Q&A with Rav Aryeh Scheinberg

With special permission from Ami Magazine, I am posting this earlier than expected in response to many requests, along with the cover story.

How long have you known Pastor Hagee?

We have a 34-year relationship, a 34-year friendship.

That is when he decided to run a Night to Honor Israel. Did you know him before then?

We had only met once prior, at a community event. We began to share time together when the Night to Honor Israel was emerging in response to criticism of Israel. He wanted to promote the wonderful favor that Israel did for the free world in bombing the Osirak nuclear reactor. And we began to speak with each other on an ongoing basis.

Did you have conversations about his idea before suggesting to the Federation that they should talk with him?

Yes, I had heard him out myself. My feeling was not based on discussion with others or extensive research, just the feeling that you get about a person when you meet them.

In the first years, until people learned to trust him and believe that he had no proselytizing agenda, and that he was what he said he would be, I had to represent him to different communities, to different Jewish leaders. I gave them my personal testimony, if you will, of his sincerity, the authenticity of his support for Yidden and desire to help Eretz Yisroel.

After a while, he became a known commodity. People in the national Jewish leadership came to recognize his idealism and altruism. So my role became less intense, less constant in the need to represent him to others.

I still say I’m a gatekeeper and advisor, because there are people always trying to reach him. He has to know who he needs to see. He relies on my advice and the advice of some others.

It’s an unlikely alliance.

The whole movement is “unlikely,” but it’s happening. It’s happening and it is something which has to be Yad HaShem. MeAyin Yavo Ezri. CUFI is a growing force for political advocacy at a time when we have no friends in the world outside North America.

Non-frum Jews need them in another way, also: their belief in Scripture. They say, “Eretz Yisroel belongs to you because the Torah says so.” We don’t have to believe their Bible, but they believe ours. We should hope that non-frum Jews will think about what he’s saying.

He’s a person, obviously, of power. He has strong, passionate beliefs. And he’s a visionary. He’s not politically correct. He acts based on what he thinks G-d wants, which is consistent in most areas of political and social life with what an Orthodox Jew should want.

What about the obvious religious chasm?

We’re both aware of that; obviously we all think of our own Acharis haYamim. But when we open the Wall Street Journal and look at the political scene, we don’t think about the end of days, but what is going to happen today or tomorrow. We have so many issues that we need to be active about now.

Why should we talk about the end of days when we have such concern about next week, or next month? When we have such concern about Iran and the well-being of the United States, are we growing stronger or weaker – there are just so many issues of the survival and security of the present that eschatological discussions are a luxury.

But “sof kol sof” doesn’t he believe you need to accept their religious founder to go to Heaven?

He has already worked that out, and gone on record saying that that’s not the case, that Torah-True Jews will have a “special grace.” Bottom line, he does not believe that our salvation depends upon a change of faith.

How do you view his personal interactions with the Jewish community?

I’ve seen him in very sensitive, tender moments. I’ve seen him with genuine tears at Yad VaShem. I’ve seen him being courteous to an elderly person who came to him when thousands were waiting.

I’ve seen his sensitivity to my needs, to Orthodox needs. Whenever there is any event, he’s concerned about Kashrus. Wherever I go with him, or any even where there are going to be Jews, there’s going to be a Kosher meal. Even for Jews that haven’t seen a Kosher meal in a long time.

He visited Jonathan Pollard in jail when few paid attention to his case. He sat in jail with Pollard for three or four hours. I viewed him as a visionary doing epic things, changing the feelings of Christians for Jews. And then I saw the lengths to which he was prepared to go to encourage and diminish the pain of a single Yid.

Whenever we go to Eretz Yisroel together we stop at the Wall and pray for each other’s well-being, as well as Eretz Yisroel and Klal Yisroel.

Why did he come to Rodfei Shalom after the vandalism?

There was no agenda, he didn’t know the media would be here. He came to ask what he can do, and how they can help – to be mechazek by standing with us. He conveyed the feeling that we are family. He supported our building campaign in 2007, and even told me that we didn’t need to recognize it – though we did, putting his name on the board room, where we meet. But he responded Wednesday as if it were his own church that had been attacked.

It’s clear that he cares about the entire Jewish community, but has a special relationship with you.

He has often said publicly that I’m the closest of all his friends among the clergy, Christian and otherwise. We’ll talk about things of a personal nature that may not be a topic of conversation with others. If there’s an issue that is vexing or troubling to him, he will call and ask for my prayers.

Ours is a mutual relationship. It just happened. It developed on a basis of mutual trust, respect and love.

J’Accuse. You Have Hurt Me, Lisa

Lisa, I am very disappointed and personally hurt by your words directed against me.

You and I have communicated before. We are in agreement on many issues, and have always been amicable with regards to the exceptions. So I find it difficult to adequately express my surprise and pain to have discovered your essay, in which you accuse me personally of bloodshed.

Yes, you did accuse me personally. You said it explicitly: “The entire Hareidi community spilled this blood.” I have the Fedora hat. I have the beard, the big black yarmulke, and the Tzitzis. And I pray in the right synagogues. You meant me.

I warned that hateful essays would be written. I just didn’t expect someone like yourself to be the writer. Your words were painful precisely because your accusation was both hateful and personal.

I understand that you disagree with our continued fealty to the Book of Leviticus, but our calling a certain act “to’eva” has not, in our community, ever encouraged murder. That is simply because the same Torah that calls that action “to’eva” also requires us to love every Jew, to not hate our brethren, and above all, not to murder. I am not somehow collectively responsible for everything written by a charedi person on a website, and I chose different words myself — but despite what you claimed in your essay, at no time did the website you mentioned ever refer to a person as to’eva, just a parade.

You said that the “small rabbis in the Hareidi community” are calling people to’eva. Can you identify one, or did you simply make an assumption that Hareidim “must” think that way? I suspect the latter — for if you had actually wanted to know what our Rabbis say regarding those with homosexual inclinations, you might have watched or remembered the interviews of HaRav Aharon Feldman and several others in the 2001 movie “Trembling Before G-d.” You would have seen how they balanced uncompromising love for the Torah with uncompromising love for every Jew.

But even without learning what we actually think, surely you observed that Schlissel was in jail for the last ten years, rather than sitting in a class in a charedi neighborhood. If it were true, as you assert, that referencing the Bible leads our extremist members to murder, surely it should have been someone who was actually in our community for the past decade who committed this horrendous crime.

In actuality, there was near silence about the upcoming parade, rather than condemnation. Did you notice that the same website, which has had five articles after the attack — including the incident itself, “Why the Gay Pride Parade Stabber is a Murderer,” an update on the victims, calls for the police chief to resign, and widespread condemnations — had no coverage whatsoever prior to the attack? The (secular) commenter on charedi affairs for Channel 10 noticed the charedi silence, and reflected that Schlissel was more likely to have been driven crazy because the community ignored the parade.

I challenge you to find another population group of 900,000 people — whether Israelis or Americans — with a similar murder rate to ours. Charedim do not murder, neither Arabs or Jews, and neither do we encourage it, with an unparalleled degree of uniformity. This does not mean perfection, because we remain human beings. But we certainly do better than any other group of similar size. Israel’s annual murder rate (excluding victims of terror) is 1.7 per hundred thousand. When was the last time you heard an accusation of murder directed against a charedi person? Surely you know the media would have made quite certain we all knew about it.

Yes, you’ve accused the most peaceful community in Israel of encouraging murder.

We are and remain human beings. We, like any other community, have our share of the mentally ill. We, like any other community, trust the police to do their job. Instead we had a single unhinged individual do a heinous act ten years ago, and when the police let him loose they apparently didn’t contemplate the possibility that he might not be cured of his illness, and might go back again, “k’kelev chozer al kei’o — like a dog returning to its vomit.”

This isn’t to say that the charedi community was entirely absent from the scene — charedim direct and are Jerusalem’s predominant members of the United Hatzalah organization, whose volunteer first responders make Israel’s emergency response time the fastest in the world. That same community that you claim wished to murder those at the parade, was there in numbers to rescue them.

They represent the true heart of the charedi community, willing to sacrifice work and family time to help those in need of urgent care — regardless of whether the person is Jewish, much less his or her level of religiosity. There was one murderer, and dozens of volunteers ready to drop what they were doing to try to save his victims. Is it not obvious that most charedim aim to save lives, not take them?

Yet you didn’t ask questions. You expressed no sympathy for the phenomenon of mental illness and how horrified Schlissel’s family — and extended family — most assuredly are. You reserved no words for the police who released this person from prison three weeks before the parade, and failed to keep an eye on his behavior. Instead, you accused me, simply because I am charedi, of participating in his act — and encouraged your readers to hate me as a result. I hope you can see why I might feel personally hurt.

As I was finishing this essay, I learned that Shira Banki, one of the six victims of Yishai Schlissel, succumbed to her wounds today. She was 16. HaMakom Yinachem, may G-d console all her family and all who mourn our loss.

Let’s Not Cry Anti-Semitism

The trail of anti-Semitism is long and bloody; irrational hatred towards the Jewish people permeated Europe, Asia and North Africa back through ancient times. Nonetheless, one should not be overly hasty to fall back upon ancient biases in the modern era.

It does not make sense to resort to charges of anti-Semitism in response to positions and activities against the Jewish state, when there are other reasonable explanations that justify the same positions. Supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and the recent Flotilla trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, assert that they are motivated by humanitarian concerns for the residents of the Gaza Strip, rather than animus towards Jews or Israel. These motivations include:

  • The needs of the Gaza population. The lead ship of the flotilla, the Marianne of Gothenberg, carried solar panels and medical equipment as demonstrations of this concern.*
  • The blockade’s violation of the human rights of Gaza residents, and violation of international law
  • The deprivation of “security of food supplies, medical care, education, drinkable water and cultural exchange” (from the website shiptogaza.se).
  • And more fundamentally, the rights of an indigenous population to a homeland – meaning that Israel must end its occupation.

The question we must ask is simple: are these neutral humanitarian concerns, or excuses with which to mask discrimination? The difference is found in how these arguments are employed in other situations: one who applies humanitarian principles across the board is genuine, but one who encourages global condemnation of a single group or country — while ignoring equal or greater violations by an opposing or third party — might more accurately be called a bigot. And there’s the problem.

marianne3It is true that the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant is producing limited power at this time – due to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to provide more fuel until Hamas, the organization governing the Gaza Strip, pays its past due balance. Israel, by contrast, continued to provide electrical power to Gaza even during last year’s war, though Hamas owed Israel over $60 million for previously-supplied power at that time.

Israeli electrical service to Gaza was only interrupted when an errant Hamas rocket hit the power line. Employees of the Israel Electric Company then worked in bulletproof vests and helmets in order to restore power to 70,000 residents of Gaza just days later.

And despite accusations that Israel “destroyed” the Gazan power plant during the war, that plant resumed operation within two months of the war’s end. So a neutral concern for Gazan residents would direct opprobrium primarily against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, those responsible for cutting the power. BDS activists, however, protest against Israel.

As for medical equipment and care, we must wonder why the Flotilla bypassed Morocco, Algeria, and most notably Egypt, countries along its path where the life expectancy at birth is significantly lower than it is in the Gaza Strip. Yes, despite what you’ve heard about “genocide” in Gaza (a smear designed to stir up grotesque comparisons to the Nazi Holocaust), a baby born in Gaza can expect to live nearly three years longer than one born in Egypt — due in large part to access by Gazans to treatment in Israel (where the life expectancy of both Jewish and Arab citizens is still higher).

A neutral concern for human rights and international law would also have motivated the flotilla to dock in Algeria, where Freedom House upgraded the state of press freedom to “Partly Free” only last year, or Libya, where attempts at freedom of expression could be greeted with the death penalty — as could the announcement of an LGBT relationship (in Algeria, one would only get a few years’ imprisonment and a large fine for that). Yet the “freedom flotilla” sailed straight for Gaza — and not because hundreds of homosexual Palestinians have fled to Israel to avoid discrimination, harassment or death.

A naval blockade during hostilities is a conventional defense tactic, and Israel claims the Gaza blockade will end as soon as Hamas ceases its efforts to import weapons with which to kill Israelis. This argument is buttressed by the interception of a shipment of advanced Syrian rockets, paid for by Iran and intended for Hamas use, just prior to the outbreak of last year’s war. But under European Union law, Spain has no similar justification for its summary deportations of refugees who jump the fence from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Yet the Flotilla did not stop there to protest this undisputed violation of international law, nor suggest that Hamas cease attempting to import weapons as a method with which to end the blockade.

Discussion of the “security of food supplies” is also a troubling subject for BDS supporters to raise, as Israel continues to facilitate entry of 800 truckloads of food and humanitarian supplies into Gaza every day. These imports halted only briefly during the 2014 Gaza War, when Hamas deliberately fired rockets at the border crossing. Egypt, on the other hand, has closed its border with Gaza completely, and is razing an entire city — the Egyptian side of Rafah — to prevent terror attacks against its soldiers. Yet again, the Flotilla accuses neither Hamas nor Egypt of indifference to Gaza — only Israel, the only one of the three that has acted reliably and consistently to ensure the security of food supplies.

As for cultural exchange, it’s interesting to note that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas will tolerate the presence of an Israeli Jew in any territory under their control, whereas, by contrast, Arab citizens of Israel enjoy greater freedoms than Arab citizens of any Arab country — including mixed Jewish-Arab schools, Arab professors and students in Israel’s top universities, Arab Knesset members, and even a leading contestant on MasterChef Israel. A Palestinian in Lebanon is barred from at least 25 professions, including law, medicine and engineering, but BDS does nothing to protest open discrimination against Palestinians by other Arabs.

And when it comes to self-determination, the flotilla sailed past Morocco, which continues its occupation of the Western Sahara and control of the indigenous Sahrawi people. Palestinian Arabs comprise the majority of the citizenry of Jordan — itself eighty percent of the old British Mandate for Palestine. Yet, once again, the flotilla does nothing for the independence and self-determination of millions of ethnic Palestinians languishing under the Hashemite clan (originally of Saudi Arabia).

So yes, let’s not be so fast to say that BDS and the recent flotilla are nothing more than a recent manifestation of age-old anti-Semitism, reminiscent of the Nazi Boycott of the 1930s and false incitement against Jews throughout the Middle Ages. Let’s offer the proponents of BDS the opportunity to provide new and more reasonable justifications for their positions and actions that are neutral, humanitarian, and have nothing to do with bias against Jews.

Because the ones provided thus far have done precious little to prevent us from slipping inexorably towards that ugly conclusion.

* As the Washington Post determined, the “aid” comprised a flat package able to hold a small solar panel, and a single nebulizer.

On Princeton and BDS

My letter to the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

Somewhere during my education, I was taught that you get to have your own opinions, but not your own facts. This being the case, the recent divestment letter (Inbox, April 22) and referendum are still more troubling than previous letter-writers have allowed.

According to both its American and British authors as well as the text itself, UN Resolution 242 expects Israel to withdraw from “territories” – not all, but rather some, and only upon conclusion of a peace agreement giving Israel secure borders. Israel already has withdrawn in order to make peace with Egypt and Jordan, and even without a peace agreement, from the Gaza Strip.

Said resolution also requires “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every State in the area.” The PLO, which immediately rejected Resolution 242, stated as recently as 2010 that “the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state.” Hamas, of course, seeks genocide, the extermination of every Jew, in its charter.

So we are left to confront the reality that 76 professors ignorantly or deliberately falsified the record and inverted the facts in order to satisfy their personal biases. This, along with a student referendum based upon this and similar falsehoods, risks sacrificing Princeton’s reputation for academic integrity on the altar of political correctness.

The Need for RFRA

While Rabbi Shafran outlined so well the failure to protect religious freedom from the gay marriage agenda, the headlines are piling up fast and furious to show us why legislation to protect our rights is so badly needed — and the Obama administration is clearly leading the charge.

In oral arguments in favor of same-sex marriage being a national right, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli explicitly said that as a result, religious universities would be unable to function in accordance with their own beliefs:

Not satisfied with that answer, Justice Alito brought up the Bob Jones case, where the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. He asked if the same would apply to a college or university that opposed same sex marriage.

“You know, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue,” Verrilli said. “I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It’s going to be an issue.”

And today we read of a criminal investigation of two ministers operating a for-profit wedding chapel, because they can only consecrate the union of a man and a woman. In Colorado, of course, a baker was forced out of the business of making wedding cakes, because he refused to make one for a same-sex wedding.

Note than in the Idaho wedding chapel case, someone called them up two days after the law went into effect. With apologies to those who insist it’s simply coincidence, I find it chilling — signs of an effort to deliberately shut all “people of [traditional] faith” out of the business world.

Baltimore Take-Aways

Here in Baltimore, we’re buckling down the hatches and hoping to weather the storm. Unrest is expected in “the Northwest” but no one is quite sure what that means. Schools all dismissed early and it’s been recommended that children stay indoors. So far, it’s a snow day in April; iy”H it will remain so.

I’m sure some of what I say here will be controversial, but here are my opinions on the facts as I know them.

The Detention of Freddie Gray was Reasonable and Appropriate

People who have nothing to hide have no problem making eye contact with a police officer, and certainly they don’t respond to eye contact by bolting. This has nothing to do with “running while black,” and everything to do with “running from a cop.”

It is the responsibility of the Baltimore Police to keep public order. Especially in a high crime area, the fact that Gray went running off at top speed was an extremely good reason to detain him, start a conversation and find out why he was running away.

Then, upon detaining him, there was ample reason to bring him into custody. He was carrying a switchblade, which which is apparently against the law — I can’t tell you if that’s true for everyone or only for those with a criminal history, but Gray has seen the inside of a prison several times over the past 7 years. He was scheduled to be tried in May on drug charges. Officers apparently suspected he was involved in drug activity, but they never got to question him about that.

There is No Evidence (Yet) that Police did Deliberate Harm

Thanks to an abundance of cell phone videos, we know what police did when they dragged him to the van and when they put leg irons on him (apparently he was being violent). Nothing that we can see explains how he received the severe spinal injury which eventually caused his death.

According to policy, he should’ve been buckled in. If a prisoner is being violent with you, then cuffed or not it’s difficult to buckle him in without risking personal harm. The officers decided not to risk being head-butted or even bitten. I think we can understand that — but it was still wrong. If it took three officers to do it safely, then three officers should have been involved.

There was also no obvious physical injury, nothing for police to see and no indication of police brutality. The spinal injury was the only injury he suffered.

The remaining question, then, is whether the driver of the van deliberately chose to give him a “rough ride” as some sort of “payback” for being violent with them. I can’t answer that question, and I’m sure no one can until the investigation is complete.

If the arresting officers didn’t hurt him, and didn’t give him a rough ride, then how did he get hurt? Did he get jostled the wrong way? Did he slam himself into the side of the van for some reason? We may never know. The demonstrators don’t seem to be waiting.

He Should Have been given Medical Attention More Quickly

Someone being held down by police is immediately going to start saying “I can’t breathe,” in order to get police to relax enough to let them escape. A cuffed person will complain his wrists hurt — and Gray was recorded doing exactly that. Similarly, for someone detained by police to claim to need medical attention is a frequent tactic to avoid going to central booking. This last tactic just delays the process and means more time in custody.

This is something that officers know to explain, to distinguish between those just trying to delay from those who really have a problem. They ignored Gray’s complaints instead, and this was wrong as well.

The Demonstrations are Senseless

The Mayor of Baltimore is black [I would use the more politically-correct term African-American, but the hashtag is #blacklivesmatter]. The Police Commissioner is black. The majority of the city council is black. At least 25% of the police force (including, according to some reports, at least one of the arresting officers) is black. So I wonder if all these people protesting could please clarify who it is, among the mayor, police force and city council, who doesn’t think black lives matter?

Obviously, they do. Obviously, they want to find out what went wrong. Obviously, they are already working on it diligently, and not trying to cover anything up. Isn’t it incredibly premature to “take to the streets?”

No, the Mayor Didn’t Deliberately Let Them Riot

Much has been made of the following quote from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:

I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters would be able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate, and that’s what you saw this evening.

Some have pounced on this statement, claiming that she was admitting that they intentionally provided “those who wished to destroy” with the necessary “space to do that.” But I think it’s obvious to any honest, thinking, unbiased person that this is not what she said. She said that in providing the protesters with space in which to “exercise their right to free speech,” this inadvertently gave space to “those who wished to destroy.”

Zero Tolerance Actually Works

Zero-tolerance doesn’t mean tolerance for false arrests. Zero-tolerance isn’t an excuse for officers to get it wrong, and officers shouldn’t be given quotas requiring a certain number of arrests. What zero-tolerance does mean is that even minor crimes are not tolerated. If people want to protest, and you let them congregate in legal fashion, that’s one thing. But if you let them block traffic and you don’t intervene, they will up the ante. They will throw rocks. They will destroy police cars. They will set fires.

In Israel they have the opposite problem. If something like this had happened in Jerusalem, the border police would’ve been there busting heads. As we know, the Israeli border police act completely outside the bounds of law and order, covering their nametags, wantonly clubbing bystanders and arresting people who photograph them in action (well, at least they did that third one before cellphones made it impossible to stop the photos from appearing).

Here, the police were hampered not only by numbers, but by a policy of excessive restraint in the face of not merely protests, but violence.

We can hope that tonight will be better — due to the presence of overwhelming force. But if police had been given authority to quell the protests and clear the streets, if they didn’t need to fear lawsuits if they shoved a person illegally blocking a street (the rock-throwing thugs, of course, had no such fear), it’s likely they could have regained the streets last night, and neither a CVS pharmacy nor a nearly-completed facility for the elderly would have burned to the ground.

Such is the consequence of fettering the shotrim, the people who guard us and ensure that we obey the laws — and who are authorized to use force when necessary.

Prepare for Round Two

The investigation will be completed soon. It is almost certain that whatever disciplinary action is warranted for failing to buckle Gray in or failing to respond to his medical complaints, it will hardly satisfy the mob thirsting for blood, or in this case, a charge of murder.

One can hope the Mayor has learned that its not only the demonstrators who deserve freedom to operate.

Fruitful Conversations about Fruitful Continuity

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken

In a recent editorial in The Forward (“Be Fruitful and Multiply — Please?”, Dec. 12), Jane Eisner sets aside the Pew Report’s alarming statistics regarding non-Orthodox intermarriage and assimilation to focus upon fertility, which she terms “an even more fraught issue.” Yet it is unclear why she believes the decline in childbearing to be the dominant cause of the diminution of the non-Orthodox community, nor why begging women to have more children will contribute significantly to a reversal.

[This response was initially accepted for publication in The Forward itself, but subsequently they decided not to print it. We believe this an unfortunate decision both for The Forward and its readership.]

Eisner correctly states that non-Orthodox fertility hovers around 1.7 children per family, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. But Zero Population Growth will not preserve a Jewish community whose children are deserting it. The Pew Survey reports that fifty percent of married Reform Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and children of intermarriage are much less likely to be raised as Jews. Even beyond that, one-third of young Jewish adults raised as Reform Jews now classify themselves outside Jewish denominations. So in reality, Reform families must produce over four children on average (the Pew Survey’s assessment of Orthodox fertility) to simply maintain the Reform population, unless declining affiliation is addressed as well.

This is not to say that Ms. Eisner is wrong to take a hard look at the non-Orthodox decline. It is that she has deliberately ignored its primary factor, and overlooked the positive example set by another Jewish community in precisely that area.

The Orthodox always had a high fertility rate – but until shortly after World War II, Orthodox children often found their way into Conservative and Reform congregations. Today the overwhelming majority of young adults raised Orthodox retain their Orthodox affiliation and, of course, marry other Orthodox Jews.

Given Eisner’s deep concern about the decimation of the non-Orthodox community, it is noteworthy that we have seen scant (if any) examination in The Forward of what Orthodox families began to do differently. If The Forward wishes to make a positive contribution to the non-Orthodox future, it might begin by regarding the Orthodox less as a curious afterthought or a forbidding “other,” and more as brethren with a shared interest in Jewish continuity – and with much acquired wisdom to share.

This past summer, Eisner listed a series of stereotypes about Orthodox Jews, specifically Haredim: “We say that Haredim are misogynist, perhaps homophobic, possibly corrupt, [and] unduly swayed by their rabbis.” But negative caricatures should not influence how The Forward reports upon something as beneficial as Jewish fertility. A 2012 Forward editorial entitled “The Undeserving Poor?” questioned financial assistance of the impoverished who have children – not regarding those who choose to become single mothers and live on welfare, but hard-working Hasidic families staggering under the expense of feeding large broods and providing them with full-day Jewish schooling.

The non-Orthodox community has fought against any form of relief from the expense of private education. For the Forward to then malign Jewish families weathering financial double jeopardy adds insult to injury. Instead of censuring the fecundity of Hasidic parents, The Forward might note that increased aid for parochial education would have greatest impact upon non-Orthodox families, those which regard Jewish schooling as optional and for whom cost is therefore a significant factor.

Nor is The Forward’s negativity limited to substantive topics. A frequent contributor recently claimed that her Satmar mother was so focused upon picayune details that what “clinched” the marriage between her daughter and another Satmar woman’s son was that both women wore the same hair coverings. Shortly thereafter, the same writer conceded that the style in question is common to all Satmar women – rendering her portrayal of her mother at best a work of therapeutic but prejudicial fiction.

The Forward frequently publishes similar articles by non-Orthodox adults raised in Orthodox families, but rarely do we hear from the much larger number of adults who have moved in the opposite direction. Pew Research projects that over 110,000 Orthodox adults did not grow up Orthodox, and by most estimates, women constitute the majority of that figure. How does that reflect upon Eisner’s perception of Haredim as misogynist? Why would college-educated high achievers (of either gender) become blind adherents of corrupt homophobes?

Perhaps it is time for understanding to replace mockery. Would it not better serve The Forward’s readers if, among a plethora of recent articles about Sheitels, one came from a woman who wears one?

Though perhaps she would prefer to write about something more consequential than Sheitels. If current trends continue, the 110,000 adults who adopted Orthodoxy will have more Jewish grandchildren than the collective membership of today’s Reform or Conservative movements. But to learn how Orthodoxy’s rejuvenation might be relevant to the non-Orthodox world, one must acquire a more honest awareness of Orthodox beliefs and practices, especially in the area of raising our next generation.

Today’s Orthodox Jews know that to inspire children to stay Jewish, Torah must encompass our lives. It must be not merely part of our days, but our roadmap for life.

And so that is what we teach them. In shul they pray next to their parents as well as retirees, and see that we all study the same Torah, the Torah that has guided Jewish lives throughout our history.

Of course, we send them to Jewish schools. A “dual” curriculum is demanding educationally and financially, but Jewish education through High School is the best method of retaining Jewish commitment into adulthood. It is well worth the sacrifice.

When it comes time for young men and women to seek a marriage partner, they invite parental involvement – because they are seeking not merely to fall in love, but to find someone with whom to build a family and future upon a vibrant past. Each couple starts the process over again, thus preserving the Jewish people.

Is there a way to capture some of that inspiration and commitment, without being Orthodox? One thing is certain: searching for the answers is a far more productive approach than belittling Orthodox successes – and begging for children.

Speaking about the Jerusalem Attack

WMAR TV in Baltimore came to the Tfillah (prayer) at the Shomrei Emunah Synagogue. I think they asked me to speak on camera because I have a daughter in Jerusalem now.

Elon Musk Can Sleep Easier

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was quoted yesterday comparing artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I would guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and… he’s sure he can control the demon? Didn’t work out.” This is not a new sentiment for Musk, who called AI “more dangerous than nukes” earlier this summer.

Could AI truly be an “existential threat” – could computers, intended to help us, instead make us extinct? In theory, yes. Musk referred to HAL 9000, the sentient computer that murdered the crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as “a puppy dog” compared to what AI could produce. Colossus: The Forbin Project, the 1970 movie about two supercomputers that took over the world (and nuked a city when not obeyed), enslaving mankind for the “good” of mankind, seems more in line with his concerns.

If Musk has erred, it’s not because he has overestimated the power of consciousness. On the contrary, he sells it short, as the field of computer science has since its inception. If AI isn’t as scary as he imagines, it’s not because of what a sentient computer could do, but because it can only happen with a sentient computer.

Professor Alan Turing of Manchester University is often referred to as the “father of the modern computer” without much exaggeration. He and his peers changed our world – but they believed that the field of computer science would progress in a very different way. Whether or not anyone envisioned a global information network, enabling you to read this article on a handheld wireless device, they certainly believed that by the end of the last century, computers themselves would “awaken,” and add information on their own initiative. While the relevant field is usually called artificial intelligence, artificial consciousness is arguably more accurate; the intent was to produce a computer able to demonstrate creativity and innovation.

Turing needed an impartial way to determine if a computer was actually thinking. He proposed, in a 1950 paper, that if a teletype operator were unable to determine after five minutes that the party at the other end was a computer rather than another human being, then the computer would have passed the test. Turing proposed development of a program that would simulate the mind of a child, which would then be “subjected to an appropriate course of education” in order to produce an “adult” brain.

With all the phenomenal developments in the field of computer science, we are but marginally closer — if, indeed, we are closer at all — to developing a “child brain” than we were then. “Eugene Goostman,” recently declared to have passed the Turing Test during a competition at the University of Reading, was simply a chatbot programmed with evasive answers. It presented itself as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy (who spoke English as a third language) not because it possessed the faculties of a young teenager, but to cover for its many errors and fool the assessors. Deceptive programming isn’t the intelligence Turing had in mind.

But “Goostman” was also in no way unique. Since 1990, inventor Hugh Loebner has underwritten an annual Turing contest at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts. And every year, all of the contestants are programs intended to fool the judges, and nothing more; the creativity or passion comes not from the silicon, but only from the programmers behind them.

As it turns out, Turing was preceded by over a millenium in determining his standard of human consciousness. The Rabbis of the Talmud stated the following, in Sanhedrin 65b:

Rava made a man. He sent him before Rebbe Zeira. [R. Zeira] spoke to it, but it did not answer. R. Zeira said, “are you from the scholars? Return to your dust!”

What the teacher Rava created was a Golem, an artificial humanoid that certain righteous individuals were purportedly able to create via spiritual powers. Much like a robot, it could obey commands and perform tasks – but it could not engage in conversation. The Maharsha explains why Rava’s Golem was unable to properly answer R. Zeira:

Because [Rava] could not create the power of the soul, which is speech. Because [the Golem] did not have a neshamah [soul], which is the spirit that ascends above, [but] only the life spirit which is also in animals, which descends below, [R. Zeira] said to it, “return to your dust.”

What this Talmudic passage and commentary tell us, then, is that creating an artificial consciousness isn’t nearly as simple as Turing imagined it to be. The Maharsha essentially tells us that intelligent speech is a manifestation of the soul invested in human beings — not something that programmers can simply drum up with several pages of well-written code. When Turing wrote that “presumably the child brain is something like a notebook … rather little mechanism, and lots of blank sheets” — he was making an assumption that, today, seems positively foolish.

Yet without any true progress towards development of artificial thought, many in the research community remain undeterred even today. Ray Kurzweil, now Director of Engineering at Google – and one of the great innovators and thinkers in computer science – predicts we’ll achieve this goal in 15 years, simply because technology progresses exponentially. An article in Princeton Alumni Weekly recently stated, regarding a prominent professor of psychology, that “if the brain is just a data-processing machine, then [Professor Michael] Graziano sees no reason we cannot create computers that are just as conscious as we are.”

That “if,” of course, is simply a restatement of Turing’s invalid assumption. Today’s supercomputers already process information more rapidly than we do, have larger memory banks, and of course have essentially perfect recall. Computers can see well enough to drive vehicles and hear and transcribe speech. But they cannot find meaning in what they see, nor respond as humans do to what they hear.

On the contrary, the failure to produce a semblance of a thinking computer should be causing a lot of second thoughts about the nature of human consciousness itself. We have proven that the brain is not simply a data-processing machine. When our most dedicated thinkers are unable to produce human thought, or even make substantive progress after decades of effort, are we perhaps not fools to imagine it developed by accident?

“No Haredim Enlisting Anymore”

Just a few days ago, Yair Lapid delivered an eloquent eulogy for Gilad Sha’ar, one of the three boys murdered by terrorists. In his remarks, which were entitled “We Need One Another,” he urged people to set aside rage, hate, and the desire for revenge — he called, instead, for unity and love. And he said that we must “rediscover the paths that connect all of us,” to choose the latter option when pondering “that which divides us, or that which binds us; the suspicion or the trust.”

It is obvious to all of us that Gilad, Eyal and Naftali have brought us together, and Lapid’s remarks aptly caught the spirit of the day. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be discomforted by the contrast between his unifying words, and his actions as a politician. This would, indeed, be an excellent time for us to turn away from the path of confrontation, and towards a path of building trust. MK Lapid himself, as a member of the Cabinet, can kick-start this process.

Subsumed in the horrid news of the discovery of the three boys was an otherwise important interview published late last week, which, awful though the timing may be, speaks directly to how Lapid’s actions have divided us. Rav Avraham Baron, the former Chairman of the association of Hesder Yeshivot, called for the cancellation of Lapid’s failed Enlistment Law. If the Supreme Court does not invalidate this law, he predicted, “we won’t see even a single Haredi enlist… and there will be a social and financial crisis that will enlarge the schism in the nation.”

In his words, “the rabbis have no faith in the Army today.” In the Haredi community, this is quite an understatement, but it is important coming from the Chairman of the Hesder yeshivot. He recognizes that any effort to change the Haredi community by fiat is going to backfire. He added, for that matter, that the law threatens the Hesder yeshivot as well.

Lapid attempted to dictate the terms of Haredi enlistment, complete with provisions that applied the criminal penalties for draft-dodgers to yeshiva scholars. This, of course, was a red line that the Gedolim, our leading Rabbis, had previously said could not be accepted. They were prepared to deal with financial penalties and other limitations, but not depicting Tzurba MiRabbonon, young Torah scholars, as felons.

To some extent, one can understand Lapid’s failure to foresee the results of forcing his “solution” upon the Haredim — that yeshiva students would view the prospect of incarceration for following the dictates of their Rabbis to be less of a threat than a privilege, and enlistment would plummet. But how anyone educated in the Yeshiva system — such as Yesh Atid’s token Haredi, Dov Lipman — could display the same myopia, is beyond me.

In order to resolve the situation and permit the development of a workable model for working Haredim (pun intended), akin to what already flourishes in America, two things have to happen. The first is, as Rav Baron specified, that there must be a new law which incorporates the idea that “whoever can sit and study Torah should study.” In other words, the law must respect the sincere belief of the Haredi world that Torah study protects our nation. The law must leave the decision of when to leave yeshiva to the students themselves, in consultation with their Roshei Yeshiva.

The second requirement is the development of a model for national service which bypasses the Haredi objection to the Army’s secondary role, as described by Jonathan Ostroff in the [Canadian] National Post: “Ben-Gurion and the other founders of the secular state of Israel wanted the army to be a melting pot for immigrants from all over the world. Haredi Jews did not, and still do not, want to be melted down.”

As also mentioned by Ostroff, we’ve been down this road before. Sixty years ago, the government attempted to force conscription of Haredi women, and buckled in the face of unanimous and absolute opposition from the leaders of the community. The Haredim today are a far larger and more prominent sector of Israeli society — so even more than sixty years ago, the government must work with the Haredim to pursue a mutually-acceptable solution, rather than trying to dictate terms.

Lapid has shown us that he can truly talk the talk. Will he follow it with action?