Posted on July 8, 2015
Reform Jews can die for Israel, but not all would be buried as JewsAfter another round of insults from ultra-Orthodox Israeli politicians, Diaspora leaders and Israeli MKs defend Liberal Judaism, saying ‘a Jew is a Jew.’ But freedom of religion activists say that’s not enoughBY AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN July 8, 2015, 4:58 pm 63
At age 13, Seth fulfilled a lifelong dream and celebrated his bar mitzvah atop the ancient Jewish fortress Masada. The intense July heat was made barely bearable by an infrequent desert breeze. But to the group, singing Israeli folk songs and ancient prayers under a canvas tent on the poignant historic site overlooking the Dead Sea, the experience was joyous and meaningful.
Seth was raised in a Charleston, South Carolina, Reform synagogue, where he went to Hebrew school every week. His father is Jewish, his mother is not. And although he was converted by a rabbinical court in a ritual bath as a baby and raised as a Jew, he’s not considered Jewish by the Israeli chief rabbinate.
Were Seth to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, this proud Reform Jew and Zionist would not be allowed to marry — or be buried — in Jewish ceremonies. And naturally for Seth, like for the majority of Diaspora Jews who do not practice Orthodox Judaism, this is puzzling — and insulting.
But the dissonance between the stance of official Israel and the phenomenon of legions of committed non-Orthodox Jews was spotlighted this week when Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay was pressed on the question of the legitimacy of Reform Jewry by interviewer Razi Barkai on Army Radio Tuesday.
“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” said Azoulay. (In Hebrew slang, “reformi” connotes any Jew whose religious practice diverges from traditional Orthodoxy.)
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay during a press conference in the Knesset on March 08, 2011. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay during a press conference in the Knesset on March 08, 2011. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Modifying his argument, Azoulay, born in Morocco and a member of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, cast Reform Jewry in the halachic category created by Maimonides of “kidnapped babies,” who are ostensibly Jewish but sin through ignorance.
“These are Jews who have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy,” matter-of-factly said Azoulay, whose professed profession is “educator.”
On Wednesday, MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism joined the fray and told Army Radio that while Conservative and Reform Jews were “Jewish, no question about it,” they “take the Torah and tear it to pieces, heaven forbid.”
When asked about Azoulay’s remarks on Tuesday, Seth, today a 23-year-old college graduate currently working in tourism, said, “The Orthodox Jews who discount Reform Judaism are missing the point… People can argue Scripture all day long, but, when it comes down to it, I think the best Jews are the ones who live with understanding, tolerance, and love towards others. Nothing good comes from egotism, but a whole lot of good has come from understanding,” he said.
The roots of the Orthodox religious monopoly stretch back to the foundation of the State of Israel, when prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s fledgling government ceded authority over life-cycle events to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, a strictly Orthodox institution.
Today, however, the stringency of the institution’s Orthodoxy has palpably intensified and alienated much of the majority secular Israeli population. And, as the rabbinate takes a hardline position to conversion, the almost 400,000 Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union who may desire to officially join the Jewish People have increasingly found stumbling blocks in their paths.
Liberal Judaism, with its emphasis on traditional Jewish values and peoplehood, would naturally fill this spiritual vacuum, according to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism on Tuesday.
“Reform Judaism is keeping Judaism relevant and ever evolving. Without a vibrant alternative to ultra-Orthodoxy, many choose assimilation. Our Judaism is innovative, inclusive, egalitarian, joyful, probing, spiritually open and inspiring. That is why we are growing and reshaping the landscape of Jewish life,” said Jacobs.
However, under Ben-Gurion’s status quo, Orthodoxy, which represents ten percent of Israelis, still controls 100% of religious services. This monopoly has created a ripple effect as increasingly, a perceived lack of understanding between Israeli decision makers and the Liberal Jewish streams alienates Diaspora Jewry, where the overwhelming majority define their Judaism in non-Orthodox terms, said Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.
“The image of Judaism in the Jewish state is badly tarnished by statements like that,” Bayme said a few hours after Azoulay’s radio interview.
The Jewish Agency as a ’round table’ of pluralism
For secular Ben-Gurion, the synagogue he didn’t attend was Orthodox, said head of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky on Monday in a conversation with The Times of Israel after the defeat of a conversion initiative in the Knesset.
In Ben-Gurion’s experience, explained Sharansky, the Reform and Conservative movements in the Diaspora played a role that was not then needed in Israel — demonstrating how to be a Jew at home and a German, or American, in the street.
Today, said Sharansky, although still at a very micro level, Liberal Judaism in Israel is “enriching more and more Israelis” and helping them reclaim a stronger Jewish identity that was lost in the struggle to become Israeli.
The Jewish Agency, arguably the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world, annually distributes nearly $3 million to Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox organizations in Israel “in an effort to foster Jewish pluralism and strengthen diverse expressions of Jewish life in Israel.”
With more than 30 total grantees, in 2014 JAFI distributed just over $1 million to Reform and Conservative organizations and programs, and $546,400 for Modern Orthodox.
“In daily life, the movements, which have been practically non-existent in the experience of Israelis, are playing a more active role,” said Sharansky. He added, however, that the movements “have to spend less time on fights in the Supreme Court and more time in promoting more institutions and services.”
With its multi-denomination board of partners, the Jewish Agency, said Sharansky, has played a unique role as a “round table” since its founding and is a forum for Jews of all religious and secular movements from across the Jewish world and Israel to sit together and voice their concerns.
As such, said former Likud Knesset member Knesset Sharanksy, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dealing with a thorny Diaspora-divisive problem such as egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, he turns to JAFI for advice in coming up with solutions acceptable to Liberal Jewry.
“If there is somebody in the government who understand this problem very well, it is the prime minister,” said Sharansky. Indeed, hours after Azoulay’s outburst, Netanyahu issued a statement reprimanding Azoulay and rejecting the religious services minister’s “hurtful remarks.”
According to the AJC’s Bayme, contemptuous and dismissive statements such as Azoulay’s and Gafni’s are “a direct insult to the bulk of American Jewry.” Bayme, who is Modern Orthodox, said these outbursts are “wrong, both on a philosophical level — all the expressions of Judaism require respect and dignity — and on a practical level. [The MKs should be] trying to strengthen bonds between Israel and the Diaspora and not weaken them.”
‘I’m past the question of whether this is creating an emotional gap, the Israeli government and thought leaders have to do something to effectively reverse this trend’
But Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, is done talking about her insulted feelings.
“I’m past the question of whether this is creating an emotional gap. The Israeli government and thought leaders have to do something to effectively reverse this trend,” said Schonfeld.
She called for a large public agreement, driven by the prime minister and enforced by all elected officials, “to recognize, to celebrate the diversity of Jewish religious belief, to celebrate Jewish identity around the world, and for people to agree that they will not allow those incidents to go by,” said Schonfeld Tuesday.
Schonfeld called for Education Minister Naftali Bennett to institute a required curriculum in which all students would visit synagogues of different Jewish streams and learn about their theologians and thinkers.
But at the very least, said Schonfeld, “the first step has to do with civility.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld delivers a psalm at the presidential inaugural service at the National Cathedral. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Bayme, who holds a PhD in Jewish History from Columbia University, explained, however, that ultra-Orthodox leaders throughout the Jewish World often define Reform Judaism as a code word for “assimilation,” and blame everything from intermarriage to dwindling birthrates on Liberal Jewry.
But “it’s not a road to assimilation, it’s a counter to assimilation” that expresses a commitment to Jewish values and Israel, said Bayme.
Sharansky said the Jewish Agency is continuously working with government ministers and MKs to raise awareness about the importance of Liberal Judaism in the life of Jewish people.
“You want to gather exiles, you want more support from Jews in the Diaspora? You need to understand what an important role [Liberal Judaism plays] in their Zionist life, that these streams are part of Jewish people,” said Sharansky.
‘All Jews are Jews’
Some politicians are already savvy to pluralism. Although he declined to speak with The Times of Israel about the status of Liberal Judaism in Israel this week (and on several other occasions), on Wednesday Education Minister Bennett posted to his Facebook page, “All Jews are Jews. Whether Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, haredi or secular. And Israel is their home. Period.”
Bennett, the son of immigrants from the United States and Diaspora minister since 2013, has had much more exposure to vibrant Liberal Jewry than most Israeli politicians. Most Israelis are not aware of the vitality and importance of Reform and Conservative Judaism outside of Israel, said rookie Labor MK Ksenia Svetlova in a conversation with The Times of Israel Tuesday.
“They think it’s just a few synagogues here and there and are astonished when they get to the States,” said Svetlova, a former journalist who immigrated from the former Soviet Union as a child.
Svetlova is part of an initiative pushing for the right to civil marriage in Israel that was rejected on Wednesday in the Knesset, with 39 MKS voting for and 50 against. It is part of a broader strategy of legal maneuvers to increase the separation of church and state.
“We had to start from something, and started with something very basic — the right to get married in the State of Israel and not have to go abroad,” said Svetlova.
There is currently no civil marriage in Israel and those Jews — such as immigrant converts to Liberal Judaism or children of immigrants who entered using the Law of Return — who are not recognized by the chief rabbinate have no recourse for domestic legal marriage.
“The prime minister is calling for olim [immigrants] to land, but what will be waiting for [those not considered Jewish here]? They’re good enough to fight in the IDF and die here, but won’t be able to be buried next to those they’re fighting with,” Svetlova said.
‘By promoting the equality of the different movements of faith, we’re also promoting unity in the Jewish people’
Svetlova admitted that most Israelis don’t vote based on religious and state issues. The current ultra-Orthodox-bound coalition, coming on the heels of a secular-based government, clearly illustrates that.
She called for more awareness of the lack of religious freedom in Israel, particularly among NGOs.
“Not everything can come from the Knesset. We can help with legislation, but not everything can come from top down,” and grassroots efforts are necessary.
“By promoting the equality of the different movements of faith, we’re also promoting unity in the Jewish people,” said Svetlova.
Rabbis are ‘wrapping themselves up in their own tefillin’
After handling decades of heart-rending cases of women who cannot receive a religious divorce, lawyer Susan Weiss, founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, has come to the conclusion that “all interference of the state with religion is an error.”
The Center for Women’s Justice is mostly funded by Jewish organizations in the Diaspora that have human rights agendas, said Weiss — “mostly Jewish nondenominational organizations that want to make sure Judaism keeps up with the 21st century.”
Weiss, who grew up going to Orthodox day school in the States, said the bureaucracy involved in the religious authority has become so stringent, it is as if the rabbis are “wrapping themselves up in their own tefilin [phylacteries].”
For the rabbinate to have the authority to carry out their job, “they’ve turned into this Inquisitorial apparatus and become people who can be inspectors of Judaism” and even go into people’s proverbial bedrooms, she said, in cases of suspected adultery.
In a cynical conversation with The Times of Israel this week, she related an anecdote about a distant cousin with the last name Cohen, who was not of the priestly class. Several decades ago he asked her to prepare a document attesting to his non-priestly status. The prescient cousin was aware that without this, he and his descendants would be prevented from marrying converts or divorcees, should they choose to.
‘The whole country is in an identity crisis… and needs to be put on the couch and analyzed’
Weiss, still astounded that such a document is a necessity in a modern state, said, “Why should his kids be precluded from those love interests? That’s nuts!”
“The whole country is in an identity crisis… and needs to be put on the couch and analyzed,” said Weiss.
With the increasingly ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, Weiss urges Israelis to opt out of using the religious authorities, including for marriages. Indeed, there is a growing trend of illegal halachic weddings among young Modern Orthodox couples that are performed by like-minded rabbis who risk incarceration.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear the state is trampling on our liberties. Now they’re even questioning the legitimacy of the Modern Orthodox,” referring to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s well-publicized rabbinate probe.
In her work, Weiss says she asks the legal system to protect human rights and try to interpret the law in a way that is consistent with human rights. Among her recent cases was the revoked conversion of a woman whose ex-husband claimed she was no longer living a religiously observant lifestyle.
“How come I can sin, and converts can’t sin,” she asked.
She calls her work Sisyphean. “The fundamentalists are growing stronger and stronger. But I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s important for me to make noise. By bringing my legal activity and framing it as a matter of human rights, it helps people see things more clearly,” she said.
And if a human rights angle doesn’t work, then perhaps Israelis will understand when it starts to hit them in their pocketbooks.
‘Israeli society has got to see religious pluralism as a really major social, political, and economic issue’
“Israeli society has got to see this [religious pluralism] as a really major social, political, and economic issue,” said Conservative Judaism’s Schonfeld. “The Israeli public has to grapple with the long term, and even the medium term, risk to their own society, in continuing to fund support and enable definitions of Judaism that don’t allow each individual Jew to play a role in Israeli society.”
Referring to the Israeli ultra-Orthodox ideal of continued religious study in place of army service or employment, Schonfeld said this practice will soon have painful ramifications on Israeli society as a whole.
“There is going to be an immense and very negative impact on the economy of the country, in its international competitiveness, educational standards, and educated adult populace that can build and defend the country,” said Schonfeld.
Jerusalem-based Weiss agreed.
“I don’t think the country can support all these people sitting and learning. Israel can’t sustain ignorance — we need doctors and lawyers,” Weiss said.
Why spit on your best friends?
According to all censuses and surveys, Liberal Judaism, primarily represented by the Reform and Conservative movements, represents the largest stream in the American Jewish community.
“Reform Jews hold leadership positions not only in every major American Jewish organization, but also occupy key roles in American society,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation.
The Ruderman Foundation initiated a project in 2011 which exposes new and rising MKs to Jewish communities in Boston and New York. The foundation annually sends a delegation of young MKs of varied affiliations to the US where they meet a widespread representation of the Jewish community.
The Ruderman initiative and other like it are slowly influencing Israeli politicians, said CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America Jerry Silverman.
“I do believe that there is a lack of real understanding of what Reform and Conservative Judaism actually mean, especially as it pertains to the Diaspora,” Silverman said Tuesday.
“When we have brought groups of MKs, in partnership with JAFI and others, and exposed them to the richness of Judaism across the streams, they’ve been taken aback. They’ve truly been surprised by its robustness, its Jewish learning and the ruach [energy] that has been displayed when they’re exposed,” said Silverman.
For Ruderman, there is also the strategic component for a strong continued Israel-America friendship.
‘When Israeli political leaders disrespect the form of religious worship embraced by Reform Jews, they risk alienating the very people that secure the important relationship between Israel and the US’
“Many Reform Jews are actively engaged in ensuring the United States stands strongly behind Israel. When Israeli political leaders disrespect the form of religious worship embraced by Reform Jews, they risk alienating the very people that secure the important relationship between Israel and the US. This is simply a potentially disastrous strategy,” Ruderman said.
Schonfeld agreed. “David Azoulay really needs to understand that you don’t want to tell your best allies that they’re not Jewish.”
Charleston-based Reform Jew Seth is puzzled why these “religious” politicians are making such statements at all. He attends services most Fridays and Saturdays, often leading the singing while playing his guitar.
“Why worry so much about others? Why does it matter that I drive on Saturdays? Does that make me less holy than another person?” Seth asked.Leave a Comment
Posted on July 1, 2015
Minaa B. talks about her experience of struggling with depression within the church and trying to fix it by becoming closer to God. This isn’t limited to just the church but happens in the Jewish world as well. I experienced it myself while in yeshiva. Religion and God can enrich a person’s life but it can’t replace the assistance of professional help.
Depression and Mental Health Within The ChurchBy Minaa B | June 24, 2015
For most of my life growing up I struggled with depression and mental health related issues. At the age of sixteen I became frustrated with my life and my depression began to overpower my faith. I began to engage in self-mutilating behaviors and I became more enticed by the idea of death by suicide.
I could never understand why this other half of me existed and I felt shameful and dirty for being what some would call mentally unfit. Being raised in the church, depression and mental health is not a topic I ever heard most pastors preach about or folks within the church talk about. All I ever heard was have more faith, read your bible and trust and believe that God can heal you. Now I don’t want to sound like a lukewarm Christian, but a little more faith and a sprinkle of Jesus is not a means for correcting or relieving a person who is stuck in a mentally dysfunctional state… at least for me it wasn’t.
I was told to do more of everything, more scripture reading, have more alone time with God, worship more, lift my hands more and believe more. But no matter how much I physically did, it never changed where I was mentally. Because when a person suffers from depression it is less about what you know and more about how you feel. And despite knowing God’s word, what I felt was lost, I felt worthless, and I always felt disconnected from the world. My depression caused me to isolate, I ate less and I became uninterested in social gatherings or being around my peers. I was always sad and irritable and I was none of these things by choice.
Depression steals your joy and it drains your energy, it doesn’t remind you of how fearfully and wonderfully made you are because it makes you think you were an error within creation. Depression does not show you grace nor does it have mercy on your soul.
These words written by King David, a man after God’s own heart, reminds me of my own battle with severe depression. David starts off by acknowledging all that God has done for him in Psalm 39:8 “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy, but have set my feet in a spacious place”. But as he moves onto the next verse he talks less about what he knows and expresses to God how he feels, v.9 “Be merciful to me Lord, for I am in distress, my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction and my bones grow weak”.
I am not sure what mental state David was in when he wrote this, but what I see is a man who no matter how much he runs after God’s heart is susceptible to great sadness and emotional dejection because like the rest of us, he is human and if there is anything that God understands, it’s the human heart.
David has no shame when it comes to sharing his truths with the Lord, and I want the church to know that you too do not have to be ashamed for being a Christian who struggles with depression, anxiety or mental health issues. Depression is real and seeking professional help for your struggles does not make you a less faithful servant or less of a believer in God’s word.
We need to make room for depression and mental health within the church and it all starts with having a conversation about it and learning to understand it, not “fix it” or “rebuke it” as if this issue is demonic or an emotional defect. We need to encourage the body of Christ to get help if help is needed and support their decisions around therapy and other forms of treatment.
I am proud to say that I am no longer suicidal, I am no longer self-mutilating and I no longer question my existence here on earth. Depression no longer has a hold on me and I believe my life is worthy of its best chance. Me being in the place that I am today came not solely from searching for God but also searching for help from support groups and extensive counseling with a trained mental health therapist.
I am not ashamed of what I came from because in the midst of my turmoil and distress, one thing I can say is although depression is my story so is hope. Hope is real, help is real, it can be found on the cross and it can be found within community.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and mental health related issues but you are not sure where to turn, here are a few helpful resources.
SAFE HELPLINE (SEXUAL ASSAULT SUPPORT)
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE
SAMHSA NATIONAL HOTLINE
THE TREVOR PROJECT
NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE HOTLINE
NATIONAL RUNAWAY SAFELINE (HOMELESS AND AT-RISK YOUTH)
K-LOVE PRAYER HOTLINE
– See more at: http://theprayingwoman.com/2015/06/24/depression-and-mental-health-within-the-church/#sthash.rXfmCHgC.dpuf
Posted on June 5, 2015
Sometimes a trailblazer attempts to level criticism at someone or something within the Orthodox Jewish community. That hero is too often scorned. “He has an agenda.” (Of course he does! His agenda is to make Orthodox Judaism better!) “Who is she to criticize?!” (A very brave person!) “But there’s so much good in the community! Why can’t we focus on the positive?” (Sure, but let’s keep what’s good, good!) In the end, the critic is silenced or completely marginalized.
That is how a community encompassing many people who criticized the “questionable” behavior of the incredibly talented and successful Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt — whose trips to the sauna with young Jews were recently chronicled by the New York Times — could allow decades to pass without significant change.
This is not a criticism of Rabbi Rosenblatt. By his estimation, taking his students for mentorship trips to the schvitz, sans clothing, was harmless and helpful. He was, clearly, wrong. Though some people will not feel uncomfortable stripping naked at 12 years old or 22 years old in front of their naked middle-aged rabbi, many people will feel extremely uncomfortable. Imposing this kind of exposure on unwilling participants has a significant traumatizing effect.
Since the Times story was published, I’ve spoken with more than one “victim.” They are scarred and the incident was harmful to them. This, despite the self-proclaimed best intentions of Rabbi Rosenblatt. He is a great man — but a great man with a blind spot. We all have them. The problem here is that the community decided to silence criticism, defend the indefensible, and put others in harm’s way. I believe this was an unconscious choice that reflects an anachronistic survival mode mentality.
In 1964, Look magazine predicted that American Jewry would disappear completely by the 21st century. Three years later, Israel defeated its enemies in the Six-Day War. Jews around the world were inspired by their unlikely victory with monumental consequences, like the Kotel being liberated. In the four decades that followed, Orthodox Judaism grew by leaps and bounds. It was a war for the soul of the American Jew.
When we are in cultural survival mode, the focus must be on the attractive nature of our lifestyle. Our communal body was sick, wracked with disease, and our only chance for survival was to allow our wounds to heal in the background while we showcased our healthy limbs to the admiring public. It would have been too dangerous to be self-critical. We would have risked losing it all.
In 2013, the Pew Report confirmed that Orthodox Judaism has risen from the dead and is now a behemoth. Self-congratulations are in order. The late 20th-century’s iteration of American Judaism, the cultural reaction to the hippie revolution, and a great historical event all contributed to the success of Orthodox Judaism, which is now on solid ground. The demographics and growth are staggering, inspiring. There is nothing to fear from the outside these days. The threats to Orthodox Judaism are now internal threats.
And the key to fixing internal existential threats is self-criticism. Our only hope is to work on our communities and destroy the disease that wracks us inside. But like an unused muscle, our self-criticism mechanism has atrophied. We have not used it for so long that we can’t remember how it works, if we remember it works at all.
Yet now we are strong enough to be ruthlessly self-critical. To engage in tough conversations in private and even in public. To confront our best-kept secrets. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” — and it’s time to disinfect. In a case like Rabbi Rosenblatt’s, I believe that a more robust communal conversation without fear of reprisal or marginalization could have yielded a better result.
The combination of a great rabbinic leader and strong, self-critical lay leadership should have been working on this issue together by debating its impropriety or utility. It would have been somewhat embarrassing and uncomfortable, but working through that struggle would have likely made it possible for the rabbi to do what he does best and the community to feel comfortable about his mentorship methods. The story never had to end with the end of the rabbi’s tenure or his censure. The power of self-criticism would have helped develop a happy and healthy compromise.
So let’s face our fears and our flaws. The way forward is to learn from this incident. We cannot silence critics. We cannot force the critics to yield to authority. We need to be confident enough in our Orthodox Judaism that the outside won’t harm us. Instead, the unimpeded metastasis will destroy us if we don’t start a course of treatment with a full dose of self-criticism.Leave a Comment
Posted on June 2, 2015
Another Rabbinic Scandal and How to Prevent the Next One: a blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
Monday, June 1 2015
With profound sadness I (and so many others) read a full page article in the Sunday New York Times (May 31, 2015) dealing with the bizarre behavior of a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi. This rabbi, well known as a thoughtful scholar and leader, was described as having taken male students with him to steam baths and spending time with these students while he and they were in a state of undress. This pattern has apparently been going on for a number of years and involves more than a small group of students. While the described behavior may or may not be illegal (we’ll leave that to lawyers and judges to determine), it is certainly immodest and irresponsible.
While this rabbi’s behavior is shocking and reprehensible, I do not wish to focus on his lack of judgment. Rather, I want to focus on another aspect of this scandal.
According to the NY Times article, this rabbi had been conducting himself in this inappropriate way for a number of years. Members of his congregation were aware of this. The Rabbinical Council of America had been informed of this. Yeshiva University was aware of this and stopped sending rabbinic interns to his synagogue. Parents of the children who accompanied the rabbi to the steam baths must have been aware of this.
So why did the problem go on for so long a time? Why did this scandal have to reach the pages of the New York Times? Why didn’t the parents of the abused children (I don’t believe any boys were physically abused, but it is reasonable to assume emotional and psychological abuse) confront the rabbi in a strong and unequivocal manner? Why didn’t the congregation demand that he undergo rehab or face the loss of his job? Why didn’t any of the parties that could have had influence over this rabbi exert that influence to the maximum?
I do not have inside information about what did or didn’t transpire between the rabbi and those who could have/should have influenced him. But it seems very clear that the “influencers” did not exert their influence in a definitive way.
Perhaps the rabbi was so highly regarded that people were embarrassed to confront him. Perhaps some did confront him but did not express adequate outrage.
Perhaps people were afraid to be “whistle blowers.” If they spoke against the rabbi, others in the community would blame them for being scandal mongers.
Perhaps the students were too ashamed to tell their parents about the scenes in the steam baths.
Perhaps the rabbi’s colleagues were hopeful the problem would go away by itself.
Perhaps the victims didn’t want to be further victimized by becoming embroiled in a communal scandal.
Bottom Line: when people don’t react quickly and strongly to impropriety and injustice, they allow the problem to continue. They allow others to become victimized.
So many institutions and organizations are undermined because people don’t step up to combat inappropriate, immoral behavior on the part of rabbis and leaders. It is so much easier to look the other way, to make excuses, to pray that things will resolve themselves. But if people tolerate problematic behavior, they become accomplices.
Homeland security has a motto: If you see something, say something. That motto applies not just to physical threats to our safety. It applies to moral threats to our Torah way of life. Don’t let problems fester. If you see something or suspect something, then say something. If you are not sure to whom you should address your concerns, consult someone trustworthy in your community, or call the beth din of the Rabbinical Council of America and ask for a confidential meeting.
Don’t be an accomplice to a Hillul Hashem. Be an agent for Kiddush Hashem by doing the right thing.Leave a Comment
Posted on May 13, 2015
1 in 6 Jews are new to Judaism – and 9 other new Pew findings
By Uriel HeilmanMay 12, 2015 12:02am
Some 90 percent of Jews are white, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. (David Polonsky)
NEW YORK (JTA) – The Pew Research Center’s newly released 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study offers a trove of data on American Jews based on interviews with 35,071 American adults, 847 of whom identified their faith as Jewish. Here are some of the more interesting findings about the Jews.
We’re highly educated! There are more American Jews with two or more university degrees than those who have just one – 31 percent have a graduate degree and 29 percent have just a bachelor’s degree. With a college graduation rate of about 59 percent (more than twice the national average of 27 percent), American Jews are the second most-educated religious group in America after Hindus, at 77 percent.
We’re the biggest religious minority! Judaism is the largest faith group in America after Christianity, and its relative size in America has grown slightly since 2007 – from 1.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to 1.9 percent in 2014. The denominational breakdown of Jews who identify with the Jewish faith (“Jews by religion”) is 44 percent Reform, 22 percent Conservative, 14 percent Orthodox, 5 percent another movement and 16 percent no denomination.
We’re not as white as we used to be: American Jewish adults are 90 percent white, 2 percent black, 4 percent Latino, 2 percent Asian-American and 2 percent “other non-Hispanic.” That’s a notable change from 2007, when whites comprised 95 percent of American Jews, Latinos comprised 3 percent, blacks comprised 1 percent and the percentage of Asians was negligible.
A quarter of us are losing our religion: When it comes to religious retention rates, American Jews come in third, retaining 75 percent of those raised Jewish. By comparison, Hindus retain 80 percent and Muslims 77 percent. Behind the Jews are Evangelical Christians at 65 percent; Mormons, 64 percent; Catholics, 59 percent; and mainline Protestants, 45 percent. Jehovah’s Witnesses retain only 34 percent.
But 17 percent of us have found Judaism! Seventeen percent of American Jews say they were raised in another religion. Six percent say they were raised unaffiliated, 4 percent as mainline Protestant, 3 percent as Catholic, and 2 percent each as Evangelical and in some other religion.
Who are we marrying? Sixty-five percent of American Jews who are married or living with a partner are with a Jew and 35 percent are with a non-Jew. Nine percent of American Jews are partnered with Catholics, 8 percent with mainline Protestants, 4 percent with peoples of other faiths and 11 percent with unaffiliated Americans.
Nu, when are we going to get married already? The percentage of Jewish adult singles is growing – up from 19 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014. Fifty-six percent of Jewish adults are married, and another 6 percent are living with a partner. Fifteen percent were married but are now separated, divorced or widowed. The Jewish fertility rate is 2.0 children, compared to 2.1 children for all Americans.
We’re mostly American born and bred: Sixty-six percent of Jewish adults are Americans born to American-born parents. Of the 12 percent of American Jews who are immigrants, 5 percent were born in Europe, 4 percent in the Americas, 2 percent in the Middle East and 1 percent in the Asia-Pacific region.
We still heart New York: Where do America’s Jews live? Forty-two percent in the Northeast, 27 percent in the South, 20 percent in the West and 11 percent in the Midwest. In the Northeast, where Jews are most numerous, Jews comprise roughly 4 percent of the total population. Eight percent of the New York City area is Jewish.
We’re rich! (but also poor): American Jews (44 percent) are more than twice as likely as average Americans (19 percent) to have annual household incomes over $100,000. But 16 percent of Jewish adults have annual household incomes of $30,000 or less, and 15 percent live in households that earn between $30,000 and $50,000.
(The Jewish data in the survey has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.)