When President Herzog Spoke to Congress

I was honored with an invitation to Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress on Wednesday, and would like to share a few reflections.

Overall, especially up to the final quarter of his time, I thought that President Herzog spoke extremely well. He pointed out that the first time a president of the modern State of Israel addressed both houses of Congress was when his father did so in 1987, as Israel celebrated its 40th year. That set the emotional tenor of his address.

He struck the correct notes on Iran as a threat to the region, on the Abraham Accords and the ongoing need to expand them, on Israel’s quest for peace, and on the unique dangers she faces surrounded by terrorists and hostile nations. It was notable that all of these topics earned him bipartisan standing ovations, as the clear majority of Democrats joined Republicans to support his message. I would say that the first three-fourths of his address were entirely on point.

But in that last quarter, he put the lie to the claim by the progressive left that they merely oppose “certain government policies.” If those leftists in Congress only objected to certain policies of Israel’s current right-wing government, then they would have attended and applauded yet louder.

“Bougie” Herzog is a member of the Labor Party, a former left-wing legislator who would prefer Netanyahu fail in his quest to rein in Israel’s out-of-control Supreme Court. He highlighted the current street protests as reflecting Israel’s democratic character; others would describe them as an attempt by the secular left, defeated at the ballot box, to blackmail the rest of the country. So America’s progressive left, those now trying to engineer a leftist takeover of the U.S. Supreme Court, should have proudly supported Herzog’s message.

His last several minutes at the podium also saw the only one-sided ovation, when many Republicans stayed seated, and much to their credit. President Herzog touted Israel’s tolerance when “the sound of the Muezzin calling to [Muslim] prayer blends with the siren announcing the Sabbath in Jerusalem…” while “one of the largest and most impressive” Pride Parades was happening in Tel Aviv.

Sorry, but true tolerance does not require a celebration, and, not incidentally, it does require permitting individual business owners to make their own decisions regarding what activities they wish to support and service. That sort of tolerance, of course, is lacking in many corners in both Israel and America today. So I didn’t stand up, and only found out later that Speaker McCarthy remained seated as well—because the person in the row in front of me had practically leaped from his chair, blocking my view.

The progressives boycotted precisely because they do not care what Israel’s policies are, even when those policies favor leftist causes. All the so-called “progressives” care about is that Israel is the one place in the Middle East that protects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, including Jews. And the loud applause in the hall was an open repudiation of their hate.

So, all in all, it was a very good and helpful speech. We even learned from the reactions to things we might rather he not have said.

This article first appeared in Times of Israel.

Twitter’s Totalitarian Path

Published in American Greatness

With the impending end of his presidency, there were hints that the irrational hatred for anything associated with Donald Trump—the chronic ailment that became known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS—might soon be cured as well. Portland’s Democratic Mayor, Ted Wheeler, openly acknowledged that Antifa existed, was violent, and needed to be stopped.

Democratic lawmakers and the media have adamantly denied this fact ever since the president called out “violence on many sides” in 2017. Denying photographic evidence to the contrary, his opponents insisted that only neo-Nazis and white supremacists were responsible for the melee in Charlottesville. Or as Maxine Waters famously put it, “No, Trump. Not on many sides, your side. #Charlottesville.”

This past summer, CNN quoted “local authorities” denying that Antifa had taken over streets in Seattle, at least until the shooting started. Portland’s city council announced that, rather than quelling the riots that made defensive measures necessary, it was fining the federal government $2000 per hour until it removed fences protecting a federal courthouse. Wheeler calling for federal law enforcement to help fight Antifa was a 180-degree reversal—and recognition of the foundational need for law and order in a civil society.

Wednesday’s atrocious attack on the U.S. Capitol demonstrated, among other things, that any hope for a return to civilized norms proving a trend rather than an aberration is fleeting. I am not only speaking about the horrifying scene itself or the assault on the seat of government. I am speaking, as well, of the desire to attribute blame where it does not belong, and the resumed demonization and censorship of those with different political views that has followed.

I gave up on the president weeks ago. He continued to push allegations of fraud unsupported by judges, has turned on his allies, and even lost the Senate (and endangered his legacy) by suggesting that Georgia votes wouldn’t be counted properly anyways. I also missed both the riots and the online outrage until the breach of the Capitol was well underway.

By the time I learned the president was locked out of his Twitter account, I could no longer see why. I reached out to multiple friends and on Twitter itself, hoping to hear something more reasonable than the claim that “go home, we love you, you’re very special” was incitement or support for violence.

Someone wrote back. He indicated that the president said protesters needed to “show strength,” that “we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… our Republicans, the weak ones… the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” But my correspondent agreed with me: there’s no there there. Nothing the president said could be misconstrued as endorsing riots. Yet CNN reported as fact that Trump was “inciting [a] mob,” Facebook has frozen his account until the inauguration, and Chuck Schumer has called for him to be removed immediately.

Clearly, TDS is still with us. Where, in reality, did these rioters get the idea that such behavior was ok? It wasn’t the president who gave the green light to those attacking federal facilities, even threatening federal law enforcement for protecting them; that was the Portland city council. It wasn’t the president who said that violence and arson are “mostly peaceful” when they express a grievance; that was CNN, and others who characterized those standing between the president and a firebombed church as “peaceful protesters.”

That leading Democrats and media figures would join in to promote such an obviously false narrative, and silence the president on that basis, has terrifying implications for the future of America.

This threat to free speech precedes the Trump presidency; it has been cultivated by the Left for more than a decade, growing in strength year by year. It is something to which, as a Jew, I am very sensitive: in 2017, an LGBT celebration in Chicago banned Jewish Stars, claiming they were “offensive” and “made people feel unsafe.” Israeli officials and Ben Shapiro have been prevented from speaking by those falsely claiming they promote hate and endorse brutality—and, based upon those false charges, their left-wing opponents engaged in both loud and violent disruptions.

No one claims that every student biased against Israel is personally responsible for attacks on Jews. No one says that every Democrat implicitly supports Antifa. But many would like to claim that the actions of no more than 740 knuckleheads, and probably more like 74, reflect upon the president and the 74,000,000 voters who supported him. That’s less than one one-thousandth of one percent.

As a nation, we can do better than that. And we must, because the quelling of free speech is the quickest route to totalitarian control—and the false claim that the opposing side is promoting hate or violence is a proven method to start this process. Twitter has shown them the way.

One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

Recently, Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote in these [Hamodia’s] pages that it is important to avoid partisanship, or what he called the “political sports team mentality.” He correctly criticized those who stick to political positions until they “bend over backward to justify the unjustifiable.”

What he did not say, however, is that observant Jews will be deemed “partisan” simply for following the Torah. One political party has now staked out positions on moral issues so grievously divergent from our own that we cannot avoid being described as “taking sides.”

This was not necessarily the case in the past. But to be a mainstream Democrat today, one must support the public celebration of forbidden relationships and the redefinition of marriage, and oppose reserving school bathrooms for the use of a single biological gender. To an increasing extent, one must also believe that Jews in Israel are stealing “Palestinian land,” a notion derived directly from the ancient canards of anti-Semitism, and employed once again to justify atrocities. This is why Lakewood, NJ provided the widest point spread in favor of the President of any New Jersey town last November.

With tremendous respect to organizations like Agudath Israel which carefully lobby state legislators hostile to our basic beliefs, the vibrant and growing Orthodox community is also obligated to respond to the ongoing chilul Hashem created by the leaders of American liberal Jewish movements, who declare that “Judaism” requires support for the aforementioned violations of Torah and “political” positions that threaten the safety of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael.

Consider, as well, that were today’s version of the Nazi boycott spearheaded by neo-Nazis, no one would join. It is leftist groups that are stirring hatred on campus under the guise of an “Israel” boycott. This being the case, criticism of a President willing to condemn bigotry on “many sides” after the riots in Charlottesville was wrongheaded and counterproductive — in fact, he deserved our gratitude.

It is worth dwelling on this example. Rabbi Shafran asserts the following:

An actual fact is that, at the “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, one side was entirely composed of white supremacists of varied stripes but the other was mostly comprised of non-radical, non-violent opponents of white supremacy. And that the former group contained no very fine people.

Eyewitnesses, however, tell a very different story. The New York Times reported the comments of Michelle Piercy, who “drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.” The Times, hardly a right-wing news outlet, described Piercy’s feeling that she and others are subjected to “a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe.” These mainstream conservatives were the “very fine people” to whom President Trump referred and contrasted with the “neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

The claim that “the other [side] was mostly comprised of non-radical, non-violent opponents” fares no better under critical examination. Isabella Ciambotti, a student at the University of Virginia, observed multiple acts of violence against the “white supremacist crowd,” including an older man beaten with a stick while already down until she “screamed and ran over with several other strangers to help him to his feet.”

The report of Charlottesville resident Rebekah Manning is still more illustrative:

I stood with a group of interfaith clergy and other people of faith in a nonviolent direct action meant to keep the white nationalists from entering the park to their hate rally. We had far fewer people holding the line than we had hoped for, and frankly, it wasn’t enough… we were prepared to be beaten to a bloody pulp… But we didn’t have to, because the anarchists and anti-fascists got to them before they could get to us. I’ve never felt more grateful and more ashamed at the same time.

From Boston to Berkeley, Antifa used the following weeks to prove the President correct about the bigotry and violence “on many sides.” Thus while it was true, politically, that the President should have specifically called out groups that supported him in the election, his comments were both accurate and helpful to our interests.

So we must question: from where did Rabbi Shafran receive his distorted picture of the reality in Charlottesville? This is not difficult to discern.

Just days after a neo-Nazi drove his car into counter protesters in Charlottesville, there was a much more massive and planned vehicle-ramming attack committed by Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, Spain. Two CNN broadcasters immediately suggested a “copycat” relationship between the attacks — apparently unaware that Charlottesville was the eighth vehicle-ramming attack of 2017, and all of the previous seven were committed by Muslim extremists, all but one in Europe. The idea that Charlottesville provided the model for Barcelona was and remains patently ludicrous, but the media itself has become so partisan that it often cannot report neutral facts.

A nonpartisan stance does not balance objective reality against partisan falsehoods. The fact that Israel attempts to avoid civilian casualties while its enemies celebrate the murder of children is not a partisan, pro-Israel position. Support of comments that call out bigotry and violence on “many sides” is not partisan, either.

And as mentioned earlier, our self-identification as “conservatives” on a host of issues is not, in actuality, partisan, but the unavoidable consequence of being shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos. If we acknowledge that Torah ideas are now understood to be the underpinnings of a first-world society, then stating our true beliefs is valuable shtadlanus as well, good for America and for its millions of Jewish citizens.

This article was first published in Hamodia.

Celebrating the Miracle of Jewish Survival

What is the miracle of Purim?

The great majority of Jewish holidays were mandated at Sinai: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot. Most of the Rabbinic enactments are fast days, times of mourning. So the one other (happy) holiday decreed by the Rabbis is Chanukah, which celebrates a great miracle, a clear sign from G-d, blessing the Jewish response to Greek oppression. Why did the Rabbis, then, make Purim into a holiday?

There is, in actuality, a deep connection between Chanukah and Purim, in that both celebrate a reprieve from annihilation. Haman asked to murder all Jews; the Greeks wanted to stamp out Judaism.

And this helps us to recognize the miracle that we celebrate on Purim: the permanent nature of Jewish survival. Not everything is obvious. It doesn’t have to be an open miracle for us to analyze our circumstances and realize that something truly supernatural has transpired.

The very name given to Hadassah, “Esther,” comes from the Hebrew word for “hidden.” It recalls the verses in Deuteronomy [31:17-18], “I will hide My face from them … And I will surely hide [haster astir] My face on that day, for the evil that [Israel] did, for he turned to other gods.” Throughout the Megillah, G-d’s name is never mentioned; our Sages teach that every time the Megillah refers to “the King” without specifying Ahasuerus, we are to read it as referring to both King Ahasuerus and the King of Kings. Purim celebrates a hidden miracle.

In the global context, Jewish survival is perhaps the greatest miracle of all Jewish history. It defies clear historical patterns. Whenever people move to different countries, they gradually integrate, following the beliefs and ideals of the local population. Yet the Jews were different, stubbornly so. On the contrary, it is those who have oppressed the Jews – the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Spanish, and the Nazis (to specify but a few of countless examples) whose ideologies rightly reside in the proverbial dustbin of history.

In the wake of Haman’s decree, the Jews of that era recognized that by participating in the party of Ahasuerus, in which he rejoiced in the desecration of the Jewish Holy Temple and the ongoing exile of the Jews, they were leading to their own destruction. And they changed course. They returned to the unique path that has preserved the Jews through history.

Amazingly, it is the idolatry of Haman and Ahasuerus that has declined. Today the majority of humanity at least purports belief in the Jewish G-d — and throughout the Western world, the principles of ethical monotheism found in our Torah are considered fundamental to development of a first-world civilization.

Anti-Semitism remains what it always was: the revolt of immorality and barbarism against the ongoing, inexorable turn towards the values found in our Torah. The Jews were prophesied to be “a light unto the nations,” helping to spread the moral principles taught by G-d… and that light will always burn.

That is, indeed, a great cause for celebration!

Why So Much Hate?

Why are Jews hated? It comes from this week’s reading. “Why is it called Mount Sinai? It is the mountain where hatred [Sinah] descended upon the nations of the world” [Shabbos 99a].

The Medrash says that G-d offered the Torah to various other nations of that time, but when they found out that the Torah had laws against murder, theft and immorality, each nation chose a reason why they did not want to accept its laws upon themselves.

Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Klein of Torah U’Mesorah gave me a fascinating insight into this Medrash. Wouldn’t it make more sense, he asked, for nations to be bothered by incomprehensible Commandments, such as the laws of the red heifer, which even King Solomon could not understand? Every civilized nation has laws against theft and murder; otherwise you would have anarchy!

Yet what bothered them, he explained, is exactly this idea — that even basic laws, central to civil society, are in G-d’s Hands. Even a king is not exempt, he cannot do as he pleases. The prophets were very critical of David and Solomon, although they, as kings, did so much good, and wrote prophetic works of their own.

A king wants to see himself as above the law, as having absolute power. Everyone else isn’t allowed to steal, but he has eminent domain. Everyone else cannot commit murder, but he is able to call for a royal execution.

This idea, that we are not Kant philosophizing about our own moral requirements, but subject to an absolute standard that we cannot challenge or change, is what they found so offensive. That is the concept that those filled with hatred cannot abide.

Hitler said he was honored to be called a barbarian. His enmity for Jews went along with his enmity for the idea of conscience, which he called a Jewish concept. He even said that he wanted Germans to be ruthless and cruel.

In the end, anti-Semitism is about hatred for an absolute standard of morality. If you’re going to be hated for something, it might as well be for the very best of reasons!

Election Frenzy

To the great surprise of no one, I expect to pull the lever (which is to say, press the electronic button) for Trump. I have a set of reasons for so doing: his support for Israel, his [or, more accurately, his advisors’] economic and foreign policies, and whether the Supreme Court will be populated by justices bent upon determining if legislation is Constitutional, or by justices bent upon changing the law to conform to their own opinions. [As we have seen, justices of the latter variety are far more dangerous to religious communities of all types.]

But what I’ve noticed is that no matter which candidate you support, someone is going to tell you that it is religiously untenable to do so, and that it completely contradicts any claim you might have to being a moral, much less religious, person. The conversation all-too-often turns to direct attacks… and not against the candidate or the candidate’s positions, but at the other party in the discussion. All of these are direct quotes from online comments:

If you support Trump, it’s a “shanda” because you are supporting a “neo-fascist,” a “Nazi” guilty of a host of crimes. You are “attacking Judaism” and, of course, “promoting anti-Semitism.” Orthodox supporters in particular must be racists motivated by “deep resentment… against black folks for their total lack of gratitude or even conscious recognition” of Jewish support for civil rights.

If you support Clinton, you are an “un-kosher Rabbi” who endorses “an anti-Israel Treif candidate for President… with the Chazzer Feesel Clinton.” If Rabbi Menachem Genack of the OU supports Clinton, “can we now trust the OU on kashrus?”

If I seem to have more anti-Trump material, this is true. As Scott Adams of Dilbert fame points out, Clinton supporters are more likely to steal the sign off your lawn, deface your bumper sticker, or accuse you of racism and hate speech. They are more prone to use insults and labels on social media. [The anti-Clinton examples above come from a single individual.]

But my point is that it is equally inappropriate on any side, especially coming from a fellow Jew.

Is there an exemption from the obligation to be Dan L’Kaf Zechut, to judge every person favorably, because there’s an election campaign going on? If you are incapable of seeing why a rational, intelligent, religious individual might have completely rational reasons for supporting either candidate, the problem lies within you, not the target of your ire.

Certainly, there are serious issues involved. But in the end we know Lev Melachim B’Yad Hashem, that “The heart of a king is like a stream of water in the hand of Hashem, wherever He wishes, He will direct it.” [Proverbs 21:1]

Life and civilization will go on. Yes, elections address important issues, but a blatt Gemara (page of Talmud) addresses more important issues. And somehow we manage to fight over the latter while building friendship rather than enmity. It should be that way with every argument!

True Vision

space_eye-space_universe_photography_wallpaper_mediumThe reading this week begins, “See I have placed before you today the blessing and the curse” [Deut. 11:26]. This is said in the singular form, rather than plural, and the Ba’al HaTurim explains that this statement, “see,” was made to each and every individual. Each of us has the blessing and curse lying in front of us, the ability to choose between right and wrong.

This does not mean, however, that the correct choice is always obvious. The same reading also discusses the possibility of a false prophet, coming to guide us to idolatry, even proving to us that his false god has real power:

When there shall arise among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams, and he shall provide you with a sign or wonder; and this sign or wonder shall come to pass as he told you, saying, ‘let us go after other gods which you do not know, and let us serve them.’ Do not listen to the words of this prophet or this dreamer of dreams, for Hashem your G-d is testing you, to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all your hearts and with all your souls.
— Deut 13:2-4

Throughout our lives, we are confronted with opportunities to choose the good — yet the good may not be immediately obvious. Sociologists talk about the “bandwagon effect,” in which even truly bad ideas are adopted at an increasing rate the more they are adopted by others.

A senior at Brown University wrote an article this week in which he advised incoming freshmen to “prepare yourself for insane anti-Semitism.” The movement to boycott Israel is a direct descendant of the Nazi boycott (via the Arab boycott, which predates 1948), it leads directly to anti-Semitic slurs and acts against individual students, yet it is adopted as a “moral” movement by people who have not bothered to look and discern the truth.

How often are we fooled, in our own lives, by things which appear moral or correct to others? Are we “going with the flow,” or are we looking at and evaluating the blessing and the curse?

This is the challenge of our reading, and it lies before each and every one of us.

True Peace

In this week’s reading, G-d gives Pinchas His “Covenant of Peace.” He also makes Pinchas, Aharon’s grandson, part of the Kehunah, the priesthood. [As he was born prior to the anointing of Aharon and his sons, Pinchas did not become a Kohein until this point. Rash”i, Bav. Zevachim 101]

This seems an extraordinary response to a violent act. Pinchas killed Zimri, head of the tribe of Shimon, and the Midianite woman that Zimri openly took into his tent to encourage immorality. We can understand how this deed might “turn away the wrath” of G-d towards Israel, but how can it be called peaceful?

The Medrash teaches that when G-d wanted to create man, He first consulted with the angels — as the verse says, “Let Us make man” [Gen 1:26]. And when He did so, the angels argued with each other, divided into opposing camps.

In Psalms [85:11] we read: “Lovingkindness (Chesed) and Truth (Emes) ‘encountered’ each other, Righteousness (Tzedek) and Peace (Shalom) ‘kissed’ each other.” The word for ‘encountered’ is similar to when Yehudah approached Yosef to fight over the fate of their brother Benyamin [Gen. 44:18], while when Esav ‘kissed’ his brother Jacob [Gen. 33:4], the Medrash teaches that he intended to kill him.

In the argument, Chesed said that man should be created, because he would do acts of lovingkindness. But Emes said that man should not be created, because he will be filled with falsehood. Tzedek argued in favor, because man would do righteous deeds, but Shalom said no, man would be full of arguments and strife. So what did HaShem do to resolve the argument? He took Emes, Truth, and cast it to the ground!

The Kotzker Rebbe was known for his sharp, penetrating insights. And he asked, how does this resolve the argument? G-d “threw Emes to the ground.” It seems unfair, and besides, Shalom is still arguing against the Creation of Man. So how does removing Truth solve anything?

And he answered: “without Truth, Peace is easy!”

But of course, as he also observed, peace without truth is a false peace.

In order to have true peace, there must be truth. Pinchas acted to ensure that all who knew of Zimri’s sin, rather than be lured into duplicating that crime, instead would follow the path of truth — the path of G-d. Peace between Israel and their G-d is True Peace, and that is what Pinchas hoped to ensure.

Pursuing Peace and Straightening the Record

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

The recent op-ed by Yair Sheleg, “Israel’s battle for peace between religion and state,” is troublesome in several ways. While he portrays himself as a dispassionate analyst, it is clear that Sheleg’s essay intends, on the contrary, to inflame passions—and he is not above inverting the record in order to do so.

The editor’s note added by JNS.org is revealing. In lieu of “haredi,” the writer used the pejorative term “ultra-Orthodox,” prompting this editorial disclaimer. In an era when we express sensitivity and consideration towards minority populations, we allow them to choose the terms of their own identity and avoid negative bias. The writer affords the haredi community no such consideration, using a modifier, “ultra-,” that is universally negative when used to describe a movement or community. The Israel Democracy Institute claims to be nonpartisan; the director of its Religion and State program belies that, at least with regards to Jewish religious affairs.

Second, the premise of the op-ed directly contradicts Sheleg’s statement to the media, made in his professional capacity. His opinion piece claims that “the ultra-Orthodox have launched a new offensive;” speaking to the New York Jewish Week, however, he noted that “the ultra-Orthodox are in a defensive position” (our emphasis added), merely wishing to preserve the status quo that has governed Israeli practice since its founding.

In this case, the pejorative term “ultra-” is both offensive and inaccurate. Consider our own example. One of us holds a doctorate in not-for-profit organization systems, and served as executive vice president of the national Young Israel movement for more than 25 years. The other earned a BSE in computer science from Princeton University, architects a family of prominent Jewish websites, and, not incidentally, identified with the Conservative movement into adulthood. Both of us live in the United States, where we frequently interact with Reform and Conservative leaders and members both personally and professionally. Neither of us exemplifies the stereotypical image evoked by the term “ultra-Orthodox.” Groups like Women For the Wall, the women’s group acting to preserve traditional practice at the Western Wall, are certainly not led by “ultra-Orthodox.” 

The vast majority of religious nationalist leaders and members all strongly oppose the changes advocated by Sheleg—and, given his position, he is surely well aware of this. Thus the “ultra-” label is not merely pejorative, but a facile attempt to reframe the conversation to avoid the real issues.

Why are the American liberal movements pushing for major changes at the Western Wall at this time? The question gains potency given a demonstrated lack of need. More than a decade ago, these movements were allocated space at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Kotel; three years ago, then-Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled a new, greatly expanded “Ezrat Yisrael” platform in response to demands from these same movements. 

Since that time, this space has never been filled. Not once. Most of the time it sits completely empty; only when the Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rav Shlomo Amar, conducted a private service there did the leaders of these movements respond with possessive outrage. 

To anyone with even minimal knowledge of the differences in belief and practice of traditional and non-traditional Jews, the reasons for the disuse of Ezrat Yisrael are not difficult to discern. Neither movement prays for the restoration of the Holy Temple upon the Temple Mount, and the overwhelming majority of liberal Jews do not pray daily at all. They are not coming on aliyah, neither are Israelis interested in their revisions of Judaism—there are less than 100 liberal congregations in all of Israel, serving less than 0.4 percent of the Jewish population.

Liberal leaders themselves acknowledge that they are demanding the government spend millions of dollars and irrevocably compromise archaeological sites simply for “recognition.” If so, one must ask why they are willing to disrupt the attitude of American Jews towards Israel in order to make these demands at this time.

Recent Pew Research Center surveys provide the answer: the American liberal movements are collapsing here in their North American home. They claim to represent the dominant voice of American Jewry; certainly, they must accept primary responsibility for the 70-percent intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews, and the failure of the plurality of Jews under age 50 to identify with any Jewish denomination. Only 25 percent of American Jews are members of a Reform or Conservative congregation, and their median age is 55. They have lost the next American-Jewish generation.

Why are these movements spending an inordinate amount of time and money to change Judaism in Israel, rather than educating and influencing their youth, working to guarantee that their grandchildren care about Judaism? If they truly care about the Jewish future, they will not besmirch Israel with unfounded accusations of limitation on Jewish practice, but encourage their own to visit or even live there, and learn for themselves—both about Israel, and about Judaism.

This is all the more true when it comes to Sheleg’s second topic, the issue of Jewish conversion. The State of Israel adopted traditional standards to determine Jewish identity in order to preserve Jewish unity: so that the grandchildren of Orthodox and liberal Jews might marry without serious investigation of each individual’s Jewish heritage. The liberal movements have already necessitated this in America, with sometimes tragic consequences. Importing this to Israel will permanently divide the Jews of the Jewish state.

In the end, it is clear that Sheleg’s statement to the media is notably more accurate than his opinion piece: there is no “ultra-Orthodox offensive,” but rather an effort by liberal movements to enact drastic changes in Israel to draw attention away from their self-inflicted decimation at home in America. It is incumbent upon them not to try to change Israeli Jews in a way that draws them away from Jewish tradition, but to change American Jews in a way that draws them towards it. That should be, after all, the goal of any Jewish movement.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the director of Project Genesis – Torah.org, and the co-editor of Cross-Currents.com, an Orthodox online journal. Rabbi Pesach Lerner is the executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel.

Love Me… Or Else

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Rabbi Pesach Lerner
The Jerusalem Post

“A love which is dependent upon something – when that ‘something’ is gone, the love goes with it. But an independent love will never cease.” [Chapters of the Fathers, 5:16]

A recent survey commissioned by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism claimed that one in three Israelis “especially identify” with that movement. This astounding finding perplexed many observers, as – according to that same survey – only half as many Israelis had so much as visited a Reform congregation even once during the previous five years.

With real support from Israeli Jews, Reform and Conservative leaders would have little difficulty changing the nature of Jewish prayer at the Western Wall – Knesset parties serve constituencies, and would gladly enact modifications demanded by their voters. Instead, American liberal leaders are making threats: at a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), warned of a “major rift between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel” if their demands are not met.

The heads of the American Reform and Conservative movements believe that Jewish love for Israel comes with terms and conditions, and that they control the American Jewish heart. They are inflating their importance on both sides of the Atlantic, and placing naked self-interest ahead of the unity of the Jewish People.

To be certain, they did not attempt to convince Israeli leaders of widespread local support. There are fewer than 75 Reform and Conservative congregations in the whole of Israel, including those open only on holidays. In the aggregate, they serve less than 25,000 congregants – under 0.4% of Israel’s 6.3 million Jews. There are more Orthodox synagogues in Tel Aviv, the “secular capital” of Israel, than seats in its lone Reform congregation.

Instead, they assert that “Diaspora Jewry” shares in their demands. Even ignoring the predominance of traditional Orthodox synagogues everywhere outside North America, this is a specious claim: according to the Pew Survey of 2013, only 25% of Jews in the US are members of a Reform or Conservative congregation. They have lost the allegiance and involvement of the American Jews they claim to represent.

The majority of the less than 250,000 American Jews visiting Israel each year – and the vast majority of olim – are Orthodox. Of the remainder, the majority are on Birthright Israel or others visiting for their first time. One is left with a vanishingly small number with any interest in changing Israel’s entirely different Jewish culture.

The Pew Survey of Israeli Jews published this year noted that the American concept of Jews divided into “denominations” or “streams” is foreign to Israeli Judaism, which remains far more traditional. Responding to their impartial questionnaire, less than 5% of Israelis identified with either US liberal denomination: the overwhelming majority chose “Orthodox” or “none.” And even so-called secular (“Hiloni”) Israelis are more likely to engage in Jewish observances – such as lighting Sabbath candles, holding a Passover Seder or fasting on Yom Kippur – than adherents of American liberal movements.

This being the case, American Reform and Conservative leaders should be less concerned about Israeli Jewish practices, and more concerned about those of their own congregants. Successive surveys show sagging Jewish affiliation over time in America, while just the opposite is true in Israel.

Without focused effort by liberal leaders, the Diaspora’s troubling Jewish decline will continue to accelerate within their movements, and the Jewish future will be found only in the yet more rapid growth of Orthodoxy. The median age of those identified with liberal denominations is now 55, while that of Orthodox Americans is 40 and swiftly dropping. The intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews has reached over 70% – for the Orthodox, it is stable at 2%. According to the Avi Chai Foundation, only 5% of American Jewish children receiving a full-day Jewish education attend Reform or Conservative schools.

To the extent that Jewish allegiance to Israel has become conditional rather than integral for American Jews, this is the sad consequence of that same lack of commitment. According to the Pew Survey in Israel, 68% of Israelis feel a common bond with their Jewish brethren in America, and three-fourths believe that we share a common destiny. Yet only 43% of American Jews now believe that caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish.

The American liberal movements are also openly at odds with the Israeli consensus regarding Israel’s security needs. Rabbi Jacobs also served on the Board of Directors of the pro-Palestinian J Street, and the ultra-left New Israel Fund. He was at the forefront of those who pressured Prime Minister Netanyahu to stay home, rather than address the US Congress regarding Israeli opposition to the “Iran deal.”

A growing number of supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement on campus are young progressive Jews, in love with liberal ideals and blithely ignorant of the ugly history of anti-Semitism. Are these among the American Jews who might “rupture” with Israel over the issue of Jewish prayer?

Israel’s multifaceted Jewish community has demonstrated its commitment and success in ensuring a common Jewish future; it is inappropriate for American Reform and Conservative leaders to demand changes. They cannot presume to speak for American Jewry, and the Prime Minister should recognize that “love” contingent upon meeting demands is no love at all.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Director of Project Genesis – Torah.org, and the co-Editor of Cross-Currents.com, an Orthodox on-line journal.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner is the Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel.

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