Category Archives: News

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

No, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Did Not Sin Against The Memory Of The Holocaust

We do no favors to the memory of the Holocaust when, for political  purposes, we unfairly accuse people of dishonoring it.

Whatever one may think of incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she did not compare the victims of the Holocaust with the migrants at the southern border.  A piece I wrote on the issue is at the Forward, here.

Crazy Attention

“The sheerest form of corporate anti-Semitism in recent memory” is how popular political commentator Ben Shapiro characterized the recent decision of Airbnb, the San Francisco-based company that matches travelers with private home lodging around the world, to no longer list homes in Yehudah and Shomron’s Jewish communities.

Others echoed that judgment, like columnist Jonathan Tobin, who wrote a piece in Haaretz under the title “Boycott Airbnb, Unless You’re Good With Anti-Semitism.”

Whatever one might think about Airbnb’s decision – I’ll share my own feelings below – to label it “anti-Semitism” is something of an overreaction. And using the epithet only lessens its import when invoked where it is truly deserved.

There are facts in this world that we don’t like, but our dislike doesn’t change them. There are facts, in fact, that are unfortunate, even ugly. But, again, they remain, despite their ugliness.

One such fact is that, while Yehudah and Shomron are, as they always have been, essential parts of Eretz Yisrael, Israel’s sovereignty over the areas is not recognized by most of the world. Some of that world, to be sure, hates Jews. But some of it simply sees the territories captured from other countries in 1967 as something less than parts of Israel proper.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli government’s point person for fighting the boycott movement, may contend that, as he recently told an interviewer, “there is no distinction between this part or that part of the state of Israel.”

But Israel herself, we might remind ourselves, has chosen not to officially annex the areas captured in 1967, other than East Jerusalem. So whether they are “occupied” (as the Arab world calls them) or “disputed,” as less invested parties label them, they are not officially parts of Israel like Tel Aviv, Haifa or Yerushalayim. (And Airbnb, it should be noted, pointedly did not include East Jerusalem in its decision.)

Even the U.S. State Department, which, under President Trump, no longer refers to those territories as “occupied,” still does not consider them parts of Israel. Its most recent Report on Human Rights Practices has a section on “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” The diyuk is obvious: the Heights, Yehudah and Shomron and Gaza – all of them parts of Eretz Yisrael – are not, in the eyes of the U.S., parts of Israel.

So Airbnb, although it clearly lacks backbone and succumbed to pressure from Palestinian activists, can offer a defense of its action, which it did.

“We are most certainly not the experts when it comes to the historical disputes in this region,” it admitted in its statement announcing its new policy. “Our team has wrestled with this issue and we have struggled to come up with the right approach.” Which, it goes on to explain, is, in part, to “consult with a range of experts…” Leading, here, to the conclusion that “the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank… are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians” and thus should not be part of the company’s offerings.”

The statement ends with an expression of “deep respect” for the strong views on both sides of the issue; and the “hope… that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow.”

Anti-Semitic? Not to my lights.

Illogical, though? Oh, yes.

In fact, ludicrously inconsistent? Ditto.

There are disputed, and occupied, territories throughout the world. Iraq-occupied Kurdistan, for one. And Iran-occupied Kurdistan, for another. Turkey-occupied Cyprus for yet another. China-occupied Tibet. Russia-occupied Crimea. Want a place to stay in any of those places? Airbnb will be happy to help.

So the company’s focus on Israel alone is telling. Of what, though? Anti-Semitism? It’s possible, of course. But focus on Jews doesn’t necessarily bespeak hatred of them.

Klal Yisrael, although less that two tenths of one percent of the world’s population, captures the attention of the other 99.8% to a strikingly disproportionate degree. Likewise, Israel, one of 193 countries in a large, variegated and unruly world.

Hen am levadad yishkon uvagoyim lo yis’chashav. “Behold it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9). Bilam’s words have rung all too true throughout our history, and resound no less loudly today.

The crazy attention the world gives Jews and the country established for them should inspire us, confirming as it does the truth of the Torah, which includes what Bilam may have meant as a curse but which stands as a silent yet deafening testimony to the specialness of Klal Yisrael.

© Hamodia 2018

Looking Over Our Right Shoulders

Newly elected member of the House of Representatives Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, recently admitted that she supports BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Back in August, though, when asked for her stand on the movement, she said only that BDS is “not helpful in getting [a] two-state solution.” Her listeners reasonably assumed that her words constituted a rejection of BDS. Now they know better.

Such attitudes (not to mention such dissembling) on the part of political “progressives” are no surprise, of course, although – as I argued last week – the Democratic Party, at least for the foreseeable future, is still firmly under the control of cogent and rational people.

Still and all, it’s sensible that many of us are concerned with disreputable forces on the edges of the political left.

What should concern us, though, no less – in fact, I think, more – are violent ones on the other end of the political spectrum.

Pittsburgh, although its death toll was unprecedented for an attack on Jews in the U.S., wasn’t an outlier.

Right wing anti-Semitism was likewise behind the attacks in 2014 just before Pesach at the Kansas City Jewish Community Center. And, before it, the 2009 Holocaust museum shooting in Washington, D.C. And before it, the 1999 Jewish Community Center shooting in Los Angeles.

Reactionary sentiment, of course, was also behind the 2015 murder of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. And behind the killing of two elderly African-Americans at a supermarket near Louisville, Kentucky last month. As it was behind the letter bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and liberals mere weeks ago.

And last week, an acquaintance of Robert Bowers, the murderer of the 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, was arrested near Washington, D.C. on gun charges, after the FBI said he posted on a social media site that the massacre “was a dry run” and that “there was more to come.”

The 30-year-old man, Jeffrey R. Clark Jr., was charged with transporting firearms across state lines and possession of four illegal high-capacity magazines intended for use with AR-15 weapons, a favorite of American mass shooters (and used by Bowers), as well as two kits for converting those semiautomatic weapons into fully automatic rifles. A search of the suspect’s home also yielded a shotgun, a rifle and two handguns. And two ballistic vests, two ballistic helmets and two gas masks.

Family members, who notified authorities, said that Mr. Clark had been “heavily involved” in the alt-right movement.

The FBI said that the arrestee and his younger brother – who, as it happened, committed suicide shortly after the Pittsburgh massacre – had attended last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and family members told agents that the brothers had photos of themselves from the event standing with James Alex Fields, the man charged with murder for driving a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 other protesters.

The agents were also told that the Clark brothers admired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and the late murderous cult leader Charles Manson (who famously carved a swastika on his forehead).

Clark posted his feeling that “every last one” of the Jews killed in Pittsburgh “deserved exactly what happened to them and so much worse,” and he considered Bowers a “hero.”

In fact, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a majority of the hatred-fueled murders in the U.S. last year were perpetrated by right-wing extremists.

And an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last year showed that more than 11 million Americans called it “acceptable” to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views.

11 million.

The Amora Abba Binyamin (Berachos 6a) teaches us that, were the myriad mazikin that constantly surround us actually visible, we would be frozen in terror. Whether he had in mind ethereal entities – or, perhaps, the fungi, protozoa, bacteria and viruses that regularly seek to invade our bodies but are thwarted by the brachah of our immune systems – must remain in the realm of speculation.

But there are also countless entirely human mazikin out there, unseen people whose consciences, if one can characterize their fundamental mentalities that way, not only don’t prevent them from inflicting harm on others but impel them, when encouraged, to actively do so. And those others will always include, prominently, Jews.

So, while our alacrity regarding political developments on the left with potential to harm Israel shouldn’t wane, in the backs of our minds – actually, in their forefronts – should be an awareness of the all too clear and present danger of murderous violence in the anti-liberal universe.

© 2018 Hamodia

Ample Room for Optimism

If only people today knew what a telegram was, the old joke about the typical Jewish one reading “Start worrying. Details to follow” would be apropos, at least to the pessimists among us, in the wake of the midterm elections.

Self-proclaimed Nazi Arthur Jones, running as a Republican for a House of Representatives seat in a Chicago area district, lost handily. But he received more than 56,000 votes. Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner had urged district residents to “vote for anybody but Jones” and Texas Senator Ted Cruz advised voters to vote for the Democratic candidate. Still, though, 56,000 Illinoisans liked the Nazi.

And then we have, unfortunately, two successful candidates for Congress: Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis. Ms. Tlaib proved herself so antagonistic to Israel that the left-wing group J Street withdrew its initial endorsement of her bid. And Ms. Omar once tweeted the sentiment that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and prayed that people “see the evil doings of Israel.”

And the new representative of New York’s 14th Congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, once decried the Israeli military’s killing of Palestinians who were storming the Gaza border fence as a “massacre.” (To her credit, though, the 28-year-old later admitted that she was not an “expert on geopolitics on this issue” and promised that she would “learn and evolve on this issue,” so let’s hope she in fact does.)

Should I mention the reelection of Democratic Representative Danny K. Davis, who once called anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan “an outstanding human being,” and who, before finally issuing a condemnation of the Nation of Islam hater-in-chief’s “views and remarks regarding the Jewish people and the Jewish religion,” had explained that Farrahkan’s views on “the Jewish question” didn’t bother him? Well, I guess I just did. So I may as well add that he won 88% of the vote in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District.

But deserving as those developments might seem to be of a worrisome Jewish telegram, the less excitable among us might take solace in the defeat of the aforementioned Mr. Jones, and the loss likewise suffered by Virginian Leslie Cockburn, whose book “Dangerous Liaison” was described by a New York Times reviewer as “largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake.”

And in the downfall of Philadelphia area Congressional aspirant Scott Wallace, whose family foundation had donated more than $300,000 to pro-BDS organizations. And of John Fitzgerald, who aimed to represent a California district, and who not only called the Holocaust “a fabricated lie” but claimed the 9/11 attacks were a Jewish plot. (Sobering, though: 43,000 citizens voted for the crazed candidate.)

Further cause for optimism is the fact that, among the flipped Republican seats in the House, fully seven will be occupied (there must be a better word) by Jewish Democrats. And that there will be 28 Jews in the new House, five more than there currently are. And that, in the upper chamber, there will be eight Jewish senators, up from 7.

And that Representative Eliot Engel of New York, whose dedication to Israel’s security is long and unarguable, is set to become the chairman of the important House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Engel’s counterpart on the Senate committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, another unabashed defender of Israel, was reelected too, as was Representative Nita Lowey, another staunch voice for Israel’s needs; and she is positioned to take over the House Appropriations Committee. No less committed to Israel’s security is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

What is perhaps the most heartening outcome of the recent races, though, is something that was pointed out by longtime political commentator David Frum. Writing in The Atlantic, he asserted that last Tuesday’s vote “administered enough Democratic disappointment to check the party’s most self-destructive tendencies.”

What he means is that, while concerns about the excesses and insanities on the fringes of the Democratic party are understandable, and despite the presence in Congress of Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, the party’s moderate, traditional base remains strong; and radical Democrats are likely to remain relegated to the sidelines, with little power or influence.

“There is no progressive majority in America,” writes Mr. Frum. “There is no progressive plurality in America. And there certainly is no progressive Electoral College coalition in America.”

Whether or not that will remain the case in the future, none of us can know for certain. But it would certainly be highly premature to send out a “Start worrying” telegram – or an e-mail with that advice in the subject box.

More fitting might be “Keep davening.”  Always appropriate.

© 2018 Hamodia

Enemies, Enemies Everywhere

“Notorious anti-gunner George Soros joins anti-gun billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg. There is no end to how much they’ll pay to push their elitist agenda on Americans.”

Thus tweeted the National Rifle Association three days after the fatal shooting of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh by a right-wing anti-Semite. George Soros, of course, is the wealthy philanthropist who funds liberal causes, is a perennial victim of conspiracy theories, was one of those targeted with letter bombs by a right-wing dingbat last month, and is Jewish.

Tom Steyer is another billionaire philanthropist given to liberal causes and, because his father was Jewish, is regarded by some as a Jew.

Michael Bloomberg is, well, you know who he is. And his ethnicity.

No, I’m not – repeat, not – accusing the NRA of being anti-Semitic. Only noting that the group’s recent tweet-targets are people whom unabashed anti-Semites have relentlessly and gleefully attacked as Jews.

Then we have the many anti-Semites on the political left, who target people like billionaire activist Sheldon Adelson or conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who, according to a study conducted by the ADL was the most frequent target of Jew-hating tweets in 2016. (Significant in itself, the study found that from August 2015 through July 2016 a total of 2.6 million tweets contained anti-Jewish sentiments.)

Anti-Semitism on the fringes of the left is exemplified by the likes of Louis Farrakhan, who, as impaired in humor as he is in intelligence, thought it funny to compare Jews to termites; and Linda Sarsour, who cautions her intersectionality-addled admirers that Israelis must not be “humanized.”

So whom, exactly, are we Jews to fear? Who is the Jewish people’s enemy? Those on the far right, or on the far left? The answer, of course, is “both of the above.”

Which conclusion leads to a thought that needs to be a prominent part of our thinking these days. Namely, that when an “us-vs.-them” mentality becomes dominant in a society – and such an attitude, disturbingly, has come to affect more than just the fringes – it does not bode well for the progeny of Yaakov Avinu.

Historian Deborah Lipstadt put it well, likening anti-Semitism to a latent infection that lies dormant and re-emerges at times of stress. Jew hatred, in the end, is, she says, “a conspiracy theory,” and needs only societal strife to become active.

For better or worse, Jewish figures will always be prominent on the political and cultural scenes. The Jewish soul is hard-wired, to use a discordant metaphor, to try to better the world.

Truly knowledgeable Jews know that the path toward that goal does not lead through politics, but consists of embracing Torah and mitzvos and being worthy examples of ovdei Hashem.  But even Jews who are misguided in their good intentions, who see salvation in this or that political or social stance, are motivated by their neshamos, clear-sighted or clouded. And thus, Jews will always rise to the top of whatever heap they perceive as a hope.

As a result, those who harbor the spiritual cancer that is Jew-hatred will always find Jews among those they label as enemies of all that is shiny and good, and will point to them in order to spur other hate-filled people to embrace their cause.

That’s how Jews can be hated because they are communists or capitalists, elitists or defenders of the common man, allies of blacks or racists; how they can be vilified for being “Zionists” or globalists, why both Mr. Soros and Mr. Adelson can be portrayed as Der Ewige Jude, the reviled “Eternal Jew,” of our time. What matters in the end – the only thing that matters – is that they are… Jews.

There’s a real-world application of that truism. Recognizing that exacerbating the political rift in the United States today is not just inherently lamentable but the very opposite of “good for the Jews,” we are acting irresponsibly if we jump into the melee and hoist a flag, furthering the societal inflammation. Sides, we do well to realize, don’t always have to be taken.

These words are being written before the mid-term elections; you’re reading it after them. During their campaigns, some candidates sought to garner votes by appealing to the very worst in voters, seeking to capitalize on the rift in society and to stoke anger – aimed in whatever direction. Others chose to run more soberly, on records and positions. Which ones won and which did not is something you know but I, as I write, do not. But the answer to that question will play a role in how secure we Jews can hope to feel, going forward in the American galus.

© Hamodia 2018

A Plan Whose Time Hasn’t Come

Executing my duty as a citizen, I once sat on a jury. It was an edifying experience, leaving me to conclude that the jury system, at least in its current form, is utterly absurd.

During out-of-courtroom deliberations in the case – a civil one, in which a man who, it seemed, had burned down his store and was who was suing his insurance company for compensation – a fellow juror opined that the store-owner could have been at his place of business at 3:00 AM, where and when he was found, for entirely legitimate reasons. And that his being discovered, badly burned, unconscious and still holding a gasoline can, may have been pure coincidence. She also confessed to the rest of us her conviction that a famous entertainer, long gone and buried in Memphis, Tennessee, was actually roaming the earth incognito. I am not making that up.

The U.S. Constitution, despite what most people think, doesn’t guarantee a defendant the right to “a jury of his peers,” only to an “impartial” jury. And it is silent about any other juror qualifications, like basic intelligence. But I think a case can be made that a modicum of good judgment is at least implied by “impartial.”

Likewise counter to popular assumption, the Constitution does not mandate an explicit right to vote. A number of constitutional amendments prohibit certain forms of discrimination in establishing who may vote. But voting remains, in the end, a privilege, not an inalienable right like free speech or freedom of worship. That’s why voting can be denied to individuals who have not yet reached a certain age, or who are incarcerated (or even, as in some states, who have been incarcerated in the recent past). And why it could have been, as it was for many years, denied to women and members of various religious groups (ours included).

In contrast, more than 20 countries actually require all citizens to vote. (Please don’t give your local representatives any ideas!)

In the best of all possible worlds, were I king of the forest (as would no doubt be the case), I would require passing a test to qualify for sitting on a jury and in order to vote. The Shafran Voting Exam (SVE) would seek to establish basic comprehension of texts, simple logic and elementary familiarity with important issues and our political system.

Alas, in this yet imperfect world, the SVE wouldn’t stand a chance. Not with the history of “literacy tests” that, for many decades, were utilized expressly to prevent immigrants and blacks from voting.

Like the one selectively administered by Louisiana as late as 1964. It included questions like the following:

“Print the word ‘vote’ upside-down but in the correct order.” (Correct upside-down order?)

“In the space below draw three circles, one inside (engulfed by) the other.” (Three or two?)

“Spell backwards, forwards.” (Wha?)

And a “wrong” answer to any question, the test states, “denotes failure.”

There is much controversy today about alleged “voter repression,” also ostensibly aimed at depriving targeted groups of Americans of the ability to vote. I’m not convinced that the presentation of identification, even photo identification, is an onerous requirement. Nor do I find updating voter rolls – what opponents of the process call “purging” them – in any way objectionable.

To be sure, there is no evidence whatsoever of widespread voter fraud, as has been charged by some. But at the same time, reasonable measures to ensure that voters legally qualify to vote don’t disturb me.

But things like what happened recently in Georgia do.

Jefferson County officials made 40 African-American senior citizens get off a bus taking them from their assisted living facility to a polling place to vote early.

Why? Well, take your pick. Either because one of those who arranged for the bus was the county Democratic Party Chairwoman (although she acted in her capacity as a pastor and made no voting recommendations); or because, as the county administrator explained, “Jefferson County administration felt uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party” (although approval of the bus trip by the facility had been obtained beforehand).

There is, of course, a third possibility, but far be it from us to consider it.

And so, unfortunately, the Shafran Voting Exam must be quashed on arrival. The bigots of years past, and of days present, have ruined it for us all, having given the very idea of earning the privilege to vote the worst of reputations.

© 2018 Hamodia

 

Kentucky Gentlewoman

“When they go low, we go high” was coined by former first lady Michelle Obama at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She was well acquainted with low-going from her husband’s first campaign for president eight years earlier, when he was accused of being a foreign-born radical; and she, of hating America and planning to sow societal discord.

All she ended up sowing were vegetable seeds in the South Lawn garden (where Mrs. Trump has graciously carried on her predecessor’s tradition of hosting children to help pick ripened veggies).

The motto Mrs. Obama planted in the political garden in 2016, though, during the most negative presidential campaign in recent memory, didn’t bear much fruit. Hillary Clinton lost, and bellicosity in subsequent political campaigns spread like poison ivy.

And not only among Republicans.  The aforementioned Mrs. Clinton recently said that “you cannot be civil” with the Republican Party because it “wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”

And former Attorney General Eric Holder offered his own riff on Mrs. Obama’s credo, suggesting that “When they go low, we kick them.”

Then there was Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat, who sent out a mailer with photos of President Trump and Adolf Hitler with an “equals” sign between them.

And so it goes.

Ah, but then we are graced with the likes of Amy McGrath, who is challenging the incumbent, Andy Barr, for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District seat.

Never mind which candidate is the Democrat (okay, Mrs. McGrath; but she’s happily married to a Republican), or even which is better qualified (no opinion).  Regard only the resplendent fact that the lady has forsworn negative ads.

You read that right.  Despite the fact that her battle is uphill, that her district favored President Trump by 15 percentage points and that Mr. Barr crushed his last Democratic opponent, Mrs. McGrath has refused to attack him or his policies.

“It’s time for a new generation of leaders who aren’t afraid to go against the grain and run a campaign that the voters can be proud of,” she told the Lexington Herald Leader.

“I refuse to win,” she wrote in a social media post “at any cost.”

Mr. Barr, regrettably, has not reciprocated the blow for civility. Although Mrs. McGrath is a former fighter pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and holds moderate positions on all issues, her opponent and his supporters have launched verbal and video salvos at her, at times blatantly misrepresenting what she stands for.

Campaigning for Mr. Barr recently, President Trump declared that Mrs. McGrath is “an extreme liberal chosen by Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and the radical Democratic mob,” and that she “supports a socialist takeover of your health care; she supports open borders; she needs the tax hikes to cover the through-the-roof garbage you want no part of.”

Her response: “Mr. President, you clearly don’t know me. Yet.”

Whether the optimism in that “yet” will prove to have been justified is not knowable. But, examining the candidate’s actual positions on health care, immigration reform and taxes, one sees her first sentence’s point.

Social scientists say that there is little evidence that attack ads yield more votes than informational ones, but campaign strategists and conventional wisdom clearly feel that they do.

Negative ads are certainly noticed. “Voters universally decry negative ads,” says Erika Franklin Fowler, the director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes political advertising. “But we are biologically attuned to pay more attention to negative information… We remember negativity more.”

Among the “biological attunements,” or natural human inclinations, the Torah warns us against is the acceptance or propagation of negative portrayals of others.  Leaving aside the particular halachic parameters of lashon hara, hotzoas shem ra and rechilus, they are unarguably pernicious things in any context.

And they derive from pernicious places, small-minded hatreds and prejudices. When comparisons of President Trump to Hitler are publicly offered or partisan players gleefully declare “owning the libs” as their highest aspiration, we as an electorate – and a society – have moved from holders of reasoned, if different, views to crazed boxers in a ring, trying to out-bloody one another.

I don’t know which candidate will be the better representative of Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. Either, I suspect, will probably do a good job. But whoever emerges the victor in that important race – the majority party in the House, of course, is in play – it is heartening that a candidate opted to buck the trend of seeing the debasement of an opponent as a necessary part of the path to success.

Kein yirbu.

© 2018 Hamodia

A Safer Space for Women… Redux

An October 17 article of mine at Tablet concerned the #MeToo movement.  It bemoaned the state of general society’s inconsistent attitude toward women and suggested that it might be helpful if new norms based somewhat on the halachic prohibitions against yichud and negiah were adopted by the wider world.

The piece unleashed a number of angry responses on social media; and a rejoinder, in the form of a personal letter to me, was published by Tablet too, and can be read here

My response to that rejoinder is below:

 

Dear Mrs. Jankovits

Thank you – and I mean that sincerely – for offering your perspective, an important one, to the discussion I hoped to spur.

I am appalled to read that you have been verbally assaulted as a woman by men in observant environments. While I have spent my entire life to date in such environments and have never seen a woman treated that way, I take your word for what you have experienced, and can only bemoan it. Jewish modesty is not limited to dress, and governs men no less than women.

But I cannot accept your contention that considering the halachic laws of yichud and negiah (which ban an unmarried man and woman from being secluded in private or touching one another, respectively) to be preventatives against abuse is “outlandish.”

If, at the earliest stage of a bad man’s bad intent toward a woman, she is warned of whom she is dealing with by his actions or words, how could that not help prevent the sort of assaults that the #MeToo movement has rightfully decried?

If, in a world with restrictions modeled on those of halacha, a man invites a woman to a secluded place or touches her in even an “innocent” way, that would be her signal to immediately recognize his less than honorable designs. And it is self-evident that if a man and woman are not secluded, he cannot wantonly abuse her without fear of witnesses.

That was the essence of what I wrote, and I don’t understand how anyone could read it as an attempt, God forbid, “to silence Orthodox women, to perpetuate abuse and to hide and shelter Orthodox abusers.”

As I explicitly wrote, sexual abuse does exist in the Orthodox community. Whether it is as widespread as you claim – and that exists, as you contend, within many marriages – is simply unknowable. You imply that it is very common, and that the relative dearth of claims is due to intimidation or social pressures. I allow you your assumptions, but assumptions, in the end, are not the same things as facts.

Yes, there are self-selected studies that show sexual abuse in the Orthodox community at levels similar to those in other parts of society. But a careful read of them yields the realization that a large part of such abuse, while reported by adult women, is about things that took place when they were children or adolescents, those least likely to realize that yichud and negiah are red lines that, if crossed, label the adult violator, whoever he is, a person to resist and avoid.

Child abuse is unquestionably a tragic and serious problem to which Orthodox society has, sadly, not shown itself immune. There is much to say about that topic its terrible toll and the efforts in the Orthodox community over recent years to combat it. Much to say about the studies, too, as in my P.S below.

But it is not the issue addressed by the #MeToo movement, and thus not pertinent to my essay. And conflating the two issues obscures the one at hand. We indeed need to better educate our children about abuse, and that is in fact happening in many places in many ways. But child abuse and adult-on-adult abuse are two very different, if equally abhorrent, animals.

You contend that “When women have been brave enough to voice their abuse, they are bullied, silenced and threatened again by our male leaders, rabbis who dismiss abuse, rabbis who protect abusers.” Every one of the congregational and teaching rabbis I know is are deeply sensitive to women’s safety and wellbeing, both within marriage and “on the street.” The picture you paint of chauvinistic disdain for women on the part of rabbinic leaders is as bizarre to me as if you had painted a landscape with black grass and a green sky. I don’t deny you your impression, but please know that it is diametric to mine.

I’m sorry but, for better or worse, I cannot change the fact that I am a “male Orthodox rabbi,” but I will not concede that that fact renders me unable to participate in the conversation about abuse, or makes me inherently insensitive to women. I don’t think that is a judgment either my wife or our six daughters (or any of the scores of female students I taught over many years) would regard as justified or fair. As to experience with sexual assault victims, I do indeed have some, though all were cases that took place when the victims were children. So please don’t deny me a voice in the discussion.

Finally, it is not “misogynistic” to note that women performers who appear in minimal clothing are not helping the cause of women’s dignity. It is factual.

Nor is counselling modesty in dress “victim blaming,” any more than counselling pedestrians to look both ways before crossing a street, or telling men to not let their wallets protrude from their back pants pockets in public. That’s not to blame anyone but the inattentive driver or pickpocket; but such counsel is simple common sense. From your self-description as an Orthodox mother, you would not smile, I am sure, on one of your daughters going out in public in revealing clothing. By asking her to not cave in to society’s exhibitionist expectations, you are not blaming them; you are educating them.

At no point did I – or ever would I – assert that seeming Torah-observers “are not susceptible to perpetrating evil.” Quite the contrary, bad intentions are everywhere. That was the very premise of my article, which argues that sensible precautions modeled on those of halacha could benefit our unrestrained world. I did not intend for that suggestion to cause offense, only to spur discussion. Thank you again for furthering that goal.

All good wishes,

Avi Shafran

PS: Although child abuse, as I noted, is not what #MeToo is about, and not what my article and its suggestions concerned, some studies routinely cited about that issue are limited in what they can tell us.

Not only are some of them reliant (as they admit) on self-selected samples, which skew the results in the direction of artificially high percentages of abuse, but substantial amounts of even reported abuse was perpetrated by presumably non-Orthodox men (because the samples included women who only became observant after childhood).

And other studies report very different results. This synopsis of a 2014 Israeli study concludes that:

“Unexpectedly, no significant differences between observance groups are found for any childhood abuse (45%), physical abuse (24%), or emotional abuse (40%). Childhood sexual abuse has the lowest frequency (4.8%) of all abuse categories with more reported by Secular than Haredi respondents (7.7% vs. 3.1% p = .05).”

So, while even one case of child abuse is one case too many, and the Orthodox community must continue to be vigilant on this front, it is important, in the interest of facts and truth, to realize the limitations of studies.