Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prof Moshe Koppel: Understanding the difference between Charedim and Modern Orthodox - it is not ideology

Dr. Koppel published an article in Tradition 36:2 in 2002. Yiddishkeit without ideology: a letter to my son. ;The entire article can be downloaded from Tradition Archives. While I cited this article in 2008 - it is obviously still relevant and current as seen by various allegations made recently by Eddie about the topic.
[...] In order to clarify the problem, let me recap some personal history so that you can appreciate the context in which these problems first arose for me. (For you the context is a bit different but the parallels will be obvious enough.) As a child in New York in the 1960's I attended school in what would now be called a Haredi institution. What distinguished this school from other, non-Haredi, schools was not so much the stricter standard of halakha to which we were held, but rather the pervasive sense of alienation from everything outside our narrow circle.

We were cynical about law and order, about high~sounding ideas, about goyim, about Jews, you name it.

Such an attitude is perhaps easily dismissed as the inevitable consequence of being the children of Holocaust .survivors. But in fact. it was merely a slightly exaggerated form of an attitude of wary subversiveness that serves as the backdrop for everything Jewish. "Avadai hem"- Jews are slaves of Hashem, but, more to the point, of nobody else. In any case that's what all the real Jews I knew were like; if there were any wild-eyed and bushy-tailed ones, they were somewhere else. To this day I think of alienation and its social corollary, subversiveness, as inseparable from Yiddishkeit, This attitude is deep in my bones (and, of course, I regard it with suspicion).

You won't be surprised to hear that my classmates and I quickly applied this same critical point of view to everything that we were taught. This attitude was bolstered by the fact that, although our parents' sense of identity as Jews was utterly beyond question or even reflection, they themselves were quite cynical about the kind of ideology that our rebbes felt compelled to push. Gedolim don't make mistakes? Tsaddikim find jewels in fish? Once upon a time. At some point, we ourselves couldn't help but notice that there were plenty of things that goyim did a lot better than we did. In fact, as we got older we began to suspect that some of our role models might have been a bit more clever than they were wise and that, in a few cases, cynicism about rules and regulations had led to just plain crookedness. Not that I thought then, or I think now, that the rest of the world is any better, but suffice it to say that unpleasant moral dilemmas that pitted loyalty against rectitude arose more frequently than they should have. Beyond all that, for an adolescent kid looking to find himself and develop his own particular interests and talents, the atmosphere was just a bit stifling. Ultimately, we had to decide between buying into the whole system despite misgivings or leaving. I left.

I didn't go far. In the Modern Orthodox institution to which I eventually migrated, the underlying principle was openness. Openness to art and music, to science and literature. Not to mention sports and movies and television. My new friends really were more articulate, more knowledgeable in most areas and often more naturally ethical than many of my friends in the yeshiva world. Of course, I had to get used to the idea of guys with names like Jerry and Stuie who wore jeans and had girlfriends.&

Apparently, I was hopelessly square but at least I had found what I took to be a healthy rebellious spirit that held the promise of a more thoughtful Yiddishkeit and I identified with it.

There were some problems. The version of Yiddishkeit that was upheld there as an ideal was different in disturbing ways from that to which I had been accustomed. The place suffered from a Litvish cold­ness that had adapted neatly to the American technocratic mindset to produce a somewhat formal and not very heimish version of cookbook Yiddishkeit. You asked somebody there if it was okay to daven in your gatkes, they started pulling books off the shelf. Lacking a sense of the heimish and hankering above all for middle-class American respectability, they tended to undervalue the little hard-to-pin-down gestures and manners that give substance to Jewish distinctiveness.

Moreover, the yeshivish rule that "if it's not Jewish, we don't like it" was flipped in the modern Orthodox world to read "if we like it, it's Jewish."These two formulations are equivalent in logic books but not on the ground. It turned out that my casually-clad new friends had few rebellious thoughts after all; they were simply practicing Yiddishkeit ­often with rather quaint earnestness as it had been taught to them. It was the chinyoks in the yeshiva world, who managed to maintain some emotional distance from the trappings of middle-class respectability, who were actually the subversives. I wasn't quite home yet.

Let me be absolutely clear: where the demands of halakha are unambiguous, you must submit to them. But how does one navigate between much less well-defined traditional attitudes and strong personal inclinations? When I was your age I didn't know the answer I still don't but one proposition that seemed self-evident to me at the time was that it was essential to be consistent. In other words, I felt that I had to somehow make sure that the way 1 defined Yiddishkeit and the way I defined my commitments even my own inclinations would be perfectly aligned. [...]

The ideologues who ran the yeshivish institutions I knew tried to inculcate a set of ideological commitments so comprehensive and intense as to suffocate an individual's personality. One result of this was a kind of cynicism that sometimes amounted to the complete annihilation of any moral and aesthetic compass. The good news is that this mostly worked on the feeble; the normal people's cynicism extended also to their own education: Most of us lived rather comfortably with, for instance, the idea that in principle great rabbanim have da’as Torah whatever that might mean, but that in fact some of the rabbanim we actually knew were, how should I put it, not necessarily especially sharp.

Conversely, in some Modern Orthodox institutions that I know: many of the subtle attitudes that form the core of Yiddishkeit have been diluted out of existence. What remains is a bare-bones even if scrupulously observed-halakha that constitutes a kind of obstacle course that needs to be negotiated in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. But what is worse is that this pursuit of self-fulfillment doesn't consist merely of individuals unselfconsciously pulling received attitudes in directions suited to their own personalities; rather its acceptable forms are defined for one and all in accordance with prevailing cultural tradewinds-nationalism feminism, humanism, whatever. This can lead to an eviscerated Torah forever subordinated to passing intellectual fads. The encouraging fact is that, in general, fads pass-or else they're not fads after all.

Overall, institutional Yiddishkeit is superficial and inauthentic-in institutions, homogenized ideology trumps common sense every time. In the absence of checks and balances, of healthy tension, a sense of proportion and limits is lost and Yiddishkeit itself is diminished and distorted. You probably don't fully appreciate this point yet because you are at that stage in life where things are black and white and it seems important to nail them just right. What I cal tension, you cal hypocrisy. Time will broaden your perspective.[...]

You can-and, under current conditions, you must-learn Shas and posekim in an institution. But Jewish attitudes must be learned through immersion in family or community, internalized, and lived instinctively. Internalized values lived instinctively don't ever form a neat consistent package. On the contrary, they are always full of tension between conflicting poles: between loyalty to Jews and loyalty to the values they embody, between the letter of halaka and its spirit, between conformity and individuality, and so on. This tension is a wonderful, healthy thing - it is the source of a person's intellectual vitality and creativity. Living a life of Torah means living with tension: Yiddishkeit is not
meant to consist of instant solutions to personal problems, canned shallow theology, shlock aesthetics or narrow-minded provincialism. It is meant to encourage the kind of depth and tension that-forgive me for this odd example but I know you'll know what I mean- distinguishes Carlebach from Boro Park rock.

It is precisely this creative tension that distinguishes Yiddishkeit from other cultures and which has allowed it to survive under impossible circumstances. What is required is a terrific loyalty to tradition down to the most trivial detail, and humility in the face of the accumulated weight of this tradition. This loyalty and humility must be balanced by a creative restlessness that forever challenges spiritual complacency by testing tradition against the very values with which it imbues those who are truly loyal to it.

The enemy of this creative tension is ideology. Ideologues of the "right" fear the fluidity of Torah Shebe'al Peh (or are deaf and blind to it) and would reduce it all to Torah Shebikhta1J. In doing so, they reduce a living tradition to ideology. Ideologues of the "left" fear an "outdated" halaka and would round its edges to render it palatable. In doing so, they too reduce a living tradition to ideology.

You should recognize the rhetoric of ideology since it is all around you, insidiously trying to pry you from your own tradition. One type is peddled by those people who will tell you that there is only one true derekh. Whatever that derekh turns out to be, it won't be yours. Any claim that the Jews have always had it all wrong is simply incoherent by definition. If your rebbe tells you that a centuries-old minhag is wrong because a contemporary halakhic cookbook says so, he is not only clueless but also dangerous. If he tres to teach you some strange new topic called "emuna" or "hashkafa," he's probably proselytizing to some questionable ideology of recent vintage, usually radical Zionism or radical anti-Zionism. Steer clear. If you feel an urge to learn machshova, take out a Sfas Emes on Friday night. Remember that Gemara wasn't invented in Brisk, Bretz Yisrael wasn't discovered by Rav Kook, and hasidus isn't the private property of Chabad.

Another type of dangerous ideological rhetoric is peddled by those who will remind you that "there are many true paths in Judaism." They are probably not on any of them. Their apparent open-mindedness is usually a cover for the doctrinaire and arrogant conviction that Yiddishkeit as we know it is primitive, unenlightened, and provincial and desperately in need of the civilizing influence of whatever intellectual fashion is sweeping college campuses (which, they will try to persuade you, is what Yiddishkeit really was supposed to be all along). Given the choice between those who understand Yiddishkeit but have drifted, or even bolted, away and those who bastardize Yiddishkeit, always choose the company of the former. Ultimately, it's the location of the anchor that matters. [...]

Finally, continue to be a stubborn and clever critic of received wisdom just as your ancestors were. But always be sure to do so in a way that honors those ancestors and doesn't belittle them. [...]

New book by Dr. Marc Shapiro: Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History

Dr. Shapiro writes:
I am happy to announce that my new book is now with the printer and should be at the distributor by May 4. Amazon and book stores will have the book not long after that. Changing the Immutable has taken quite a long time and I hope readers find that it was worth the wait. One of the main reasons it has taken so long is that some of my time in recent years has been devoted to my posts on the Seforim Blog. When I first started posting here I saw it merely as a pleasant diversion. However, I now see my Seforim Blog posts as an important part of my scholarly writing. Throughout Changing the Immutable I reference not only my posts but many others that appeared on the Seforim Blog.
I am making this announcement now rather than after the book appears because Amazon is offering a pre-order discount (link). For those who want to wait, I know that Biegeleisen will be selling it at a very good price.

Mendel Epstein, Goldstein and Stimler convicted of conspiracy/attempted kidnapping to obtain a Get

CBS news  [See also Asbury Park Press   NJ.Com      NY Daily News]

   Three rabbis were convicted in federal court Tuesday of conspiring to kidnap Jewish men in order to force them to grant their wives divorces.

Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 69, of Lakewood, New Jersey; Rabbi Jay Goldstein, 60, of Brooklyn; and Rabbi Binyamin Stimler, 39, also of Brooklyn, were all convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, according to New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Goldstein and Stimler were also convicted of attempted kidnapping.

Epstein’s son, David, was acquitted at trial.

Jurors deliberated for three days after an eight-week trial before Trenton U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, prosecutors said.

Epstein and his colleagues were accused of employing a kidnap team to force unwilling Jewish husbands to grant a get, or a religious divorce, to their wives.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Teaching respect for authority by Allan Katz

Guest post by Allan Katz

The parasha – portion of Kedoshim teaches how we can become Holy like God, involved but separate from the physical world and people who are giving and make a contribution. The Parasha begins with 2 Mitzvoth -commandments. In the same sentence we are told to show (1) a special respect and reverence for parents and comply with their wishes, and (2) keep and observe the Sabbath. The juxtaposition of these 2 mitzvoth means that they inform each other. A special respect for parents will contribute to keeping the Sabbath and other mitzvoth as the purpose of the mitzvoth of honoring and respecting parents is to acknowledge their role and support their efforts in transmitting the ' tradition- masoret ' to their children. The Sabbath promotes respect and honor for parents as it provides the time and opportunity for parents to endear themselves to their children by providing for physical, emotional and spiritual needs as parents, teachers and guides. In fact, the verse can be read not only as –you shall keep the Sabbath, but also the Sabbath shall keep you. The juxtaposition of the 2 commandments also teaches the limitation and condition placed on the mitzvah to revere parents. Children do not have to obey the wishes of parents –in a respectful way -when it negates the Torah. But it is more than that – it means that with the power that comes with the authority given by the Torah, comes great responsibility – to attend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their children and pass on to them the heritage of the Torah.

Parents and teachers should also be respectful towards their children and students. We are supposed to love others as ourselves and thus show respect. And more important being respectful says more about us than the other person as being people who have the characteristic trait of respect - who is a man of honor and respect, he who honors and respects the dignity of others. Likewise if parents and teachers fail and neglect their responsibilities, their children and students should act respectfully as they would to any other person and in this way, protect and honor their own dignity as well.

Our success as parents and teachers and our relationship with our children and students depends on how we and our children and students perceive our authority. Our stance can be ' authoritarian', meaning that the source of our authority is from our ' status' or position as parents or teachers and the power we have over others. It can be expressed simply as being assertive and insistent in imposing our will, because we are the authority figure or using extrinsic motivation such a punishment, consequences and rewards to get compliance.
Our stance can be ' authoritative ', meaning that our authority is derived not from our status, title or power, but the respect we command because of our wisdom, stature, personalities, quality of leadership and deep concern for our children's and students' well-being. Instead of relying on our position of authority and compel others, we try to convince them of our cause and inspire them with our intellectual power and authenticity of our values. We also have a sense of humility which allows us to focus on our great responsibility, the dignity of our children and students and what they need from us, rather than focus on our need for control and authority. A lack of humility leads to the 'might is right' attitude and abuse of power. It is our humility which allows us to expose our humanity and vulnerability, see the children or students' world through their own eyes , give them a voice , ask for their input and perspectives and ' work with ' them. It allows us to relinquish control and support their autonomy, competence and relationship. In this way kids become intrinsically motivated and self – determined endorsing their actions and commitments on the highest level of reflection. Humility means we can see the difference between of the obligation of children to respect revere and honor parents and as the Steipler put it, my duty not to impose myself on others. Instead of giving orders, we would rather ask for help, which respects the dignity of others and makes them feel valuable and worthwhile. Because we address our children's needs especially the need for respect, acceptance and love and focus on our mentoring relationship with them rather than compliance, children will more readily respect our wishes. They have learned to trust and rely on us, acknowledge our wisdom and caring attitude. This is what the word סמכות = sam'chut which is authority in Hebrew, conveys. The authority is derived from the fact that kids rely = סומך on the parent and teacher and that they are ba'al sam'cha – the authority on whose knowledge, wisdom, caring and experience kids can rely. Kids should address their parents - my father /mother, my teacher and try to find qualities in their personalities that they can admire. This is because the source of respect for parents and teachers is their teaching, and their personal qualities. The question is not whether parents and teachers have authority – it is which type of authority we want ourselves and children to respect.

KosherSwitch - nothing new to report - old issues are still the problem

I was recently asked to write a post about KosherSwitch. This  is a topic I raised 4 years ago - and nothing has changed except that they are now actually selling them. Good review articles have been written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman and   Rabbi Gil Student   

The previous posts that I have presented dealing with false claims of approval can be accessed through these links

Schlesinger Twins: Rabbi Dov Kaplan objects to Austrian courts inexplicable ruling of extremely restricted visitation rights for Beth

Elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in 268 cases including 12 men who have been executed

CBS News

The FBI is notifying hundreds of defendants in 46 states that their convictions involved flawed expert testimony. It now admits that nearly every examiner in an elite forensic unit overstated hair matches that favored prosecutors. 

This is one of the country's largest-ever forensic scandals and includes dozens of death row convictions, reports CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman.

Cleveland Wright spent 28 years -- almost half his life behind bars -- serving time for a 1978 murder.

His conviction, it now turns out, was based on a false FBI hair analysis.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Daas Torah - Chazon Ish's concern for an unbiased answer

Guest post

Hi R’ Eidensohn,

I enjoy your blog very much. I wanted to send this to you re: your recent posts about Daas Torah, especially since the Chazon Ish was used as an example…

I attached the relevant positions of Chazon Ish Emunah U’Bitachon for your convenience.

The Chazon Ish defines a Talmid Chacha as someone who is an expert in most of Shas to the point of Halacha Lema'aseh (see 3:23). This already precludes your average shul Rav or Rosh Yeshiva from the mix of Da’as Torah.

Further, the Chazon Ish writes (3:30) that the logic behind Emunas Chachomim is that a Talmid Chochom greatest concern is his own spiritual well-being, and therefore he will not alter the truth for money or for what people think.

He further differentiates between negius - partiality and shochad – bribery. Why is it that a Rov is allowed to rule on his own question of chometz sheovar alav haPesach no matter how valuable the merchandise is, while when judging, even one penny’s worth of bribery disqualifies him?

He explains that this is a gezeiras hakasuv - a chok that we do not understand.

My understanding of this is that when one is seeking advice, his worst enemy is his own bias. Finding someone to seek advice form who is above the bias would be wise and worthwhile. However, someone who is not educated or experienced enough to fully understand the matter at hand will be of no help no matter how little bias he has.

There is a story with R’ Chaim Brisker where his community was seeking a new chazon. They asked R’ Chaim to choose between on who had a good voice but not all the ma’alos listed in Shulchan Aruch and another who didn’t have such a melodious voice but had all the other ma’alos. R’ Chaim selected the one with the good voice because a good voice is essence of a chazzan where the ma’alos are just side benefits. So to, with an advisor. Knowledge and understanding of the matter at hand are the essence of someone who can give good advice.

Of course, hafoch ba vehafoch ba dekulah ba! Those on the level of having knowledge of worldly matters through Torah study can make fine advisors too.

Unfortunately, I have not encountered many people who are completely above being influenced by money. I heard from a Grandson of R’ Avigdor Miller who was close with Reb Moshe z”l who said that R’ Moshe praised R’ Miller as having this quality since he was not beholden to anyone. Any Rabbi who needs to fundraise etc. is beholden to many. Hence, their opinions may not be true da’as Torah.

Daas Torah and gedolim - the stereotypic Chareidi view.

Guest post by A. Prager -This guest post was written as a response to  Gavriel Cohen's request for information about gedolim and Daas Torah. It represents a sincere - though mistaken - attempt to show the ancient roots of Daas Torah as well as the superiority of gedolim in all areas of knowledge. I originally thought of not publishing it - but then I realized that it in fact is representative of how many Chareidim actually view the matter. So showing the problematic proofs and citations will in fact help clarify the matter.

Basically I think this is a typical chareidi apologetic on the subject - but it is inaccurate. It cherry picks quotes and examples - as if they are representative of the set of all gedolim. It fails to note the common practice of gedolim to recommend the best secular authority - rather than give personal advice. In fact Rav Moshe Feinstein was adamant that when one goes to a doctor to use the best. 

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did not learn about electricity from the gemora, Rav Moshe Feinstein learned about medical and technical issues from secular experts, The Chazon Ish allegedly learned his medical knowledge from secular medical books. Rav (Sanhedrin 5b) noted, "I spent eighteen months with a shepherd in order to learn which was a permanent and which a passing blemish ?" Pesachim (94b) notes an instance where the scientific view of secular scholars is said to be superior to that of Chazal. There are many other examples.

Even the assertion he brings that all wisdom can be learned from Torah is not relevant. Rabbi Freifeld told me that while the statement is true - it is not known how to obtain the answers. This is similar to the Rambam noting that while Chazal had books of science - they have been lost and that therefore we learn science from secular sources.

update: A Prager responded:
Thanks for your response.

In my defense, I wasn't attempting to provide Gavriel with a balanced approach to the sugyah; I left out most of the relevant material that I have on the subject (8 pages of Mekoros).

All I was trying to prove was that the position that holds that gedolei hador are to be asked on issues other than halacha is most certainly  a valid one, with precedent in Rishonim and Achronim. I made that quite clear to him; he was asking if todays "gedolim culture" was an invention of a tradition that is not our own, an imaginary reality. I proved to him that that is not the case. The dissenting opinion was not of concern in that response.
Dear Gavriel,
The issue is fundamentally important. I have heard many people (choshuve ones too) referring to a lack of cogent and authoritative material that discusses the concept of Daas Torah.
The so-called paucity of sources on the subject has led some to reject the entire concept, as a modern innovation – just about as old as its terminology. I have heard this opinion voiced on a number of occasions and, as I hope you will see, this statement is far from accurate, and fallacy due to lack of knowledge, and also (I sadly suspect) a desire to be liberated from the confines of an imposing Rabbinic authority. It is indeed true that the term daas Torah is a contemporary coinage, but its idea spans back much further:
Let’s start at the beginning. I am presenting you with an argument which I do not feel is enough advanced because there is a lack of awareness of its potency and authenticity. 
Is there such a thing as Gedolim?
Well, the answer is obviously yes. The Gemara is replete with references to Gedolim and Gedolei Olam. Your question pertains more to who they are, and what they can and are expected to know.
If you’re looking for sources though, there are many but see: Pesachim 70b and Kesubos 10b.
What can a Gadol b’Torah Know? Is it Accessible for us?
In three places the Gemara refers to the all-encompassing knowledge of Talmidei Chachomim, and ascribes the sources of their wisdom to Yiras Shomayim: regarding the knowedge of the shiur of time it takes to perform biah (Sotah 4b); a specific knowledge of the pain suffered from a certain ailment (Sotah 10a) and the ability to distinguish between pure and impure blood through the sense of smell (Niddah 20b). See also Berachos 58b that Shmuel knew the patterns and paths of the stars like he knew the streets of Nahardea.
The Chasam Sofer (Bava Basra 21a) writes explicitly that there is no need to study any other discipline other than Torah, since everything can be found in its words. Now, its significant that he wrote that; he’s writing that l’maase just over 150 years ago: that means he held that such knowledge (to the extent that it is required) is discernable and available:
חתם סופר מסכת בבא בתרא דף כא עמוד א
ושארי חכמות שצריך לרקחות ולטבחות לשמש אשת חיל תורת ה' לא יספיקו בילדי נכרי' כי הכל ימצא בתורה ההוגה בה לשמה זוכה לדברי' הרבה וכמ"ש רמב"ן בהקדמה לתורה

You will be familiar, I am sure, with the Mishna in Avos (5,22) “turn it over and over, for all is in it”, how do you understand this? Rabenu Yona there writes that all wisdom that is in the world can be found in the words of the Torah. Read his words in context, he’s explaining the Mishna’s injunction to turn it over (mull it through), in other words, we can get there: 
פירוש רבינו יונה על אבות ה,כב
הפוך בה וכו' – חזור על דברי תורה שכל חכמת העולם כלולה בה
The Mirkeves Hamishneh there has a similar approach:
מרכבת המשנה לר"י אלאשקר על אבות ה,כב
ועל כן אמר הפוך [בה] והפך בה. ואם לכאורה נראה שאין בה כל כך ענינים, אין זה כי אם מצד קוצר המשיג ועומק המושג, וכאמרו כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם (דברים לב, מז), ואם רק הוא מכם הוא (ירושלמי פאה א, א)...וג"כ רמז שאין צריך לאדם לאבד זמנו בשום חכמה חיצונית לפי שכל החכמות הם נכללים בתורה.
Again, the comments made are especially significant because they are made on this Mishnah which implies that we should delve into the Torah, because “all is in it”.
The Paas Hashulchan has a slightly different approach, which is that anything that one could ever need “for Torah” is found in it:
פאת השלחן בהקדמתו בשם רבנו הגר"א ז"ל
"כל החכמות נצרכים לתורתינו הק' וכלולים בה"

You are familiar, no doubt, with the account of the Chazon Ish who provided advice on how to perform a complex brain operation which was completed successfully. Significantly, the Chazon Ish demonstrated erudite knowledge of the anatomical structure of the brain and how to perform an operation thereon. The surgeon at first rejected the Rabbis advice, but reticently followed the patients wishes to perform the operation according to the instruction of the Chazon Ish, which was successfully completed. The procedure is known today in Israel as “the Karelitz procedure”. I enclose the diagram drawn by the Chazon Ish:

What I am trying to demonstrate, is that there is a strong basis to argue that the Gedolei Yisrael, have an ability to know and rule – even in our generation – on matters much wider than halacha. I have not tried to explain why this is the case.
The very same Chazon Ish in Igros writes that the distinction between kodesh and profane in the perception of the gedolim’s abilities was the hallmark difference between the pre-war reform and those that rejected reform. To say that the gedolim only have a right to make statements in the area of halacha is against the entire ethos of Yiddishkeit, he argues. A similar approach is taken by Rav Hutner in a fascinating essay first printed in the Jewish Observer, November 1977.
So is the approach new? No, it’s heavily based in Gemara, Rishonim, Achronim and Poskim. The term “daas Torah”, as you allude to, is new. I don’t know how familiar you are with between-the-wars Continental Jewish politics? I would suggest that it was due to the political tensions that emerged in pre-war Europe between the religious parties and their secular counterpart that was responsible for the coinage of the term. The novel term is the formalisation of a well-established concept, symptomatic of a political struggle, necessary to demonstrate the authenticity of a Politics guided by Gedolei Yisrael; a model we see practiced today in Israel. It became common usage, I think, for political reasons, but it was always there, just was more relevant to the world of philosophical theory than practice.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lessons that Sanhedria Murchevet should learn from Nachlaot about abuse hysteria

Tablet Magazine  In the last few weeks, I have received a startling number of calls and emails regarding an ongoing crisis in Sanhedria Murchevet, a neighborhood in north Jerusalem where many—including some prominent rabbis and communal leaders—believe that an organized ring of criminals have been abusing, raping, and torturing Jewish children and have been doing so for a number of years. There is also widespread belief that the abuse is at least partially religiously motivated—that operating in the community’s midst is a cult, a ring of men and women who are subjecting the children to ritual torture.

Many of the people who have contacted me, however, did so because they believe that this is, at least to some degree, a case of mass hysteria; that a significant percentage (or even all) of the allegations, especially the most fantastic, may be unfounded; that innocent people may have been or will be accused; that an untold number of lives are being ruined; and that cases of actual molestation and/or abuse could potentially be obfuscated.

What is indisputable is that the community is in the grips of a devastating panic. The scope and severity of the allegations are continually increasing: More and more children are claiming (or are claimed) to have been abused; more and more people, including men and women in the neighborhood, are being accused of raping and abusing children. To those in the community, the influence and reach of the perpetrators seems terrifyingly limitless. The police are dismissed as inept at best, corrupt and/or complicit at worst.

I am here because I feel a responsibility to share some of what I learned when I spent more than a year investigating and reporting a similar and related case in a nearby Jerusalem neighborhood in 2012. I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I am not here to report the case; I am not here in any journalistic capacity. I have not conducted interviews. I have not done any significant reporting. I cannot make any firm claims about what is or is not going on in Sanhedria Murchevet—whether this is, in fact, a case of mass hysteria, on whether or not any of the allegations are founded.

But regardless of whether this is or is not a case of mass hysteria, those in the community (and beyond) must not ignore the lessons learned in past similar cases. The stakes cannot be higher. People died in the wake of what happened in Nachlaot. An 80-year-old woman was beaten with a crowbar and hospitalized, because she was believed to be a key member of a Christian missionary cult behind the abduction, torture, and rape of Jewish children. Many lives were destroyed. Children underwent corrective therapy for traumatic events that almost certainly did not happen—therapy that thereby created and reinforced that trauma. All these were needless tragedies born, ultimately, of misinformation. [...]