Category Archives: Israel

Federation Blues

When a media offering chooses to not identify a quoted speaker, it loses a bit of credibility. But the words attributed to several unnamed Jewish federation leaders in a recent report in the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon had the ring of truth. And of some wisdom.

Jewish federations, of course, are community-wide nonprofits – sort of “super-pushkes” – that raise money to fund local causes and other Jewish ones overseas, including Israel.

The first Jewish federation in North America was founded in Boston in 1895. Today, there are local federations in over 100 American cities and some 300 smaller communities. And, in addition, there is a national umbrella organization called the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Its slogan, adopted in 2012, is “The Strength of a People. The Power of Community.”

The Makor Rishon news story had the anonymous federation leaders admitting, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, that it had been a mistake for their groups to join the assault on respect for kedushas beis knesses at the Kosel Maaravi.

Israeli firebrand Anat Hoffman has famously made her life’s goal the dismantlement of the longstanding norm at the Kosel (and of the government’s general regard, through the state’s official Rabbanut, for the Jewish mesorah). Both the national Jewish federation and numerous local ones vocally supported her designs and financially helped gird her for battle.

The recently quoted leaders haven’t exactly come to acknowledge the importance of the mesorah, only – hey, it’s a start – the impracticability of declaring the Jewish religious tradition to be the enemy. They observed that most Israelis, even non-religious ones, have no real interest in the “religious pluralism” pushed by non-Orthodox American Jewish representatives. “How,” one “senior official” is quoted as saying, “can the struggle succeed if it is just a headache for so many Israelis who do not understand what the uproar is?”

Another fedhead – and here is where the wisdom comes in – reportedly told the paper that “The progressive streams in the United States, the Reform and the Conservative movements, are in a complex and difficult place. They are unable to recruit the next generation to their synagogues. Therefore, they are not in a position to preach to Israelis how they should conduct themselves at the Western Wall.

“Throughout the crisis,” the official continued, “I warned that we were putting all our chips on the subject of the Western Wall, without thinking for a moment if this was the right struggle for us.”

Both local federations and the national federation body have had uneasy relations with the Orthodox communities that are ostensibly part of the constituency they represent. The unease doesn’t stem, chas v’shalom, from any animus for fellow Jews, but entirely from some of the positions taken by federations.

Contemporary social causes that stand in stark and undeniable opposition to what the Torah expressly states are embraced wholeheartedly (and buoyed financially) by Jewish federations across the country, and by JFNA.

And not only do federations routinely offer funds to projects of Jewish movements that reject part or all of the Jewish mesorah, but a JFNA initiative, “The Israel Religious Expression Platform” (“iRep” – don’t ask why Israel has been demoted to lower-case), has as its mission “to impact a range of issues related to increasing religious pluralism in Israel” and to “advance meaningful change to the religion-state status quo, including expanding the range of legally-recognized options for marriage and divorce in Israel.”

No Orthodox Jew – nor any Jew concerned with preserving a single Jewish people in Israel – could in good conscience support that agenda.

The Jewish Federation system is at a crossroads. It can continue to be a stable boy for the non-Orthodox religious movements, or it can go back to its roots and focus on the needs of Jews – all Jews. Both the physical – there is poverty and even hunger among Jews, overseas and in the U.S. as well – and the non-material.

To wit, the Jewish day school system is a proven engine of Jewish continuity, and day schools and yeshivos are often on the verge of insolvency. There are Jewish federations that indeed, to their credit, earmark funds to help Jewish schools and tuition-strapped parents. But if all the funds sent into the black hole of pluralism-pushing in Israel and “progressive” causes in the U.S. were to be diverted to Jewish education, the American Jewish identity picture would be a much rosier one than it is.

No one expects federations to start funding traditional kollelim (though it would be a great merit for them if they did), but investing in community kollelim, Jewish outreach groups and chavrusa programs like Partners in Torah and TorahMates would be a truly wise choice for federations – if they are really determined to help build a brighter American Jewish future.

Connecting Jews – of all stripes and affiliations – with their ancestral heritage, its texts, traditions and wisdom, would truly boost “The Strength of a People. The Power of Community.”

The ball is in the federations’ court.

© 2019 Hamodia

A Midrash Comes Alive

At one point in an address to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., reached for a yarmulke, placed it on his head and read from a Chumash.

A video of what he then said went viral, propelled by supporters of Israel, prominent among them the worldwide Evangelical Christian community. Ambassador Danon’s words were translated into Spanish, Polish, French, Portuguese and even Turkish, and reached many tens of thousands of people. At this writing, the clip continues to gain momentum on social media.

Earlier in his speech, Mr. Danon introduced in brief the “four pillars” that, he said, link the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael.

The latter three bases for Israel’s legitimacy, Mr. Danon explained, were world history, international law and the pursuit of international peace. He cited the Balfour Declaration, the U.N. Charter and the fact that “a stronger and safer Israel means a stronger and safer world.” Later in his speech, he elaborated on those ideas.

It was the first portion of his explication, though, the one for which he donned the kippah, and that has come to be called his “Biblical Speech,” that captured the attention of so many.

Mr. Danon quoted from Bereishis (17, 7-8), where Hashem appears to Avraham Avinu and promises:

And I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a G-d and to your descendants after you. And I will give you and your descendants after you the land of your dwelling, the entire land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a G-d.”

“This,” Mr. Danon added, holding the Chumash aloft, “is our deed to our land.”

Of course, that is true. My first reaction, though, was to wonder whether it was proper, from a strategic perspective, considering our place in galus, to proclaim that truth in a most public and important international forum. Maybe, I thought, the lesser “pillars,” rather than the overtly religious one, should alone have been put forth.

But pondering the happening a bit more, it became impossible to not be reminded of the first Rashi in the Chumash (echoing two Midrashim), explaining why the Torah begins with an account of the creation of the world:

“For if the nations of the world should say to Klal Yisrael, ‘You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],’ they will reply, ‘The entire earth belongs to Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us’.”

And so, Mr. Danon’s presentation of his “first pillar” would seem, at least to me, to have constituted essentially a contemporary fulfilment of the Midrash’s predicted scenario.

The Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, was not present for Mr. Danon’s speech. After making his own presentation moments earlier, in which he condemned the United States for recognizing Yerushalyim as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Mr. Mansour left the room, returning only when the Israeli representative had finished.

But other “nations of the world,” including the Arab ones – and Mr. Mansour himself, no doubt, at least after the fact – did indeed hear Mr. Danon’s words. And the Midrashim came to life.

There is, though, another important, if less enthralling, truth to remember here.

While it is important for the world to recognize the fact that, geopolitics and nationalism aside, Eretz Yisrael the land is indeed bequeathed to Klal Yisrael, we Jews need to remind ourselves of something else: The bequeathal, while eternal, is not unconditional.

This Shabbos in shul, we will read the “tochachah,” or “admonition,” in parashas Bechukosai. For the same reason that it will be read in a low voice and quickly, I will not excerpt it here. But we all know what it says, that it conditions Klal Yisrael’s right to inhabit Eretz Yisrael on our acceptance of Hashem’s laws. And we know, too, that we were expelled en masse from our land twice.

The latter three of the pillars cited by Mr. Danon are unrelated to shemiras hamitzvos. But the first one, the main one, the one that reflected that first Rashi, very much does depend on Jewish behavior.

That most vital point didn’t belong before the Security Council or the world. But it well belongs in every Jewish heart and mind.

© 2019 Hamodia

Hideous Headline

On the first day of Pesach, Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib offered the “Jewish sisters and brothers” among her constituents Passover greetings, accompanied by a graphic that included two fluffy loaves of bread. A similar faux pas (perhaps, here, articulating the French should-be-silent “s”) was part of the British Labor Party’s seasonal greeting as well.

Ms. Tlaib’s ignorance of one of the most important and widely-recognized elements of Pesach observance nicely paralleled her similar unawareness of the history of the Jews and Eretz Yisrael.

Her unbridled support of the “Palestinian cause” reveals an obliviousness to the uninterrupted Jewish presence over millennia in the land that today comprises the state of Israel, and the even more trenchant fact that the Jews who were expelled from the land after the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash, and their descendants over all the subsequent generations, have turned daily to Yerushalayim in prayer and pined for a return to their ancestral homeland.

Although Ms. Tlaib hasn’t publicly expressed an explicit hope for an end to the Jewish presence in the Jewish land, she openly supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, advocates for a “Palestinian right of return” and backs a “one-state solution” – by which she presumably means (based on that “right of return” for all the descendants of all the emigrants from Partition-era Palestine) the transition of Israel, chalilah, into a 22nd Arab country.

The offensiveness of her infamous comment back in January about Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch – that, because of their opposition to BDS, they “forgot what country they represent” – has now been complemented by the craziness of her reaction to a report on the most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

To be specific, to a headline in The New York Times summing up the violent happenings. The headline read: “Gaza militants fire 250 rockets, and Israel responds with airstrikes.”

The 250 rockets eventually became more than 700, and caused scores of Israeli civilian casualties, including three deaths – one of them a Bedouin father of seven; another, a 21-year-old chareidi father of a one-year-old. But, at the time of the Times’ report, the headline was an accurate, straightforward description of events.

Representative Tlaib, though, was outraged. “When will the world stop dehumanizing our Palestinian people who just want to be free?” she tweeted. “Headlines like this & framing it in this way just feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel who unjustly oppress & target Palestinian children and families.”

Wha?

The headline just stated the bald facts of the conflict: terrorists shot hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians and Israel ended the onslaught by attacking Hamas military targets from the air. Perhaps Ms. Tlaib would have preferred the chronology to be reversed, with Israeli attacks followed by Hamas retaliation. But time, alas, proceeds in only one direction.

And if the Congresswoman meant to reference the four Palestinian protesters at the border fence who were killed by Israeli forces the previous Friday, well, Palestinian violence at “peaceful protests” is legend. And those killings were preceded by the shooting of two Israeli soldiers there. That pesky arrow of time again.

The Congresswoman might also be reminded that Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, relocating over 10,000 Jews, ethnically cleansing the region; and that the local residents, “who just want to be free,” freely elected a terrorist organization to rule them – which is what has directly resulted in their current deprivation and suffering.

If Ms. Tlaib – and we might well add her colleague Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who likewise wished Jews a “happy Passover” – really wanted to gain respect from Jewish constituents and other American Jews, they might have issued a full-throated condemnation of Hamas’ most recent attempt to terrorize and murder Israeli civilians. And, for that matter, of Hamas’ general embrace of terrorism, incitement of the populace under its control and sworn goal of erasing Israel from the map.

Shia Muslim Imam and President of the Islamic Association of South Australia Mohamad Tawhidi did precisely that. And he went on to call out Mss. Tlaib and Omar for their own lack of outrage over Hamas’ terrorism.

Earlier this year, while paying his respects to Holocaust victims at Auschwitz, the imam was even blunter about the two Congresswomen, criticizing them as “absolute frauds and Islamists” who “promote hatred against the Jewish people.”

I don’t claim to know what lies in the heart of either woman. But I know what seems absent from both their heads: a recognition of the facts of history, both ancient and current.

As absent, it would seem, as leavened bread in observant Jewish homes on Pesach.

© 2019 Hamodia

Bad Times, Good Times

The third one, at least for me, did the trick. The third New York Times apology, that is.

The venerated publication, as most readers know by now, not long ago published an overtly anti-Semitic cartoon in its International Edition.

It depicted a guide dog with a face resembling Benjamin Netanyahu leading a blind, grotesquely overweight Donald Trump wearing dark glasses and a black yarmulke. A magen Dovid dangled from the dog’s collar.

When the cartoon was shared online, it was met with broad outrage. With its Jewish symbols and theme of an Israeli Prime Minister leading an unsighted American president, its Der Stürmer-keit was unmistakable. The Times issued a quick but brief apology – #1 – and then, after a wide and loud public outcry, a more comprehensive one – #2.

Then, last week, came #3, in the form of an unusual “Editorial Board” lead editorial.

When it appeared, Agudath Israel of America had been poised to issue a strongly worded statement about the cartoon, and a subsequent one depicting Mr. Netanyahu descending a mountain carrying a tablet featuring the Israeli flag, taking a picture of himself with a “selfie-stick.”

The ready-to-release statement pointedly suggested that The Times take a selfie of its own, and examine it closely and critically. Since the paper essentially did that, the statement was quashed.

The April 30 Editorial Board offering, titled “A Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism” and representing the view of the highest echelon of the paper, admitted, inter alia, that the first cartoon was “appalling” and that “an obviously bigoted cartoon in a mainstream publication is evidence of a profound danger – not only of anti-Semitism but of numbness to its creep, to the insidious way this ancient, enduring prejudice is once again working itself into public view and common conversation.” [Emphasis mine.] Indeed.

The editorial went on to list recent acts of violent anti-Semitism, to acknowledge that “anti-Zionism can clearly serve as a cover for anti-Semitism,” and to bemoan the fact that “In the 1930s and the 1940s, The Times was largely silent as anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. That failure still haunts this newspaper.”

The editorial board statement also admitted that “apologies are important but the deeper obligation of The Times is to focus on leading through unblinking journalism and the clear editorial expression of its values.” And that, while “society in recent years has shown healthy signs of increased sensitivity to other forms of bigotry… somehow anti-Semitism can often still be dismissed as a disease gnawing only at the fringes of society. That is a dangerous mistake. As recent events have shown, it is a very mainstream problem.”

It is a problem that The Times, unfortunately, has helped feed, with its reportage, editorials and op-eds over more recent years, from misrepresentation of the 1991 Crown Heights riots to harsh criticism of Israeli actions of self-defense to repeated, unwarranted criticism of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Late last year, a group of representatives from Agudath Israel and the Orthodox Union met with The Times’ editorial page editor with the express purpose of trying to call attention to the dearth of Orthodox views on the paper’s op-ed page – a wrong compounded by the frequent criticism of the community that appears there.

The editor, who had at first tried to rebuff the charge, did some research and admitted the problem. And he pledged to be more open to Orthodox views.

So far, slim pickings. Although an opinion piece I submitted about Chanukah was published by The Times online, it was a “thought piece,” not a presentation of a position on a contemporary issue. And while ideas for examples of the latter, on topics like yeshivah education and the measles outbreak, to be written by qualified, credentialed members of our community were put forth, they were not accepted.

Does The Times recognize that part of the “creep” of subtle anti-Semitism involves negative coverage of the most recognizably Jewish of Jews, and the vacuum of Orthodox views on its op-ed page? Or has “numbness” set in there too?

It’s easy, even for an inveterate optimist like me, to be pessimistic. After all, there hasn’t been much positive movement to date, at least not visibly so.

But the willingness of the Old Grey Lady to publicly and prominently confess to sins both distant and present, and her pledge to be alert to the “insidious way this ancient, enduring prejudice” of Jew-hatred “creeps” into societal (and journalistic) discourse, and to the danger of “numbness” to that creep, leaves some hope in my heart.

Time, as the truism has it, will tell.

© 2019 Hamodia

Make the Kosel Plaza Great Again

An Open Letter to Anat Hoffman

Dear Ms. Hoffman,

Many years ago, we shared a stage for a panel discussion about Israel and Judaism. But you are a well-known public figure and have appeared in countless venues to promote the feminist cause of your group “Women of the Wall,” so I hardly expect you to remember our fleeting interaction.

What you may be more familiar with is my written criticism of your goals and your group, since some of it has appeared in secular media both here in America and in Israel. I want to assure you that it was not intended as a personal attack, but was rather a battle undertaken in the arena of ideas. You have argued that the Kosel Maaravi should be a place where nontraditional public and vocal services should take place, even if such things offend those who most frequent the site.

And I have maintained that the hanhagah in place since the Wall was captured in 1967, effectively enshrining normative Orthodox practice as the standard for congregational prayer at the Kosel, should remain unchanged.

I am writing to you publicly now because of the results of the most recent Israeli elections. As you know, and likely bemoan, the two chareidi parties, Yahadut HaTorah and Shas, made unexpectedly strong showings. Their equally shared 16 Knesset seats represent a nearly 25 percent increase from their previous electoral representation. And together, they now constitute the largest Knesset faction in the government coalition after Likud, with more than three times the seats as the next most successful party.

That being the case, the chareidi parties are virtually assured to be part of Israel’s new government. That observation is not made to rub salt in any wounds, chas v’shalom, but rather as a prelude to a plea.

Realistically speaking, political machinations are not likely to change the longstanding status quo at the Kosel in the foreseeable future. And even if the Israeli courts are successfully enlisted to support the cause of dismantling the traditional public prayer custom at the site, the Knesset may be able to use its legislative power to circumvent such efforts.

In any event, the change for which you advocate is not likely in the cards for now.

And so, my plea:

Might you consider, in light of that reality, “demilitarizing” the Kosel, and putting your formidable talents and energies into truly important feminist causes, things like advocacy on behalf of equal pay for equal work and effective anti-harassment laws?

For, as you know, bringing loud nontraditional services to the revered site, as you have regularly done, only serves to cause strife. I make no excuses for anyone who berates another Jew, or so much as throws a crumpled piece of paper at her or him, much less for someone who assaults another. Hotheads exist in every group and should be tolerated in none.

But you know that your group’s actions will always meet with obnoxious reactions. Indeed, you have counted on it, making sure that when you arrive at the Kosel there are cameras and media in tow to capture whatever ugliness might result.

Provoking another Jew to overreact may not be as wrong as the overreaction itself. But it, too, is wrong.

And so, just think of what it might be like were you to seek changes to truly improve the lot of women in Israel, rather than a crusade whose only ultimate yield is strife.

Think of what it would be like to join the women who daven at the Kosel regularly with the sole goal of pouring out their hearts to Hashem. What an accomplishment it would be to make the Kosel plaza great again. A place of peace again.

You know that no one – traditional or nontraditional, Jew or non-Jew – has ever been prevented from worshipping there as an individual, and that the great majority of those who flock to the site regularly are Orthodox Jews, who want there to be a mechitzah near the Wall, and want audible public tefillah there to respect the norms born of centuries, indeed millennia, of Jewish tradition.

And you know, further, that until you launched your quest, the Kotel plaza was a place of uninterrupted amity – a Jewish societal oasis, probably the only place on earth where Jews of different religious stripes prayed sincerely side by side.

Might you consider returning it to that, every day of the year?

You and your followers can, as always, promote your religious or societal ideals in any private venue. But please give thought to the good will that you would be showing, and inspiring, were you to decide to make the Kosel once again an undisturbed place of Jewish comity and peace.

Thank you,

Avi Shafran

© 2019 Hamodia

The Essence of Israel

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got into a dustup with a television personality and a movie star, many of us felt reasonably secure assuming which side was likely more Jewishly authentic. And since the disagreement involved Israel’s relationship to the Jewish people, all the more so.

Sometimes, though, reasonable assumptions must give way to history and hashkafah.

The ruckus began with Mr. Netanyahu’s statement that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.” That declaration – like the Knesset’s passage last year of a new Basic Law titled “Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People” – was regarded by some as compromising Israel’s democratic spirit. And it drew fire not only from the political left and celebrities but even from people like Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

In his dissent, Mr. Rivlin emphasized Israel’s “complete equality of rights for all its citizens,” and that “there are no first-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters… We are all represented at the Knesset.”

On one level, the argument is mere semantics. Mr. Netanyahu does not deny Arab Israelis’ right to vote or be represented in the Knesset. And Mr. Rivlin surely subscribes to Israel’s foundational self-definition as a “Jewish State.”

That self-description, of course, is no more a violation of democratic principles than Tunisia’s or Morocco’s self-definitions as Muslim states; or Argentina’s or Sweden’s or England’s as Christian ones.

But it’s election season in Israel, and it is to Mr. Netanyahu’s advantage to portray himself as an adversary of Arabs. His camp has popularized the phrase, “Either Bibi or Tibi” – a reference to Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi – even though the prime minister’s actual challenger is the Blue and White Party’s Benny Gantz. (I’m personally rooting, as are Israel’s religious parties, for Bibi, just describing a campaign reality.)

And yet, the “Jewish state” controversy touches on an important issue worth some renewed contemplation by Jews committed to mesorah.

Before the founding of Israel, there was opposition among Gedolei Yisrael to the idea of Zionism, the quest to establish a Jewish state. The reasons for the opposition were several and compelling; here is not the place to expound on them. After Churban Europa, though, the horrifically altered situation brought the Gedolim who guided Agudas Yisrael to adopt what might best be characterized as a non-Zionist stance.

With Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, those Gedolim decided that the state should be appreciated for what it was but essentially regarded as a political state like any other, even if one founded by and for Jews. Rav Reuvain Grozovsky, zt”l, eloquently expressed the Agudah philosophy in his concise but persuasive kuntres Ba’ayos Haz’man.

Thus, followers of Agudas Yisrael voted, and vote, in Israeli elections, and the movement sponsored an official political party in Israel that, to this day, plays a role – often pivotal – in the formation of Israeli governments. The party, today part of Yahadus HaTorah, or United Torah Judaism, is largely focused on defending the religious status quo agreed to by Israel’s future leaders in 1947, and on advocacy on behalf of Israel’s religious Jewish community.

Eretz Yisrael, precisely as the phrase translates, is the land of the Jews – the territory promised by Hashem to Avraham Avinu and populated by his descendants in the time of Yehoshua. The connection of Klal Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael is undeniable, unmalleable and eternal.

But the modern state of Israel, at least to the followers of the Gedolim who have guided Agudas Yisrael, is a political state in an era of galus, not some semblance of Malchus Beis David.

A non-Zionist “Agudist” Jew can embrace a hawkish attitude toward Israel’s defense; fully recognize radical Arab groups’ threat to Israel; condemn the Palestinian Authority’s detestable incitement against Israel; have and express deep appreciation of Israeli soldiers; and support Israel morally, politically and financially. But, unlike his national-religious counterparts, he sees Israel as a largely praiseworthy country, a refuge and protector of Jews, but not as an inherently hallowed entity.

Proponents of both a religiously-motivated embrace of political Zionism and a mesorah-based worldview agree that Israel is a country for Jews in the Jewish homeland that maintains respect for aspects of Jewish tradition.

But it seems to me – and, as always in this space, I speak only for myself – that the mesorah-based outlook on Israel does not comport well with any message, however motivated and however subtle, to Israel’s Arab citizens that they are in any way lesser parts of the country’s body politic.

© 2019 Hamodia

The Hermit Horror Kingdom

To his great credit, President Trump didn’t allow the testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen before a Congressional committee to pressure him into making a deal at all costs with North Korea.

It would have been helpful to the president’s image to have upstaged the Cohen hearing last Wednesday with the signing of an agreement with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – a signing ceremony had in fact been scheduled – pushing Mr. Cohen’s allegations of the president’s ethical and moral turpitude to second place in the day’s news cycle.

But, despite the two days the American and North Korean leaders spent together in Hanoi at their second summit, there was no diplomatic triumph to announce, not even the usual joint statement expected after such talks.

Things apparently broke down when it became clear that the North Korean despot was unwilling to even disclose the number and locations of his country’s nuclear weapon sites until some economic sanctions against his country were lifted. And even then, reportedly, he was prepared to shut down only one of his reactors. Mr. Trump, laudably, would not agree to that, even if it meant that news organizations would be focused on Mr. Cohen’s harsh disparagement of his former boss.

Less laudably, the president responded to a question about the American Jewish college student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested in North Korea for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign and died six days after he was repatriated to the U.S. in a coma, by relating that Mr. Kim denied knowledge at the time of the student’s deterioration in a North Korean prison, “feels very badly” about it, and that he, Mr. Trump, takes the Korean leader “at his word.” (He later said that his words were “misinterpreted.”)

Mere hours later, true to form, Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted starkly that “Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime.”

The president, of course, may have just been trying to be diplomatic, with the goal of achieving some future actual progress on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, and may harbor very different feelings about his summit partner than he verbally expressed. If he does, he is justified.

Shortly before the summit, a collection of accounts from North Korean defectors and North Korean officials in China was released, under the title “Executions and Purges of North Korean Elites: An Investigation into Genocide Based on High-Ranking Officials’ Testimonies,” by the Seoul-based North Korean Strategy Centre (NKSC).

It offered chilling accounts of utter contempt for human rights and numerous murders, claiming that Mr. Kim has had 421 officials executed and exiled since seizing power in 2011. Some victims, it reported, had been thrown unclothed to vicious hunting dogs; others were killed with shells; others still, burned alive with flamethrowers.

In some cases, the report asserted, entire families of officials have been executed or were imprisoned in concentration camps and “erased from society.” Officials faced death or imprisonment, the report alleges, for minor infractions like improper posture at an event attended by “supreme leader” Kim.

Mr. Kim is also said to have ordered the execution of his own family members, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was killed along with his associates in 2013 (for having “sold the country’s resources to foreign countries at a low price”), and his half-brother Jong-nam, who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport in 2017.

A former student at Pyongyang Commercial College, identified only as “Moon,” is quoted in the report as claiming to have witnessed a 12-man public execution by soldiers using anti-aircraft guns. Armored vehicles then reportedly crushed their remains.

Evil tends to dovetail with Jew-hatred, of course. And that may be why North Korea sent pilots to Egypt during the Yom Kippur War, more recently helped Syria construct a nuclear reactor and recognizes the sovereignty of the non-existent “State of Palestine” over all of Israel, except for the Golan Heights (which it considers as part of Syria).

There are, of course, despots at the helm of other countries with which the U.S. has made strategic alliances over the years. And such associations, disturbing as they are, are not always the worst of the available options.

But it is hard to find a parallel, outside the example of Nazi Germany, to the sort of flagrant monstrousness that credible witnesses have described as an essential characteristic of the Korean peninsula’s hermit kingdom.

Iran, still abiding by the 2015 multi-nation deal, isn’t currently an immediate nuclear threat to others.

North Korea, though, is. And President Trump should not rest until it, too, is constrained.

© 2019 Hamodia

Don’t cry for me, Eric Yoffie

Enough decades have passed to allow some of us to recall biologist Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller “The Population Bomb,” in which the author, soberly analyzing relevant data, predicted worldwide famine within twenty years as a result of rising birth rates and limited resources. Hundreds of thousands, he prophesied, would starve to death by 1988. He compared the “population explosion” to the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells,

That blessedly inaccurate prediction was embraced by legions of other scientists. In 1970, Harvard biologist George Wald went further, predicting that, without immediate action to reverse trends, “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years.”

The renowned physicist Lord Kelvin stated in 1895 that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” And Albert Einstein, in 1932, contended that “There is not the slightest indication” that nuclear energy “will ever be obtainable.”

We do well to remember pronouncements like those when trying to extrapolate the future from present knowledge, or present assumptions. Unfortunately, some people, especially when trying to promote agendas, don’t, or won’t.

The same some of us with those decades in their rear-view mirrors may also remember the days when the Reform movement just went about its business of jettisoning the Jewish mesorah for the “benefit” of its congregants, and was so sure of its future prospects that it essentially ignored Jews who remained faithful to the Jewish mission as handed down since Mattan Torah. It certainly didn’t see a need to attack those “old fashioned” fanatics. They wouldn’t be around much longer.

Ah, times have changed.

Eric H. Yoffie, the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism and now a writer for Haaretz, has taken up the cause of castigating Jews who have the audacity to maintain Judaism.

In a recent opinion piece in that paper, he accuses “the ultra-Orthodox political leadership” in Israel of “destroying the State of Israel.” In case the reader might assume he is waxing metaphorical, he adds, “Literally.”

The destruction, in his telling, is being wrought by the determined prevention of “Haredi Jews from becoming productive citizens in a modern, developed economy.”

“Lovers of Torah,” like himself, he bemoans, “can only weep.”

The objects of his ire might well respond, “Don’t cry for me, Eric Yoffie.”

The Haaretz writer seems to be under the impression that Israeli Jews are forced to eat kosher and keep Shabbos (may they all come on their own to do both, and more). What else could he mean by the chareidi “massive machinery of religious coercion”? Respect for halachah at the Kosel Maaravi? Oversight of geirus, kiddushin and geirushin to prevent personal tragedies down the line? Coercion? Uh, no.

The Reform leader’s real bugaboo, though, is the growth of the chareidi community and the concomitant growth of limud Torah in Israel.

He quotes a Tel Aviv professor who is “worried that in 40 years, Israel will be more crowded than any country in the world, except for Bangladesh.” Shades of Paul Ehrlich.

And, the writer contends, “Israel’s rate of poverty is exceedingly high…; its labor productivity is disturbingly low, and continuing to fall.”

“To say that this picture is a grim one,” Yoffie writes grimly, “is an understatement.”

He admits that “the problem is not the employment rate of women.”  Men, though, he explains, “are directed by their rabbis to forsake the labor market for full-time Torah study.” In the 1980s, he continues, “the employment rate for Haredi men was 64%. In 2015, slightly less than 54% of Haredi men were employed. Two years later, that number had dropped to 51%.”

When the sky is falling, there just isn’t time to do any digging. What Yoffie doesn’t note is that, as Israel Democracy Institute researchers report, “Since 2003, there has been a consistent rise in the employment rate of [chareidi] women and men.”

But, of course, Yoffie’s issue isn’t really employment. If it were, he would be advocating to provide those who, as a matter of religious principle, are unable to enter the army with the same access to gainful employment as ex-soldiers. His issue is the intolerable willingness of so many Jewish men to dedicate themselves to full-time Torah study for as long as they can, and their readiness to live modestly, resisting the societal shitah that determines “success” by the size of bank accounts.

Yoffie’s “solution” to the crisis he perceives consists of changing the nature of chinuch in Israel and offering a full complement of “core curriculum” studies “of course… alongside traditional Torah study.”

And accomplishing that, he contends, can only happen through “compulsion.”

Fittingly, his piece appeared just as Chanukah was about to begin.

© 2018 Hamodia