Agudath Israel Letter to Turkish Consul Condemning Erdogan’s Ugly Words

 

December 11, 2017

 

BY REGULAR MAIL & E-MAIL ([email protected])

Honorable Ertan Yalçın

Consul General

Turkish Consulate General in New York

825 3rd Avenue

New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Consul General:

I write on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, to register outrage over the recent reported comments of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who ludicrously called Israel – the only true democracy and humanitarian country in the Middle East – a “terrorist state” that “kills children.”

Compounding the absurdity of that charge was Mr. Erdoğan’s ahistorical assertion that “Jerusalem was ruled by Muslims for many centuries but never closed to the believers of the other religions during that time.”  It is clearly documented that, at least from 1948 until 1967, Islamic authorities and Jordan prevented Jews and Christians from visiting their holy sites in the Old City, including the Western Wall.  And it is well known and entirely evident that Israel provides access to all religious sites within its territory.  To claim the opposite is nothing less than an attempt to create false “facts.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s further assertion that “Jerusalem is the worshipping center for mainly Muslims, Christians, and partially Jews” betrays not only further deep ignorance but even deeper prejudice.

Such baseless and incendiary rhetoric has become commonplace among barbaric enemies of peace who in fact murderously target innocents as a matter of policy.  That such language now emerges from the mouth of a head of state is utterly contemptible.

Turkey for many years represented a voice of sanity and responsibility in a region cursed with delusion and violence.  It is unfortunate, indeed tragic, that recent years have seen it influenced by the worst elements around it.

Sincerely,

                                                                  Rabbi David Zwiebel

Executive Vice President

Agudath Israel of America

 

Truth Is Attractive

It wasn’t a phone call the head of the Union for Reform Judaism ever wanted to get. Taglit-Birthright was calling, with bad news.

In the U.S., the “Taglit” (“discovery”) part of the name of the non-profit organization that sponsors free ten-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults is usually dropped; it is known simply as “Birthright.”

Founded in 1994 by two philanthropists, Wall Street money manager Michael Steinhardt and former Seagram Company chairman Charles R. Bronfman, Birthright is financed by them and other private donors, as well as by the Israeli government. More than 500,000 young people, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, have participated in the program to date.

The recent phone call was to inform the Reform leader that his movement was no longer authorized as a certified trip provider for Birthright. It wasn’t, the caller explained, because Birthright had anything against “progressive” Jewish groups, but rather a simple matter of the fact that the Reform movement had failed to meet participant quotas.

“We worked very hard with them to increase the numbers,” Birthright CEO Gidi Mark told an Israeli newspaper, “but unfortunately they could not meet our minimum.”

Although the overwhelming majority of Birthright participants come from non-Orthodox backgrounds – less than 5 percent are Orthodox Jews – Orthodox-affiliated trip providers, including the Chabad-connected group “Mayanot,” the Orthodox Union’s “Israel Free Spirit” and Aish Hatorah account for close to a quarter of total recruitment.

Birthright’s largest single donor these days is Republican supporter Sheldon Adelson. He is a promoter of the Israeli political right wing with regard to security issues and the Palestinians, but is not Orthodox. Messrs. Bronfman and Steinhardt say, “We are both secular Jews… we never saw Birthright Israel as a religious trip, though many alumni have changed their ritual practices.”

So why have Orthodox groups emerged as so disproportionate a conduit of young non-Orthodox Jews to Birthright trips?

Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who bemoans that fact, blames it on the Israeli government’s support for what he calls “Ultra-Orthodox campus institutions.” He also is upset that young people on Birthright trips are given the option, if they choose, to attend Orthodox services during their stay in Israel.

Reform leaders are also chagrined that, although “religious indoctrination” is prohibited on Birthright trips, the Orthodox groups also often later convince Birthright alumni to, in Rick Jacobs’ words, “explore a more traditional way of Judaism.” The horror.

Asked about Orthodox organizations’ outreach work with participants after the trips, Mr. Mark said: “We are dealing with people who are very intelligent. They are all mature people older than 18. I myself never heard any one complaint about any misuse of the relationship by our trip organizers.”

Rather than stew over the fact that nonobservant young Jews seem to gravitate to groups dedicated to “a more traditional way of Judaism” – or, put more accurately, the authentic mesorah of Klal Yisrael – Reform leaders might stop seeking culprits for that offense and consider the fact that emes, truthis attractive.

Birthright certainly has never pushed Yiddishkeit in any way, and indeed shunned anything smacking of “religious indoctrination.”

It has helped ensure Jewish continuity by helping countless Jews connect in one or another way to their religious heritage by bringing them to Israel.

But for nearly 2000 years, visiting or settling in Eretz Yisrael was not even an option for most Jews. What sustained Jewish continuity over those millennia? Precisely Rick Jacobs’ “more traditional way of Judaism” – Jewish knowledge and Jewish living.

In fact, if Birthright really wanted to maximize its bang for the buck, it might consider dropping altogether its religious rejection of religion and consider a marvelous, gutsy move. Namely, amend Birthright’s existing program to maximize the Jewish impact of the gift it offers young Diaspora Jews, by providing them, say, for two or three of their ten days, an intensive Jewish learning experience in an Israeli yeshivah, seminary or outreach program catering to Jews from overseas.

Yes, that would violate the effort’s heretofore commitment to “pluralism.” But it would be entirely in consonance with Birthright’s professed goal, helping ensure Jewish continuity.

In fact, providing Jews who were raised distant from their religious heritage the opportunity to witness what it means to live a true Jewish life would be nothing less than, well, returning to them their birthright.

© 2017 Hamodia

Gezunt or Glucophobia?

Have you been following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s advice to drink three cups of milk a day, to get enough calcium and vitamin D? No? Good for you.

Multiple studies show that there is no association between drinking so much milk (or taking calcium and vitamin D supplements) and fewer bone fractures.

Do you take a multivitamin every day? No? Good for you. Decades of research have yielded no justification for healthy people taking vitamins.

Have you at least been cutting down on coffee and keeping it from your kids, so as not to stunt their growth? No, again? Well, good for you again.

Drinking a few cups a day, it turns out, has been linked to substantial health benefits; and most research finds no correlation between children’s caffeine consumption and their bone growth.

Every generation assumes that its conclusions about scientific matters are the last word, despite the fact that they often aren’t.

Sometimes, wrong conclusions are innocent and excusable, the products of tainted data, poorly designed experiments or human error.

Other times, though, misinformation is purposely fed to the public for particular parties’ financial gain. In the case of coffee, for instance, it was villainized largely by cereal manufacturer C.W. Post, in an effort to market his “Postum” product as an alternative to what he called “nerve poison” that should never be served to children.

Enter the revelation last week about sugar. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, announced that they have uncovered documents demonstrating that, back in the 1960s, members of the sugar industry called off a study, named Project 259, because it linked sugar to heart disease and bladder cancer in preliminary experiments.

Last year, the same researchers discovered a document that showed the sugar industry funded a report that downplayed links between sugar and coronary heart disease.

UCSF dentist Cristin Kearns started digging into the sugar industry 10 years ago, after hearing representatives at a conference say there is “no scientific consensus” that sugar is linked to chronic illnesses. She combed through library archives across the nation and eventually came upon a box containing “confidential” documents on “Project 259.”

In 1968, the Sugar Research Foundation launched a rodent study, which measured the nutritional products of gut bacteria after rats consumed sucrose, as compared to starch.

The experiment’s early results showed that sucrose increased the poor animals’ levels of triglycerides, fatty molecules that, in humans, can clog arteries and predispose a person to heart attacks and strokes.

Another preliminary experiment in the project also found a high-sugar diet boosts the activity of an enzyme linked to bladder cancer.

After reporting this discovery in August, 1970 to the International Sugar Research Foundation, Project 259 scientists requested more time and funding to continue the research, the documents show. But the request was denied, and the project abandoned.

Dr. Kearns and UCSF cardiologist Stanton Glantz claim that the sugar industry tried to bury the evidence and stopped the project because of the negative findings.

A sugar industry spokesperson dismissed that claim as “a collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly five decades ago.” It also called the researchers “known critics of the sugar industry.” Glucophobics, as it were.

In 2004, a trial revealed that tobacco industry officials had intentionally deceived Americans for years into thinking that smoking did not cause cancer, despite having clear evidence to the contrary.

No trial is in the works at present for Big Sugar, but the parallel is there. Sugar might not smell bad or turn teeth yellow. But too much of it can, over time, be deadly.

The recent report isn’t the first to reveal the sugar industry’s machinations, either.

According to an analysis of historical documents published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, when studies first began linking sugar with heart disease, a sugar industry group paid Harvard researchers to write an article about the issue.

Published in 1967, it played down the effects of sugar and concluded that the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease was reducing cholesterol and saturated fat. Which led to the decades-long, aggressive marketing of an assortment of “low fat” products – that, incidentally, contained more sugar than their regular counterparts.

The American Heart Association recommends that men consume less than 150 calories of added sugar per day; and women, less than 100.

There are 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar.

Do the math. And, remembering the Torah’s exhortation to guard our health, do the right thing for your health.

© 2017 Hamodia

Veiter Simchos

My brother, a rebbe in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel’s Mechina high school, and his wife, the daughter of the legendary Menahel Rav Yosef Tendler, z”l,were recently blessed with two new grandsons. Both were named Simcha Bunim, after my father, hk”m, whose first yahrtzeit will be observed on 20 Kislev.

When I wished my brother and his wife “veiter simchos!” – “further happy occasions! – I wondered if I had inadvertently uttered a double entendre. It turns out I did. My wife and I just returned from Milwaukee, where another bris took place, as our daughter and son-in-law welcomed their new little boy to their family; he, too, is a Simcha Bunim.

I’ve been thinking, as you might imagine, about the name.

Firstly, what exactly is “Bunim”? My father always assumed that it derived from Binyamin, and there are sources that indeed assert that. But another possibility was suggested to me by a brother-in-law’s brother, Tzvi West, who thinks (very plausibly, to me) that, like many double names (e.g. Zev Wolf, Dov Ber, Aryeh Leib…), “Simcha Bunim” may be a vernacular translation added to a Hebrew one. Because, in French, bonhomme means “a good-natured man” or “a man of good cheer.”

If that theory is right, though, both names are uncannily descriptive of my father.

He was renowned for his ready, radiant smile, and over the more than sixty years he served as a shul Rav, countless congregants and strangers alike were greeted with his sever panim yafos. He was a reservoir of friendly, encouraging words for all who sought his counsel.

But simchah isn’t only an interpersonal ideal. We exist for avodas Hashem. And Dovid Hamelech reveals that our lifelong service be done with simchahivdu es Hashem bisimchah. Jewish joy occupies a very high plane indeed.

I don’t know if my father was able to embrace simchah as he fled as a young teen with his family from their Polish town before the invading Nazis in 1939, or when he saw his uncle shot dead before him, or when he and other Jews were locked in a shul that was set aflame (though I imagine he must have smiled when a German army officer – Eliyahu Hanavi, the Jews suspected – passed by and ordered the Jews released). Or if he attained moments of joy during the years he and his Novardok chaverim spent as the guests of the Soviets in a Siberian work camp. But knowing Norvardok’s stress on making the most of every moment of life, it’s entirely plausible.

What I know for fact, though, is how Simchas Torah was his Yom Tov. He rejoiced then with vigor that left anyone who witnessed it astonished. And how delighted he was during his long career to be able to provide a spiritual home for a congregation of Yidden of widely diverse backgrounds and levels of observance.

When my siblings and I were young, it didn’t occur to us that a Rav davening all the Yamim Noraim tefillos (and blowing the shofar) himself was unusual. When, eventually, he trained others to daven for the amud, he took great joy in that, too, and always happily encouraged the new baalei tefillah.

He also undertook the most menial tasks of maintaining a shul with joy. The shul had no shamash, only a rabbi who saw honor in every shul chore.

A congregant recounted seeing him in the shul perched on a 20-foot ladder, changing a light bulb.

“What are you doing?” the man asked him. My father looked down and, wondering at the question, said, “changing a bulb.”

“I know. But why are you doing it?”

“Because the old one burned out,” he explained patiently, with his characteristic smile.

Leaving a neighbor’s shivah house five or six years ago, I was stopped by a gentleman who said he recognized me from a recent chasunah we had both attended, of a relative of mine (the man had a connection to the other family). I confirmed I had indeed been there. He then he took out his phone and said “I have to show you a short video from that chasunah. This zaken was dancing so gracefully, like a young bachur!”

My suspicion of what might be coming was borne out. The video was of my father, well into his 80s at the time, being mesame’ach the chassan and kallah with vigor and joy.

At present, he has five little boy descendants who carry his name (and one little girl who was named Simcha). May they, and, be”H, veiter simchos, herald a new infusion of joy into our world.

© 2017 Hamodia

Peter Beinart’s Orthophobia

Below is my original draft of a piece I wrote for Forward.  The article as it appeared there, though, was substantially edited, and several sentences that I think are important were omitted.  So I share the original here.  The Forward piece can be read here.

Well, in case anyone for some reason may have been wondering, Peter Beinart, who recently wrote a piece titled “The Orthodox Should Know Better than to Embrace Hatred of Muslims,” doesn’t follow J.K Rowling on Twitter.

Because if the Forward senior columnist and former The New Republic editor did, he would have seen Harry Potter’s creator’s retweet last year of a haredi (or in the Forward’s pejorative preference, “ultra-Orthodox”) rabbi’s message.

The rabbi shared the fact that he had dedicated his presidential election vote to the American Muslim soldier Captain Humayun Khan – who was killed in combat and about whom his father Khizr spoke movingly at the Democratic National Convention. Then-candidate Donald Trump, of course, was then touting his “Muslim ban.”

The Hasidic rabbi, who serves as a media relations coordinator at the national Orthodox Jewish organization Agudath Israel of America (full disclosure: I work there too), shared a photo of himself holding his ballot, alongside a photo of Captain Khan and his gravestone. He wrote that he wanted to highlight how Captain Khan’s “devotion makes (religious) freedom possible.”

The tweet was liked almost 12,000 times and retweeted 5,496 times, including Ms. Rowling’s sharing of the photo and message with her 13 million followers. Not one of whom, apparently, is Mr. Beinart, who wrote recently here that “the inability to distinguish jihadist terrorism from Islam fuels American Jewish hostility toward American Muslims” and that such inability is “particularly true among the Orthodox.”

Mr. Beinart must have also missed the story of the haredi director of a Brooklyn soup kitchen who, after the election, rallied support within his community for Muslim Yemeni neighbors who were protesting the new president’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  The haredi also organized support for a beleaguered local Yemeni-owned bodega, complete with “Shalom/Salaam” posters.

Agudath Israel, moreover, issued a pro-immigration statement about the ban asserting that such a move is acceptable only if intended to prevent terrorists from entering the country, only “if tempered by true concern for innocent refugees” and only if “its focus is on places,… not on religious populations.”

Mr. Beinart could be forgiven for not knowing about the hassidic WhatsApp group that calls itself “Isaac and Yishmoel,” created to enable its members to defend unfairly maligned Muslims.

But some research on his part might have turned up the fact that Agudath Israel’s executive vice president chairs the Committee of New York City Religious and Independent School Officials, which includes representation from the Islamic School Association. And that he has worked with Islamic school representatives on a number of issues before the New York State Education Department. And that, on the national level, he works with Islamic school groups under the umbrella of the Council for Private Education.

Agudath Israel has also joined with Islamic groups in amicus briefs in religious liberty cases, and, along with the Orthodox Union, another major national group, has opposed “anti-sharia” laws.

Is there wariness about Muslims among many Orthodox Jews?  Yes, as there is among many non-Orthodox ones, among many Episcopalians, Catholics and Hindus too.  Is that fair to the vast majority of Muslim citizens, who have no evil designs?  No.  But, unfortunately, the proclaimed world-conquering designs of Islamists and the malevolent acts committed by extremists exist.  The distrust that results is, unfortunately, the responsible Muslim’s unfair burden to bear.

But do Orthodox Jews hate Muslims or seek to harm them?  Mr. Beinart should visit one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods where Orthodox Jews and Muslim immigrants live side by side, day by day without friction.

The Forward columnist compounds his slander of Orthodox Jews by engaging in some Orthophobia, in effect accusing haredim of preventing women from marrying, touting genocide and killing babies.  Yes, you read right.

There isn’t space here to rebut such outlandishness.  Suffice it to say that it is a high haredi ideal to find ways to compel a recalcitrant husband to agree to divorce his abandoned wife; that no people today can be identified with Amalek, and so the biblical injunction to destroy that evil nation cannot be applied; and that metzitza bipeh, the oral suction practiced by some haredim as part of the Jewish circumcision rite, has never been proven to be related to, much less the cause of, any infection in an infant, as three medical/statistics experts have affirmed (http://forward.com/opinion/letters/194118/no-conclusive-evidence-on-circumcision-rite-and-he/) in these very pages.

The Orthodox community’s final crime, in the Beinart courtroom, is having voted in large numbers, and in contrast to the larger Jewish community, for the man currently occupying the White House.  Judge Beinart chooses to interpret that fact as the result of Orthodox anti-Muslim sentiment.

Might it be, though, that many haredim simply recognize that judicial appointments comprise one of the most influential powers any president has? And felt that Mr. Trump’s likely choices would prove more sensitive to our community’s concerns about societal issues and the potential erosion of religious rights in America?

We must plead guilty – forgive us – to the charges of being social conservatives and religious rights activists.  But not to Mr. Beinart’s ugly and incendiary charge.

Of Bump Stocks and Background Checks

The landscape of Devin P. Kelley’s life was a veritable forest of red flags.

Mr. Kelley, who last week shot to death 26 worshippers in a Texas church and wounded some 20 others, over the years was convicted of beating his wife and stepson, fracturing the latter’s skull; faced charges of animal cruelty; had been investigated for threats against family members; threatened to kill his military superiors; was caught sneaking guns onto an Air Force base; and escaped from confinement in a mental health facility.

The Air Force has admitted that it did not, as required, submit Mr. Kelley’s name to federal authorities for inclusion in a national database that would have prevented him from buying firearms from a licensed dealer.

But there is a two-word phrase in the previous paragraph that conveys the fact that, even had every red flag in the killer’s life been noticed, even had more neighbors reported him, even had the Air Force done its duty, the murderer would still have had no problem procuring his murder weapon – a AR-15-style rifle, the same sort used by the mass killers in Las Vegas last month, Orlando last year and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. (It’s also customizable; adding a “bump stock” can turn the semi-automatic into a virtual machine gun. Sweet.)

The phrase? “Licensed dealers.” Federal law does not require background checks for people buying firearms from other private individuals, as takes place regularly at gun shows across the country. Some states require private sale background checks, but most do not. Texas does not.

That loophole, through which any determined would-be killer can easily pass, was decried by past presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to no avail. The NRA argues, with members of Congress nodding their heads obediently, that there are illegal ways for criminals to purchase guns too, so why burden citizens to check a federal registry before selling a semi-automatic rifle to a fellow citizen? One wonders if those congressmen lock their front doors. There are, after all, burglars out there with crowbars.

Asked after the recent massacre about intensified vetting of gun purchases, President Trump responded that the murderer was a “very deranged individual,” and that tighter gun control might have prevented “that very brave person who happened to have a gun” from shooting the killer and averting more casualties.

But that brave man would likely have passed a background check . And, for the record, he didn’t stop the massacre; he shot Kelley only after the killer had left the church.

As to the perpetrator’s mental health, the mentally ill are no more prone to violence than the general population. As Paolo del Vecchio of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration put it: “Violence by those with mental illness is so small that even if you could somehow cure it all, 95 percent of violent crime would still exist.”

So why was America’s gun homicide rate 33 per million people in 2009, while in Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively? Why, as a The American Journal of Medicine study last year reported, are Americans 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries?

The only variable that explains the high rate of gun deaths in America is – you may want to sit down – the number of guns in America, and the ease with which we Americans can obtain them.

We make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns, according to a 2015 study by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford. The U.S., moreover, has some of the weakest controls of any developed country over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.

Yet, despite the events of recent weeks (and months, and years), gun control remains a frightening phrase to many Americans and their legislators. British journalist Dan Hodges noted with tragic resignation: “In retrospect, Sandy Hook [the 2012 attack that killed 20 students at a Connecticut elementary school] marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

The aforementioned Mr. Obama, whose own calls for more gun regulations were stymied by the legislature, reacted to last week’s massacre with a prayer. “May G-d… grant all of us the wisdom,” he wrote, “to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.”

Worthy, to my lights, of a national amen.

© Hamodia (in a slightly edited version)

Agudath Israel of America: “Jewish Pluralism” Undermines True Jewish Unity

In advance of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s address to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, that group passed a resolution on “Jewish pluralism” in Israel, opposing a bill to enshrine a single conversion standard in the country and asserting that the Israeli Government’s decision to freeze an agreement about the Western Wall has “deep potential to divide the Jewish people.”

It is sadly ironic, although not surprising, that leaders of heterodox movements that have in fact undermined true Jewish unity and continuity by inviting intermarriage and breaking away from the Jewish religious heritage have of late been lecturing others about Jewish unity.

More disappointing still are the unity-cries of the Jewish Federation movement.  The historic role of Jewish federations has been to provide support and solace for disadvantaged or endangered Jews and to mobilize the community to come to Israel’s aid when it is threatened.  Taking sides in religious controversies anywhere, and certainly in Israel, egregiously breaches the boundaries of that role.

The Jewish Federations of North America, moreover, has traditionally sought to represent all of American Jewry, but here it entirely ignores the feelings of the substantial and growing American Orthodox community.

The Reform and Conservative movements, despite their great efforts over decades, have few adherents in Israel. Most of their members do not visit or settle in Israel, nor do they visit the Western Wall in large numbers.  And yet their leaders seem prepared to offend the religious sensibilities of their Orthodox brethren, who regularly visit and move to Israel, and who come to the Kotel to pour out their hearts to G-d there.  A holy place should not be balkanized, nor wielded as a tool to advance partisan social goals.

And the patchwork of standards for conversion that exist in America has created an Ameican Jewish landscape where those who respect halacha as the ultimate arbiter of personal status cannot know who is in fact Jewish.  Creating in Israel a multiplicity of “Jewish peoples,” as is the tragic reality in America, would not foster unity but its opposite.

To our dear Jewish brothers and sisters, we say: Please do not push for changes at the Kotel that will only cause discord and pain to the vast majority of Jews who worship there. And please realize that the conversion standards that have ensured Jewish unity for millennia are the only ones that can preserve it for the future.

The Price of Tea in Uzbekistan

As commuters made their way home from lower Manhattan last Tuesday evening, the police presence was strong, complete with heavily armed officers, helicopters and dogs. At that point, no one knew if the man currently charged with ramming a truck into people on a nearby bike path, killing eight and injuring twelve, was part of a larger terrorist plan or a lone wolf.

The show of vigilance may have made people feel safer. It may even have made them safer, since a broader police presence can, in the event of a terrorist act like last week’s, prevent worse outcomes. The unfortunate fact, though, remains that it is simply impossible to prevent evil people from doing evil things.

To be sure, we must make what reasonable efforts we can to prevent depraved people from entering our country, from plotting to commit violent acts and from carrying them out.

But the carnage caused by Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov is illustrative of how it isn’t really possible to prevent malevolent individuals – who proliferate so easily these internet days – from wreaking havoc when they choose to.

The accused Manhattan killer was in the country legally, holding a green card, a beneficiary of the “diversity visa lottery,” by which approximately one million foreigners have been awarded legal permanent residency in the U.S., despite having no relatives here or special skills.

President Trump was quick to blame that program for the recent attack, and claimed that New York Senator Chuck Schumer was at fault. The senator was indeed one of those who helped create the program in 1990. He was also, though, among senators who proposed to end it several years ago.

But the issue of the visa lottery has as much to do with what happened in Manhattan last week as it does with the price of tea in Uzbekistan.

The truck terrorist (I’ll drop the “accused”; the fiend has expressed joy over and pride in what he did) seems to have been radicalized after his arrival on these shores, apparently when he wandered from job to job and didn’t land the one he wanted. When he was chosen in the 2010 visa lottery, he was subject to the same vetting procedures as any immigrant, and raised no concerns. Someone approved to immigrate because of special skills or relatives here can also become radicalized.

As can someone born here. The nonpartisan think tank New America tallied the citizenship status of 418 individuals accused of jihadist terrorism crimes in the U.S. since 9/11, and found that fully 85 percent of them were either U.S. citizens or U.S. legal residents – about half of them born American citizens.

And then there is non-jihadi violence against innocents, like last month’s attack in Las Vegas, where a born American killed 58 people and wounded 489. The very day after the more recent terrorist act, a gunman (with no connection to Islam, much less Islamism) walked into a Colorado Walmart and nonchalantly killed three people. And then, this past Sunday, a man shot 26 people to death at a Texas church.

Some, frustrated at the lack of a good blamee (well, it should be a word) for last week’s attack in Manhattan, consider the company that rented Mr. Saipov a truck to bear some responsibility for his actions. But on what grounds should he have been refused? His name? His beard? His religion? His country of origin? Anyone with a valid driver’s license and a credit card can rent a vehicle. Did that fact facilitate last week’s violence? Surely. Can it be applied selectively without violating federal law? Just ask a lawyer.

Restricting immigration may be a good idea (though if Uzbekistan is blacklisted, that will affect the Bukharian Jewish community still there). Careful vetting of foreigners entering the country surely is. But neither notion is a solution to terrorism. Nor, although a fine idea whose time has long arrived, is tougher gun control.

I have come up with several theoretical but entirely workable ideas for sneaking weapons onto public transportation, including onto planes (no, I’m not telling). I imagine similar ones have been conceived by people inclined, as I am not, to killing or maiming innocents.

So what is the solution to terrorism? A secret: There is none. And no one, or thing, to blame when evil is wrought.

There are prudent steps to be taken, yes. But if we think any or all of them can prevent bad people from doing bad things, or that some policy or law is at fault when they do, we fool ourselves.

We might better ponder a passuk: “If Hashem will not guard a city, in vain does its guard keep his vigil” (Tehillim 127:1).

And recognize the import of its message.

© 2017 Hamodia

 

The Pitfall of “Orthopraxy”

Amid the abundance of good Jewish writing these days, it would be a challenge to declare any single article particularly outstanding. But a remarkable recently published essay merits such a distinction. And it was written by a teenager.

His name is Eitan Gross, and he describes himself as “a normal Modern Orthodox kid, who goes to a normal Modern Orthodox school” and who grew up “in a mainstream Modern Orthodox world.” And who has “a big problem with Modern Orthodoxy and where it’s heading.”

Eitan (whose maturity merits a “Mr. Gross” but who I suspect would be uncomfortable with such formality) explains that he has been able to sample much of contemporary culture and to benefit from secular studies even as he has studied Torah and learned “what it means to be a Jew.”

But, he laments, he has come to witness “hypocrisy and internal contradiction” in his community.

The metaphor he chooses is poignant: “Living in a Modern Orthodox world is like letting an alcoholic shop by himself in a supermarket. The supermarket has many sections filled with healthy foods, but it also has a section dedicated to wine and other alcoholic beverages… chances are that he will not be able to get out of the store without approaching the section.”

“Modern Orthodoxy,” he continues, “provides many opportunities for positive effects on our lives, like the healthy foods have on a person. But it also hasn’t put up enough boundaries for us to avoid the alcohol, or evils, that the secular world has to offer.”

“We,” he asserts, referring to Modern Orthodox teens, “are high school students before talmidim. We are aspiring sports players before yearning Talmud scholars. We are college graduates before yeshiva bachurim. We are Modern before Orthodox.”

And he sees some Jews in his orbit treating halachos “as if they are a checklist – Say Modeh Ani, check. Wash hands, check. Then go to davening, look on my phone and wrap my tefillin before Aleinu because I’m so eager to get on with my day, but it still counts because I said Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, right? Check.”

And the results yield Jews “living an uninspired robotic Judaism, or falling off the derech altogether.”

Eitan suggests a renewed “emphasis on the truth of the tenets of Judaism, as well as an inspirational approach that creates a yearning and desire in the student to be closer to Hashem.”

He’s right, of course.  But not regarding one thing: his assumption that the need for such emphasis exists only in his community.

What about those of us in the “non-Modern Orthodox” world? Yes, we may be less invested than Eitan’s peers in the surrounding culture, but we are far from unaffected by it. And are our own priorities always ordered as they should be? As to rote observance, are we ourselves immune to the “Jewish checklist” syndrome? Is our distinctive dress, as it should be, a uniform, or at times a costume?

In a Dialogue essay four years ago titled “Observant but Not Religious,” Rav Aharon Feldman, the Baltimore Rosh Yeshivah, wrote that despite the “rejuvenation of Torah observance among Jews… something so utterly central to our existence as Jews continues to go wanting in the lives of many: the emotion of the heart, the focus and forethought of the mind, the commitment of the spirit.”

Rabbi J. David Bleich, a Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshiva University’s Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, wrote in a similar vein, bemoaning the “different form of Judaism” that has come to assert itself, an “Orthopraxy” that is “based upon practice rather than belief.”

It’s that reflexive observance that allows an otherwise observant Jew to speak to his Creator with words so garbled and hurried that, were he speaking to another mortal, they would elicit laughter. Such “mechanical Judaism,” if unarrested, can allow for unethical business practices or other issurim; or, more mundanely, to cut others off in traffic or speak rudely to people.

Falling into rote behavior is human nature, of course. Few of us always fully concentrate on what we’re saying to Hashem, nor do we always carefully enough weigh our every action and interaction on the finely calibrated scales of Torah propriety. But it’s vital to at least consciously aim at the highest Jewish ideals, to know when we’ve lapsed, to be pained by the fact. And to consciously endeavor, as Eitan suggests, to embrace the desire to be closer to Hashem.

The local Jewish newspaper where Eitan lives declined to publish his essay. That’s unfortunate. There is much his community could learn from it.

Much that all of us can.

© 2017 Hamodia