s claim to be Orthodox.

The strident attacks on Rabbi Gordimer, offered in lieu of cogent rebuttals of his critiques, seem merely to prove that Open Orthodoxy would prefer that Rabbi Gordimer go away rather than entertain a sincere and open [sic] debate about their ideology.

Now I can’t speak for Rabbi Gordimer. I rarely write about Open Orthodoxy myself, and confess a lack of interest in their latest expression of deviation from traditional Judaism. But there are clearly many others who do not understand, and media organs like the NY Jewish Week, Ha’Aretz and others delighted to misrepresent Open Orthodox figures and institutions as reflecting the world of observant Jewry. For those reasons, I know that Rabbi Gordimer’s writings continue to serve a valuable function.

What I think we might learn from this is the strength and vibrancy of Orthodoxy today. When sociologist Marshall Sklare called Orthodoxy “a case study in institutional decay” in 1955, no one was clamoring to be called “Orthodox.” The Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism broke away from the Conservative movement in 1983 when JTS decided to ordain women, and dropped “Conservative” from its name within several years. It, too, never tried to call itself Orthodox.

Now we have a new movement which objectively lies somewhere to the left of the UTJ in its Hashkafah and practices — yet which insists on describing itself as a flavor of Orthodoxy, rather than accurately as a new heterodox denomination.

I think this goes beyond the news coverage that they gain — a heterodox congregation hiring a woman Rabbi is, after all, hardly newsworthy in 2016. It is because today everyone recognizes that the modern liberal movements are in precipitous decline. The Conservative movement is hiring a PR firm to survey members and determine how to be current, as their members flee to Reform temples. The progeny of those Reform temples are, in turn, fueling the growth of “Jews of no religion.”

Today, the heads of Open Orthodoxy know that if they want to have a future, they have to be “Orthodox.” That being the case, the ones being most egregiously harmed and deceived by their use of the term are they themselves — because Jewish continuity is not maintained by using a name assigned to us by the Reformers of the 1840’s, but by fealty to an ideology Commanded to us over 3,150 years prior.

And that brings me to one final element of the criticism, expressed in a comment to Rabbi Gordimer’s reply. Dr. Shapiro writes:

There are lots of good fellow Jews who identify with OO and we shouldn’t be looking to throw them out and say they are not legitimate even if we have different views than them. The OO Jews I know affirm the divinity of Torah etc.

I have not read anything from Rabbi Gordimer suggesting that anyone be “thrown out.” On the contrary, it is the false ideas which should be discarded, and the precious Jews retained.

This situation is comparable to sincere graduates of Conservative conversion programs (and their Jewish fiances/spouses), those who may be sincerely dedicated to Judaism to the best of their understanding, and dismayed to learn for the first time that the Orthodox world (and Israel’s rabbinate) considers them not to be Jews. If we respond honestly, appreciating their sincerity yet explaining that they were guided through an invalid procedure and taught serious and unacceptable deviations from the Torah’s ideology, is this somehow tantamount to “throwing them out?” With vanishingly few exceptions, every Jew today must be greeted as a “good fellow Jew” — but does that mean we accept the teachings of the Conservative movement as “good fellow Judaism?”

Rabbi Adlerstein recently posted two examples of innovative Kiruv — using current events and familiar concepts to make a point, but above all being honest about what Judaism stands for. I have never seen or heard Rabbi Gordimer express hostility or disdain for an individual — only antipathy to patently foreign ideas, from whatever source, being misrepresented as Torah Judaism.

I notice that RAG’s survey of essays for Parshas Terumah had no mention of Open Orthodoxy. Perhaps his critiques are having a positive impact, and a course correction is underway at YCT.

Interview on Open Orthodoxy

I have to give credit to reporter David Ze’ev and Kol Yisrael, The Israel Broadcasting Authority’s national station, for investigating both sides of the Open Orthodox story. The JTA (like most of the Jewish media outside the Orthodox world) seems prepared to declare Open Orthodoxy “Orthodox” without question. David Ze’ev is of a different sort, and this is what resulted (content owned by the IBA):

DZ: Rabbi Yaakov Menken is very involved with Cross-Currents.com, which has what some refer to as a go-to source for the perspective of traditional Jews; Rabbi Menken speaks out against Open Orthodoxy.

YM: Well, it’s very interesting, you know people are talking about it with regards to women rabbis, etc., and that’s almost a red herring, because it’s something where… the key here is that Open Orthodoxy is describing itself as an Orthodox movement, using that moniker of being Orthodox, but according to all of the Rabbinic organizations in the world, nobody is certifying them as Orthodox except they themselves.

DZ: I mean what do you need, what is it called to be certified as Orthodox?

YM: Well, certifying is perhaps a loose term. We should understand that Orthodoxy is basically a synonym for traditional, observant Judaism. It’s not a moniker that the Orthodox made up for themselves. On the contrary, as Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch pointed out in the 1860s, this was the name that the Reform gave to the old, backwards, traditional Jews. And so Orthodox was supposed to mean old and stale, and what it really means is traditionally observant.

DZ: So, to the substance, do you Rabbi Menken disapprove of women having a greater role? Most of these people from this, for example Yeshivat Maharat, are not calling themselves rabbis, they get ordained, they have more of an education; are you against more inclusion of more segments of the population? That’s what the people in Open Orthodoxy say that they are.

YM: Again, with regards to Open Orthodoxy all of that is simply a sideshow. It’s not really the core issue. There are definitely different schools of thought with regards with what women should or should not be involved with, and current circumstances, and this and that, all of which are certainly able to be discussed within a context of observance. But what’s being discussed here, really, is not a particular Halachic observance. It’s a philosophy that says oh, we’re going to claim to be Orthodox while believing, for example, challenging the historicity of the Torah itself, saying that Abraham made a horrible mistake and was prepared to murder his son rather than follow the Divine Commandment, when we know in the text itself it says that G-d rewarded him for doing so. It’s saying that Moses taught G-d a thing or two about who G-d needed to be. I mean, these are things that are totally foreign to what it means to be observant, to follow G-d’s law, and they’re claiming to be an Orthodox group while they do it.

DZ: Rabbi Yaakov Menken, who is also founder and director of Project Genesis, and creator of its website Torah.org. More of that on Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. newscast.

You can hear that second interview here:

One More Kiddush HaShem, One Less Anti-Orthodox

From Kikar HaShabbat:

Kiddush HaShem: that’s what this Chassidic Bachur made with 130,000 Sha”Ch he found at a bus stop

A young “anti-Orthodox” man, as he testified about himself, lost 130,000 shekels at a bus stop and could not believe his eyes: Nehemiah Indursky, a 19.5 year old Belzer Chassid was waiting at the station with an exciting surprise.

The Mitzvah of returning a lost object by a Belzer bachur went viral: last Friday, a non-religious person wrote an exciting post in which he described an Orthodox bachur who performed hashovas aveidah, returning a lost object, with a particularly high amount of money.

The man wrote that he forgot a bag with 130,000 shekels in cash at a bus station in Haifa. He said that after half an hour he returned, completely out of his mind with worry that someone had taken the bag. “I thought that with all that, maybe a miracle will still happen and I will find it.”

xr3p7i6z__w470h289q95“When I got to the station, there was a Charedi bachur sitting there, and he asked me if he could help me. I told him the story and he told me: ‘I came here 25 minutes ago and saw the bag. I opened it and saw a large sum of money. I told myself that I’ll wait here a quarter of an hour, and if the man didn’t come, I’ll put up a note with the number of my cellphone so he could reach me.

“‘Fifteen minutes later, when no one came, I told myself that since I live in Jerusalem and possibly the one who lost the money needs it urgently, I will wait for some time. I said a Psalm that he should come soon, and not 10 minutes later you arrived.’ The bachur asked the one who lost the bag for signs that it was his, and returned the money intact.

“Until the moment I finished counting, I could not believe it was with me or that I could find this at all (I was so ‘anti-Orthodox’… but only until now). I wanted to give him a nice gift, but he absolutely did not want to accept it, saying that it is his Mitzvah” excitedly said the one who lost the money.

In an interview with Kol Hai radio, the bachur, Nehemiah Indursky, a 19 year old Belzer Chassid who studies in the Belz Yeshiva, recounted thoughts went through his head about good things one can do with that amount of money, like giving ma’aser (charity). But then he said to himself that this money does not belong to him, and the owner needed it.

Nehemiah decided to wait another fifteen minutes. “I said, ‘Master of the World, I passed my test, now You need to do Your part and send him.”

If you think this reminds you of a story you heard before, you would be right.