Thursday, January 30, 2014

Home pagancy test

A guest post by Y. Bloch
OK, maybe I oversold this. It's not a test of paganism, but of heresy. At least according to the neoharedim who daily tell us that you just can't be a good Jew unless you believe that the text of the Torah doesn't and has never changed. This is not the first time that I've addressed the issue, but it's relevant because of this week's Torah portion, Teruma. Teruma describes (most of) the vessels and the structure of the Tabernacle, with one shining (shiny?) example being the Menorah. This is the same one featured prominently in the Emblem of the State of Israel, not to be confused with the one we light on Hanukka, which is technically a hanukkia (with an extra set of branches). In fact, the Temple Institute has a new Menorah all set to go.
 Now, I'm not here to tell you that Maimonides would say that they made it wrong--although he would (see Menahot 3:7), and he even drew a picture of what it should look like.
Source: Wikipedia, from Kafih's edition of Perush Hamishnayot, 1967
Source: Wikipedia, from Kafih's edition of Perush Hamishnayot, 1967
No, I'd like to talk about the text of the command to make the Menora, which will be read in the second or third reading this Shabbat--depends on your Humash. What depends on your Torah scroll is what the sixth word of the Menora passage will be: תעשה or תיעשה? A minor difference? Certainly; it doesn't even change the pronunciation of the word "tei-aseh." But the presence or absence of that letter yud, that literal iota, is significant. Remember, Maimonides says that a one-letter difference is enough to invalidate a Torah scroll (Laws of Torah Scrolls 7:11). Still, it's more than that. Centuries after Moses' Tabernacle, Solomon builds his Temple in Jerusalem, featuring ten Menorahs.
He made ten gold candelabras according to the specifications for them and placed them in the temple, five on the south side and five on the north. (II Chronicles 4:7; cf. I Kings 7:49)
Where does he get this idea? Commentators attribute this to the extra yud, the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
So, too it says concerning the Menorah, "teiaseh ha-menorah," with a yud, and this is why Solomon makes ten candelabras, for it is inconceivable that the Torah would command to make one Menorah and Solomon would then make ten. (Rabbeinu Bahya, Ex. 25:10) I have seen copies examined by the scholars of Tiberias, and fifteen of their elders testified that they inspected every word and every dot three times, every plene and every defective, and a yud is written in the word teiaseh. However, this is not what I found in the French, Spanish and English scrolls. And the ancients expounded that the additional yud alludes to the ten candelabra made by Solomon. (Ibn Ezra, Ex. 25:31)
These two medieval Spanish exegetes refer to the same Midrash, which is not known to us. R. Bahya b. Asher does not seem to be aware of any variation; ibn Ezra, who lived earlier but was far more well-traveled, seems well aware of this issue. Maimonides is not conflicted at all: his Yemenite Torah text has no yud. What does yours have? And which Torah do you have, the authentic Mosaic one or the corrupted one? The theological and philosophical questions of how we relate to the Bible are complex and convoluted. But a good place to start is the realization that there is only one One. Everything else is commentary.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Avi likes sitting in the back of the bus and just can't understand why it bothers black people

The Benefits of a Woman's Place
Not Being Allowed To Have a Public Role Is Not All Bad
By Avi Shafran
Published January 27, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.

See my fisk, after the jump

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pruz the time traveler

Had Pruz lived in the 1920s do you think he would have published long, angry essays accusing old Sarah Schenirer of being a dirty feminist? Would he have claimed she was suffering from undue societal influences and that maybe all she really cared about was money? Would he have denounced her for derailing the glorious and holy tradition of keeping women ignorant and illiterate? Would he have joined forces with the Minchas Eluzer who called Schenirer's school Bes Esav and somehow managed the impossible trick of being (a) a daas torah godol ; and (b) certain that the future of the Jewish people was in Eastern Europe. 

Let's say Pruz was there when the Kabalas Shabbos minhag started to sweep through Europe. Would he have claimed that the Hasidim were only modifying the Friday night service for the purpose of appealing to the unaffiliated? Would he have perhaps denounced the entire Hasidic movement on those grounds? 

See, this is one of the fundamental errors that makes conservatives so unbearable. They wrongly imagine that all they see is all that ever existed, and that any attempt to update, modify or acknowledge new situation is an assault on nature rooted in the most nefarious motives.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Not having any proof won't stop Stephen Pruzansky from slandering two Orthodox schools

I don't think I'll ever understand why rabbi Stephen Pruzansky is permitted to be strident, facetious, overbearing and even obnoxious in his opposition to women wearing tefilln, while those of us who think its a fine idea are required to mind our manners and to speak in only the most polite and deferential tones.

In particular, I don't understand why Cross Currents,  a blog that calls itself Orthodox, allows someone to publish a post that, absent any facts or evidence, accuses the administrators of two different schools of forming halachic policies on the basis of how many rich Conservatives Jews they can attract.

My fisk of his latest travesty after the jump

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Sinai lie

A guest post by Y. Bloch
My rebbe lied to me. I don't know if he was merely passing along what he'd been told or if he made a deliberate choice not to share truths that might shatter our young minds. (That's the reason they taught us the orbital model of the atom, right? Or were our science books just really out of date?)

If you received a traditional Jewish education, you were probably taught the same thing: the Israelites leave Egypt on the 15th of the first month (NIssan), and they spend the next seven weeks learning that in the desert, the food is terrible, but the portions are small. (Luckily, this had no lasting ill effects on the Jewish psyche.) Then, on the fiftieth day, the sixth day of the third month (Sivan), they receive the Torah. This is why we still count 49 days after Passover nowadays and celebrate the fiftieth day as Shavuot.
Yeah, not so much. Consider this verse from the end of this week's Torah portion (Exodus 24:16):
And the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.
As the Talmud (Yoma 4b) explains:
Rabbi Akiva concurs with the view of Rabbi Jose, that the Torah was given to Israel on the seventh of the month.
Now, there is a dissenting view that the Torah was given on the sixth (Talmud, Shabbat 86b-88a), but we follow the first view (with its halakhic implications). Ah, you might say, forget the date, the important thing is the day, the fiftieth day after the Exodus. Well, according to that same passage, there's no argument that the Torah was given on Saturday, or that the Exodus took place on a Thursday. So according to everyone, the Torah was given on Day 51. (Of course, if we want to eschew the Midrashic path and just look at the textual evidence, it seems that it wasn't the sixth or seventh day of Sivan that God spoke to the the people, but rather the third, cf. Exodus 19:11-16.) Are we commemorating the wrong day?

This problem has been noted by various commentators, including the Torah Temima (on the cited verse) and Magen Avraham (OH 494), but it's not the only one that arises as we consider what Sinai was. We say that the Torah was given there, but what does that mean? Was Moses truly surprised by all of the bad (or good) things that happened over the next forty years, as detailed in the Torah that he had already received? Perhaps it's only the commandments that Moses received? But so many of those commandments are linked to events that occur later!

OK, let's just stick to the Ten Commandments. That's pretty cut-and-dried, right? They even have a fancy name, the Decalogue. We can unequivocally say that those Ten Commandments were given by God to Israel in the first week of Sivan, after seven weeks of wandering, and you can read them verbatim in Ex. 20:2-13. Well, actually there's a different version in Deut. 5. And the first time we mention the Decalogue, it's ten very different commandments in Exodus 34.

Very well. Whatever those Ten Commandments were, God gave them to Israel at Sinai directly, and ever since--wait, I mean God was going to give them directly, but the people panicked (Ex. 20:14-17) and asked Moses to transmit the message. Or they heard the first two, and then they had Moses transmit the rest. One of those three, anyway.

Fine, it was God or Moses or both of them who spoke to the people of Israel, 600,000 men strong, and gave them--I mean, "about six hundred thousand" (Ex. 12:37). And after the war with Amalek, and the Golden Calf plague, and the killing of "about three thousand" directly by Moses and the Levites (ibid. 32:28), there were left... 603,550 (38:26)--the exact same number to be counted the next year, after the construction of the Tabernacle, even though the 22,000 (or 22,300) Levites were excluded (Num. 1:46). Even though 600,000 able-bodied men was a level achieved by the modern state of Israel only in 1967.

Is Sinai historical? No, nor is it supposed to be, as the Torah is not meant to be a history book. But does it belong to the realm of myth, metaphor or mnemohistory? No; at least, I don't believe so. Sinai is not history; Sinai is a happening. It is an integral part of the Jewish people, as is evidenced by the Bible itself and all that comes after it. Sinai is continually referenced in Scripture, as are the Patriarchs and the Exodus. There are miracles intertwined in those events, but they take place in a world recognizable to us, unlike Eden, the Deluge and the Tower of Babel. Recognizing Sinai as a real event, an occurrence, a happening is essential to our Jewish identity. The details have been and will continue to be debated for a long time. But that doesn't change or challenge our identity as souls who stood at Sinai.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

But... feminism!!

R. Jose said: Abba Eleazar told me: Once we had a calf which was a peace-sacrifice, and we brought it to the Women's Court, and women laid the hands on it — not that the laying on of the hands has to be done by women, but in order to gratify the women. -BT Hagigah 16B

Had Rav Jose lived in our day, his anecdote may have read as follows:

Once we had a calf which was a peace-sacrifice, but chas vsholom we should bring it to the Women's Court, because TZNIUS and boruch hashem none of the women laid their hands on it — not that the laying on of the hands is expressly forbidden to women, but this is the sort of thing conservative, feminist women who have been polluted by modern values like to do so to block it from happening we bussed in loads of women to stand there and say "we don't want to lay our hands on the animals so no other women should either."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't Tell Me What My Daughter Can't Do, Tell Me What She Can

A guest post by Mordechai Osdoby

There's currently a conversation going on about Jewish women wearing teffilin (leather boxes with prayers in them), something that is traditionally a male-only practice in Orthodox Judaism (Modern, Yeshivish, Ultra, whatever). Some are cheering, some are disdaining, and some are calling for "official statements" (from who? We don't have a pope!) against it. In my case, it's reminding me of an earlier incident in my own life.

We were having Shabbat dinner at the house of the Rabbi of a local synagogue. This synagogue at the time was not strictly Orthodox; they had no mechitza (barrier separating men and women) in the main sanctuary. The Rabbi, however, was, and he was a long time associate of my parents. In fact, they were the real guest; we were just ride-alongs. I will never forget that night; after the blessing of the wine, we went to wash before hamotzie (the blessing on the bread). When we came back, it was not the Rabbi who uncovered and blessed the challah, but his wife. Daphna stared at her in abject wonder. I could hear the thought in her head "Girls can DO that?"

The Rebitzen, seeing my smile, must have thought I was amused or worse, being dismissive. "Let me explain," she said. I insisted there was no need, but she continued. "Every Shabbat, my daughters would see me in the kitchen, slaving and preparing, and yes, sometimes complaining. I didn't want that to be their only association with a woman's role in Shabbat. So I made it a point to make hamotzie every week, to show them that our part is not just setting the table."

I loved it and thought it was brilliant. Daphna too. For the next several weeks, she proudly made her own hamotzie (as she was under Bat Mitzvah, we could not "count' in her blessing). I was talking with my own Rav and mentioned it, including the story the Rebitzen told. Now my Rav is very YU (in fact, he teaches there). He was one of the later students of Rav Joseph Dov Solovechik z'l (known in some circles simply as "the Rav). He has a big black hat and people seem to have this mental image of him as this stern, tough guy. His reaction to this flip of traditional gender roles (no pun intended)?

"That's great! More people should do that."*

That's why I felt comfortable in that synagogue. Because there was no knee-jerk reaction of "this is different from what I am used to, so it must be assur (forbidden). Actual merits were weighed. At the end of the day, there really is no reason why a woman cannot make hamotzie (or indeed, kiddush) for a man beyond "this is what we're used to". I am not enough of an expert to weigh in on the teffilin laws themselves, but it does seem to be an example of the same thing; something that's not traditionally done, so it must be bad.

It goes both ways, incidentally. My mother used to give a class at NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) events, entitled "On Being A Jewish Woman". Once - well, likely more than, but I only witnessed it once - a young lady was very upset. How dare my mother, a stay-at-home mom, lecture her on the role of women in late 20th century Judaism! The girl argued that we needed to redefine our roles. My mother, who aside from having the (demanding) job of raising us also ran a catering business out of the house and served on several boards of the Orthodox Union, smiled and said "Exactly. There's no one role for Jewish women. The goal here is to discuss all we can do, not all we can't."

Sometimes, these discussions mean considering things outside our comfort zone, or things that may remind us of other "split off" movements of Judaism that we may have issues with, or even a discussion that results in the answer that it's not compatible with our own personal understanding of our faith. But the key is to *discuss it*. They day we knee-jerk shoot down anything as forbidden without any research is the day that every one of us has failed not just our daughters, but our sons, our parents, and ourselves.

*Note that this was a casual conversation and not a Halakhic ruling. Sad that I have to note this, ain't it?

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Let's discourage women from wearing tefillin

We discourage men from wearing tefillin more than necessary. We can discourage women from wearing tefillin more than necessary.

But "discourage" does not mean ban, or forbid, or asperse, or denounce or any of those things. Discouraging is not rioting. Discouraging is not protesting. Discouraging is not an invitation (or an excuse) for secterianism.

Discouraging is quiet and gentle. Discouraging is private. And "discourage" is all the achronim asked us to do regarding women and tefillin.

And should your efforts at discouraging fail, what you choose to do next is what will mark you as either a mysoginist or as someone who loves other Jews and respects their wishes and choices.

Consider the following thought experiment:

What would we do if a man started wearing his tefillin all day? We'd roll our eyes, probably, and maybe someone would tell him to knock it off, but we wouldn't decide he was anything aside from a slightly kooky guy who likes wearing tefillin. And if he was altogether normal in every other way, we'd probably get used to it, and learn to ignore it.

Can we say the same thing about women who wish to wear tefillin? Or do we also have to decide they hate Judaism, want to destroy it, are dirty feminists, etc,etc.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SAR lets students wear tefillin

When an Orthodox Jewish man performs a mitzvah he isn't required to perform, he can usually count on receiving admiration and support from his other Orthodox Jewish friends. No one asperses. Aren't women who wish to wear tefillin entitled to the same courtesy? From where I sit, it really is as simple as that.

  1. Haaretz ‎- 13 hours ago
    Two teenage SAR students break ritual barriers with the support of their rabbi.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Great Dictate

 A guest post by Y. Bloch

The term mitzva has become so ubiquitous that it has made the jump from Hebrew to English. Still, there is a distinction between mitz-VA in the former and MITZ-va in the latter. In English, the word refers to a good deed, a nice thing to do. In Hebrew, the word refers to a commandment, one of the 613 in the Pentateuch.
However, not all mitzvot are created equal. One famous distinction is between mishpatim (statutes) and hukkim (dictates). As studiers of Daf Yomi read last week from the Talmud (Yoma 67b):
The Rabbis taught: "'Observe my mishpatim' (Lev. 18:4) -- these are the ones that were they not written, it would have been necessary for them to be written, and they are idol worship, forbidden sexual relationships, spilling of blood, stealing and blasphemy. "And keep my hukkim" -- these are the ones to which Satan and the nations of the world object, and they are eating pork, wearing wool-linen blends, unshoeing the levir, the purification of the leper, and the scapegoat.
Thus, we would expect in this week's portion, which is named Mishpatim, to find logical statutes. In fact, the first three chapters of Mishpatim contain a dozen more mitzvot than the previous seventeen full portions -- combined. But they are not all what we would think of as mishpatim: not eating treifa, sanctifying the firstborn, celebrating the festivals and observing the sabbatical year would not seem to be self-evident common-sense laws. In fact, elsewhere (e.g. Ex. 13, Lev. 23) many of these are referred to as hukkim. Not only that, we find the term mishpat (singular of mishpatim) being applied to ritualistic laws such as offering sacrifices (Lev. 5), pouring libations (Num. 28-29) and giving the priests their meaty due (Deut. 18). The paschal sacrifice is to be offered, simultaneously, according to its hukkim and mishpatim (Num. 9:3). And then we have, in the closing chapters of Numbers, the intriguing term hukkat mishpat (the statutory dictate?) applied to the laws of inheritance (27:11) and homicide (35:29).
This seems to indicate that the categories of hok (singular of hukkim) and mishpatim are in fact fluid. Just look back at the passage from Yoma, which is analyzing the terms, used in tandem, in the preface to Lev. 18, a chapter comprising an exhaustive list of sexual prohibitions, with a dash of idolatry -- both of which are explicitly placed in the category of mishpatim, the implicitly logical rules! If hukkim are mentioned in the introduction, it is clear that the line between them is blurred and subject to change.
In fact, how could it be otherwise? What sets the hukkim apart is that "these are the ones to which Satan and the nations of the world object." Obviously, the parts of the Torah which Satan (i.e., the devils on our own shoulders) and other peoples object change over time. We used to be those weirdos who opposed human sacrifice; now we're those weirdos who keep talking about rebuilding our Temple. Our concerns about predatory lending (Ex. 22:24-26), witness tampering (23:1-2) and political corruption (23:7-8) -- to mention just three examples from the middle of Mishpatim -- are no longer quirks of a tribal law code, but the fuel for today's headlines.
Indeed, our own intellectual and moral investigation can cross this line. The law of the red heifer is considered, in many ways, the prototypical hok, and this is what the Midrash (Num. Rabbah 19:3) says about it:
"This is the dictate of the law" -- Rabbi Isaac opened with this (Eccl. 7:23), "All this I tested by wisdom and I said, 'I was determined to be wise — but this was beyond me...'" Said Solomon, "I have understood all of these, but concerning this passage of the red heifer, I investigated and inquired and introspected. Then I said, 'I was determined to be wise — but this was beyond me.'"
There was only one great dictate which proved to be beyond the wisest of all men. He had transformed everything else into mishpatim, but this hok remained.
This brings us to one particular verse in Lev. 18, the 22nd. It (and its companion verse in 20:13) are the lone sources to discuss homosexuality in Scripture. Religious conservatives seem obsessed with these two verses. Just look at some of the nearly two hundred comments on this blog about a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma finding bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Or consider the vile piece by Rabbi Yair Hoffman  on The Yeshiva World, "We Are Under Attack by the LGBTPed Community." Can you guess what "Ped" stands for? Hint: it's not pedestrian or pediatrician.
Yes, I hear some of you dear readers sharpening your quills already, preparing to liken homosexuality to pedophilia, bestiality and incest. Of course such people ignore the abhorrently offensive nature of such a comparision, as well as the evidence that no slippery slope exists; Canada, for example, will mark its tenth year of gay marriage this year, and there's been no uptick in any of these.
Let's admit it: the only reason to ever say that gays may not marry is a religious one. It is a hok. It's like not marrying your brother's, father's, son's or uncle's ex. It's like not having sex during menstruation. It's like not mixing wool and linen. It is not something we can grasp with our human minds. You can recast God as Nature or Traditional Values or Cultural Morality, but there is no argument there that can stand in a court of law (beit mishpat). Most importantly, it is not something we religious conservatives (yeah, I'm one too; I'm an Orthodox rabbi) can impose on others. Nor should we want to.
So here I am, saying it for the last time: if you truly find the idea of two people finding each other and choosing to create a household and a family together so similar to goatf*cking, I really can't help you.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

A clarification from Yair Hoffman

Here's a clarification from Yair Hoffman regarding the op-ed he wrote about conversion therapy.  He sent this to my by email following a pleasent conversation and expressly asked me to post it. He also gave me permission to comment on his clarification, which I will do in the near future:

I would like to issue three clarifications regarding a previous post. Firstly, while I too believe that the science behind conversion therapy is faulty and can cause grave damage to the recipient, I want to distinguish between conversion therapy and those who advise not to act upon actions that are violations of both Torah and Rabbinic prohibitions. It is my feeling that a law forbidding conversion therapy can also be applied to the latter group and that is what I feel we should fight against. This is not an attack against the gay community - it is a defense of our religious beliefs, and we must all stand up for our beliefs and rights. If the new bill can be amended to reflect this concern, it would be in everyone's interests.

The second clarification is that I do not have any hate, animosity, or negative feeling to those who are struggling with their identity. All people are created in G-d's image and are loved by Him and should be loved by all of us as well. Is there a prohibition against homosexuality if one doesn't act on it? There is the issue of allowing thoughts to linger (lo sasuru) but no prohibition in who someone is. [The one source that seems to express this view lies in contrast to the view of the Ramban]

Lastly, the op-Ed did not mean to identify and define gays with the term pedophiles. In my thinking, with the admission of the clear possibility of error, there are three types of pedophiles: Type A- inter-gender pedophiles, Type B - same gender pedophiles with no attraction to adults of the same gender, and Type C - same gender pedophiles with an attraction to adults of the same gender. There may also be those that lie somewhere in between B and C. In my view there are many more Type B's than Type C's making it perhaps a different orientation altogether.

Categorizing pedophiles as a fifth and different group than LGBT was my purpose in the abbreviation and perhaps I offended people by including them together with the first four groups. I did not mean to "insult gay people by saying - yeah they are all pedophiles in the negative sense." And I apologize for that implication. I do think that there is a huge difference between consenting adults and a relationship with a child who does not have the ability to consent.

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Yair Hoffman thinks quack medical treatments should be legal in New York

Op-Ed: We Are Under Attack by the LGBTPed Community
Yeshiva World ^ | January 15, 2014 | Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Now, that's a scary headline. We're under attack? Do they gays even have an army? 

And HOLY HATE SPEECH BATMAN the guy who decided that (a) the pedophiles have a community and that (b) it has anything in common with the actual LGBT community needs to be taken to the public square for a painful hiding.

It is said that Machiavelli was the first to recommend it, but the old adage of “the best defense is a good offense” has been adapted wholesale by the LGBTPed community, and New York State is next.

Last year, gay rights advocates succeeded in convincing Republican Governor Chris Christie to ban therapies that redirect those who are struggling with unhealthy physical attractions toward healthier options. The legislation banning redirection through treatment sessions actually passed in New Jersey as well as California.

Conversion therapy has been banned for the same reason leeches and bloodletting have been banned. They have  all been proven to not only be ineffective, but also psychologically damaging. Why does Yair Hoffman want to subject minors to a treatment protocol that doesn't work and has been proven, based on data, to be harmful? 

A bill first introduced last year by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, was just reintroduced in the New York State legislature with new amendments. Our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is the one who introduced anti-Leviticus marriage ceremonies in this state and is quite likely to advocate passage of this bill.

Anti- Leviticus marriage ceremonies!! Now that's my choice for euphemism of the year. Only -- oops - anti-Leviticus marriage ceremonies have been permitted in New York since the beginning of time. The Indians didn't say "ha-rey at" or use a Ketubah, nor did the protestants or the Catholics who later arrived in New York with their foul anti-leviticus practices which, by the way,  include lobster eating.

In previous decades, Rabbi Moshe Sherer z”l, leader of the Agudath Israel of America organization, made sure to develop strong ties with the Roman Catholic and other Christian communities to assist in ensuring that the mutual interests, needs and goals of these communities be met.

And as anyone intelligent would have pointed out, such a program was counterproductive to true Jewish values. Abortion and birth control, for instance, are permitted to Jews under various circumstances. So what possible common cause can be created with a church that believes that neither are permitted under any circumstances? How can a Jew lobby in good faith lobby for abortion to be banned when he knows a day might  come when one of his own loved ones might need - or might even be religiously required -  to avail herself of a halachically permitted abortion?

About the only position I can come up with that the Orthodox Jewish establishment and the Catholic Church fully agree on is this idea that the pedophiles their organizations inadvertently employed should not be brought to trial. And that's not something to brag about either.

 Unfortunately, we do not see that these relationships and ties have been kept up. This is most unfortunate, because if this legislation passes, it will seriously undermine religious freedoms in this state.

Of course, they've been kept up. The OU and Agudah move in lockstep with the churches and Focus on the Family morons on any number of different issues.

The state Senate is dominated by Republicans, but the fact that a Republican governor in New Jersey acquiesced to this type of legislation is somewhat ominous. Ironically, “Bridgegate” may work in our favor, dampening the inertia of what the Republican governor allowed.


Sorry But yeah, it makes perfect sense that the New York State Senate will decide that quack medicine that has been proven to be harmful should be allowed in New York due to bridgate. Logic at its finest.

The LGBTPed community is in high gear and it appears that the religious communities are way behind the eight-ball.

Our organizations such as Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union and National Council of Young Israel should be working with those who are actively lobbying against it, such as the Rev. Jason McGuire, president of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation and the Roman Catholic Church. Those of us who live in Long Island should contact Dean Skelos who has still not weighed in on the issue and express our outrage.

Yeah, guys please express your outrage. Here's a sample script you can use at no charge: 
Hello, Mr. Skelos, yeah I want you to know I am really and totally outraged that you guys in the Assembly are about to outlaw a treatment that doesn't work and has been proven to be psychologically damaging. I firmly believe that quack medicine that actually hurts people should be used in New York State and... um...  hello? hello?
As of this writing, not one of our Torah organizations has issued a statement on the New York State bill. 

According to the principles of daas torah, this means the bill is correct, and that we should obey our gedolim and support it, right? HOW DARE YAIR HOFFMAN TAKE A POSITION CONTRARY TO OUR RABBIS!?!?!?

The bill, in essence, deprives both minors and therapists the freedom of seeking out therapies that will encourage redirection for those struggling with unhealthy physical attractions. This is a direct assault on religious freedoms in this state by the LGBTPed community, and we must put in an all-out effort to quash this bill. 

I note that we've reached the end of your article, but still no word on how the gays are attacking us.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Menken has nothing true to say about Obama

If you're lucky enough to be a member of the team, you can publish any stupid thing you like on Cross Currents and, as a general rule, none of the blog's other writers will offer a counterargument. It's one of the perks of belonging to the club.

The exception, for reasons having noting to do with racism, of course, is Barak Obama. Say something favorable about him, and off come the brotherly gloves. Case in point: The other day, Avi Shafrin surprised and perplexed us all by publishing on Cross Currents yet another article complimenting Barak Obama, scourge of the Jews, and before the ink on his article was dry Yaakov Menken was up on his hind legs letting us know he thinks Shafrin is nuts.

To be sure, the manaical word vomit his outrage  produced is so deranged its unlikely to offer encouragment to even the most foremost Obama hater --let alone convince anyone sensible to join their camp. Still, I feel I owe my shrinking but loyal blog audience a fisking. See it after the jump:

Gays can now marry in Oklahoma, too

[Oklahoma's] ban on marriage by gay and lesbian couples is “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit,” wrote Judge Terence C. Kern of United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
Its really difficult for me to understand why so many of you are anti-gay secular marriage, when you don't think a secular marriage has any legitimacy. Going in front of a judge for an "I do" or two isn't a "real" marriage by the standards of Judaism or, for that matter, Catholicism. It has no sanctity or religious significance. Its SECULAR. So how come the gays can't do it, too?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why does Avi love Obama?

I find it deeply puzzling that Avi Shafran can be wrong about everything important, and still be the only haredi Jew I know who is capable of evaluating the presidency of Barack Obama with clarity, honesty and fairness.

Someone suggested that perhaps there is a shop full of little Avis toiling away at Agudas Israel World Headquarters who produce the articles that appear under their master's name.
Agudath of America has an eight-figure budget, and that doesn't count all of the locals and affiliates. Surely there is more than one person in the communications shop, and often in groups like this someone on the DC lobbying team takes the first crack at remarks in their bailiwick.

Anyone know if this is true?

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Artscroll offering incentives to destroy chumashim

The Duke of Belzer thinks people should be poor

It's impossible to read the account of the Duke of Belzer, I mean the Belzer rebbeh's, recent address to women without falling into cynicism. Though its couched as a discussion of Torah values, to me it comes across like a sect leader demanding that his followers behave in ways that benefit him, personally. His wealth and power dissipate if Belzers enter the world, and most of the speech seemed designed to prevent that from happening.

Deserving of particular disapproval is his encouraging women to live modestly in expectation of luxuries in the next world. 

Won't the man take his own suggestion? 

According to several sources, Mister Belzer is worth upwards of $20 mil. If he honestly believes paradise is won by living frugally, shouldn't he offer himself an example? He won't have to suffer. His Hasidim will ensure that he always has plenty of food and a comfortable bed, while his reputation guarantees rich spouses for his offspring. He doesn't need the fat bank so why does he keep it?

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This ain't your dad's rabbinate

A guest post by Y. Bloch

Over the past few days, there has been a furor about the issue of women serving in the Israeli armed forces, especially religious women. First, the new Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef reiterated their opposition to women serving in the army. Then Finance Minister Yair Lapid called for their dismissal. Then his number 2, Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, backed up the rabbinate. "Rabbi Piron against Lapid: No halakhic authorities allow girls to enlist" reads the headline on Srugim, a national-religious news site.
Well, that's a lie. Don't take my word for it: read the actual article. A decade ago, Piron wrote, in response to a student's question, "I am not familiar with any halakhic authorities who allow girls to enlist." When asked about it this week, he stated: "There are virtually no halakhic authorities who allow girls to enlist." So, this all-encompassing halakhic ban has moved from reality to perception to virtuality.
This distinction is actually very important. You see, neither the Chief Rabbis nor Rabbi Minister Piron made this declaration unprompted; they were goaded into it by right-wing underlings. In the case of the former, it was Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, he of the "Don't rent to Arabs" ruling. His dad was Chief Rabbi too, from 1983 (when the current Sephardic Chief Rabbi's father finished his term) to 1993 (when the current Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi's father began his term). In the case of the latter, it was a former hesder yeshiva student of his, Ran Huri. R. Eliyahu wanted to know if our current CR's upheld the rulings of their predecessors; Huri wanted to know if the EM upheld his own "ruling."
I have been told by many friends and acquaintances that it is Lapid who is out of line here. They mainly rely on three arguments: a) freedom of conscience; b) precedent; c) secular (hiloni) Israelis' supposed disengagement from religion. Don't the Chief Rabbis have the right--nay, the responsibility--to voice their halakhic views? Aren't they just reiterating a tried-and-true principle? And why is that hiloni Lapid opening his big fat mouth? (We should note who his father was: Tommy Lapid, anti-haredi firebrand.)
That's why I think it's so important to consider how the paper which broke the story, Israel Hayom, concludes their coverage:
Officials at the Chief Rabbinate stressed that the ruling was not directed at women who chose to enlist, but rather at rabbis who have been using the Halachah to allow women to join the military.
This is not about freedom of conscience, which the Chief Rabbis are welcome to exercise in the privacy of their own homes. This is, unsurprisingly, a power play. More and more religious girls are serving in the army, and here's the response, as formulated at a heated meeting of the Chief Rabbinical Council:
During the discussion leading up to the decision, the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, infamous for instructing Safed residents not to rent to Arabs, warned that female enlistment threatened “to erase the identity of Israel as a Jewish state.” Beersheba’s chief rabbi, Yehuda Deri, framed the debate as a matter of life or death.
(No, Yehuda Deri's father was not a Chief Rabbi. Don't be silly! Although his brother is Aryeh Deri, head of Sephardic haredi party Shas. And his mehutanim are Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and his brother Rabbi Avraham Yosef. Mere coincidence, I'm sure.)
The problem is that the Chief Rabbis are symbols of the state. They're the ones who greet the popes, presidents and premiers who visit Israel. They're the ones who are present at official state ceremonies, when we honor all of our soldiers, including females and (gasp!) non-Jews. Is this the look they'll have on their faces when a young hayelet is publicly commended for her valiant service?
Source: Kikar Shabat
Source: Kikar Shabat
That's their reaction to a woman singing at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral yesterday. Maybe they were overcome with emotion. At least they didn't run away.
But this is not about restating the Chief Rabbinate's opposition to drafting females, which dates back to the 1950's. This is about religious women enlisting and the rabbis who support them. It isn't the 1950's anymore. We are much more aware of issues such as sexual harassment, but more importantly, the workplace itself has changed. Women, including religious women and especially haredi women, are in the workforce, if not the breadwinners. When they finish their service/ education, most women do not leave the public sphere. Moreover, the army itself has changed. Over ninety percent of the soldiers are not in combat positions. Is it really so different for a religious girl to serve in an office building in green rather than in a hospital in white in the allegedly kosher framework of national service? Rabbi Eliyahu is busy dispatching letters to all religious high schools about the dangers of women in the army. Does the Education Minister support this initiative? Do the Chief Rabbis?
Secular Israelis have a stake in this, because their children go to the army. Not like Sephardic CR Yosef, who never served. Not like Ashkenazic CR Lau, who had his father arrange for him to become an army chaplain with the rank of major, but also in practice did not serve. This matters to hilonim, which is why Lapid supported a more moderate CR candidate. But the selections are essentially self-perpetuating, which is why the same names keep popping up. (You can read the law here.) I must admit to being confused as to what Lapid's opponents want: should he not criticize the CRs because he's not religious, or should he stop trying to get the Rabbinate out of secular Israelis' lives? It is profoundly disrespectful to tell hilonim to butt out of this, and it's abominable to patronize them by essentially stating (I paraphrase): No, it's fine for your daughters to serve, they're sluts anyway.
I'll end with a short anecdote. The same day this story broke, I was walking to my bus stop in Tel Aviv, across from the Kirya, Israel's Pentagon. I passed a group of soldiers, one of whom was a religious girl wearing a long army skirt (yes, they have those). What I thought then, and what I still believe, is the following: "That girl does more to sanctify the name of God every day by going to work than I will probably accomplish in my entire life."
Just don't tell her rabbi.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

RWers now lying about Obama. Surprise!

Here's today's RW lie, with the debunking you need to avoid sounding like an easily deceived tool:
On January 10, the conservative Media Research Center (MRC) released a report that attacked the media for that coverage by claiming that ABC, CBS, and NBC had given "a staggering 88 minutes to the story" but "over the last six months have allowed a scant two minutes for the latest on Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Service scandal."
Only -- OOPS -- as people who care about the truth have noted the IRS scandal was not "Obama's scandal" and it started not 6 months ago, but 8 months ago, and there was loads of coverage.

See here for graphs, stats and more:

Don't let the headline deceive you. There was no underreporting of the scandal when it initially broke, just of the resolution which cleared Obama and, of course, didn't get into the paper.

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Great moments in marketing

Yechiel Abuchatzeira is a con man

Its important to know and understand that Yechiel Abuchatzeira is a con man, and that his offer to unblock your mazal via the performance of a magical ritual has zero to do with kabala or Judaism.

Don't send him your money.

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Global warming deniers need better arguments

Sunday, January 12, 2014

About my interview with the

Last week, I sat for an interview with the It contains a few new thoughts and some material recycled from previous posts. You can find it here.

Someone called David made the following comment:

A great interview. Thank you. I would like to ask Dovbear a question regarding #6. You say you keep mitzvot mainly because of the emotional connection and reward you feel. Now that is fine. Why wouldn't anyone want some sort of satisfaction? But that, from a traditional point of view is a result, not the primary reason for keeping the mitzvot. From a traditional point of view, the answer would be "because God said so." 

Perhaps that's the answer a traditionalist would give, but it isn't correct. "Because God said so" doesn't tell the whole story. You also have to care about the ritual, and you need some incentive to act or some disincentive to refrain from acting.

And even if you don't believe that God said so, you might still care about a ritual due to reasons of upbringing or education or peer pressue, and you might still find yourself in a situation that offers the necesary incentives or disinventives. Today, for example, was some kind of no pants day in New York City. Lots of people walked around without their trousers, but not one of them thought displaying their underwear pleased God. They just cared about the ritual and participating in it offered some kind of incentive. All rituals, be they secular or religious, work this way.

I'm not talking about rabbinic laws, but the primary mitzvot. So yes, you personally might get a great feeling from doing certain mitzvot, but taking it outside of the "personal" and into the religion itself....why should anyone keep any mitzvot if not for God?

Maybe, I should ask a follow up question as it relates to #9. If you, with your experience have had trouble reconciling the idea that mitzvot are God given, don't you serve as a model for what Judaism has to fear? That IF exposed to historic truth, there would be an unresolved split between keeping mizvot and WHY we keep mitzvot?

I don't agree that there would be any kind of split. We've always kept mitzvot for the reason described above.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz has lost his mind

It's finally happened. Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz of the Yated has absolutely lost his mind. For proof look at the little poem he wrote to protest the New York Post

Those morons have said far worse things about black people, for example, but one little comment about a slumlord (who happened to be Jewish, but that wasn't the reason the Post thought people wanted him dead) and suddenly its 1940? Give me a freaking break

Full text after the jump (but you really shouldn't miss the graphic work that accompanied the original)

Lonely Manna of Faith

A guest post by Y. Bloch
It's hard to know where to start when approaching Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin's screed, "Dividing the soul of Orthodox Judaism." R. Rocklin's basic premise is that we should stop crying about the attempts of Israel's Chief Rabbinate to delegitimize Rabbi Avi Weiss, since he and his Open Orthodox ilk have brought this misfortune upon themselves by not toeing the ideological line. It was certainly bad timing to post this the day before Haaretz reported "Avi Weiss is not alone: Israeli rabbinate disqualifies another U.S. rabbi." What was the thought crime of that rabbi, Scot Berman? Being an educator and not a pulpit rabbi. I wouldn't expect R. Rocklin to know what Haaretz is going to report, but this was not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the aggressive moves of the Chief Rabbinate (CR) over the past few years. Luckily, R. Berman is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, so I'm sure they'll--oh right, R. Rocklin is on the RCA's Executive Committee, and he thinks the way they're bending over for the CR is just peachy.
So the idea that the CR is just standing up for Torah and truth is demonstrably false. Even worse is the idea that they're applying some halakhic standard. The Talmud, Maimonides and Shulhan Arukh all state that "All of the families are considered kosher," which means that if someone says he's a Jew, we're supposed to believe him and let him marry. But that's not what happens in Israel. The rabbinical courts instead call in witnesses, especially the sort they would invalidate at any actual wedding: the female and the familial. To recap, the CR rules: women, fine; relatives, fine; educators, invalid; rabbis who follow Maimonides in Mishneh Torah as opposed to Maimonides in his Mishnaic commentary, invalid.
This brings us to a third point. R. Rocklin blithely characterizes Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber (whom he doesn't have the decency to name) as having "denied the divine authorship of the Bible." This is a lie. I have corresponded with Rabbi Farber, and he does not believe anything of the sort. If you actually click on one of the dozens of hyperlinks R. Rocklin provides, you'll find that they rarely bear out his accusations. Not that it stops him from presenting the opinions of some neo-haredi members of his organization as the authentic voice of the RCA and of Modern Orthodoxy as a whole.
This brings us to my final point (and a brief sermon). This week we read the passage of the manna, Exodus 16, which the Tur (OH 1) actually recommends reading daily. As the Beit Yosef explains (ad loc. 5), this helps strengthen one's belief in God and His Providence. Interestingly, there are two incidents in which the Israelites fail to follow the rules of the manna. First, some people leave the manna overnight; later that week, on the Sabbath, when no manna is supposed to fall, others go out looking for manna.
The sins seem similar, but the reactions are very different. In the first case, it is Moses who is wordlessly furious at this violation of his direct command; in the second, God speaks up, "Until when will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?!" If we look at the text, we would be hard-pressed to understand the divine reaction. In the first case, Moses' direct order is countermanded; in the second, it is hard to pinpoint the exact transgression. Moreover, if this is supposed to be a pre-Sinai test run, "so that I may test them, whether they will follow My teaching (torah) or not," it would seem that leaving over the manna is much more significant, as the time-limit for eating sacred food is an oft-repeated principle, going back to the paschal offering in Egypt. Avoiding going out on the Sabbath is hardly an eternal value.
However, the psychology of the matter is enlightening. Why would anyone leave over manna, the miraculous food? Well, this generation is used to crying out to God with no answer; is it a great surprise that they are afraid to simply toss out their leftovers and hope that they will remain in God's good graces? The collectors, on the other hand, are doing something profoundly bizarre: if God is providing for them, why not believe Him that he won't do so on the Sabbath? If He isn't, then there would be no manna in any case! That, at least, is how a monotheist would approach this. In the ancient pagan world, on the other hand, the fact that the God of the Heaven rains down food does not affect how the God of the Desert will maintain it. They are looking for the manna to prove that the God who took them out of Egypt is one of many. This corrupted faith is the true danger.
Herein lies a lesson. The true enemy of religion is not an individual's inability to live up to a high standard of faith (even if that standard comes from the words of Moses Our Teacher, let alone one reading of the words of Moses Maimonides), but the willful corruption of that faith. Even if R. Rocklin's thesis were true, it would still be unpardonable that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is spending its time delegitimizing dedicated rabbinical leaders instead of defrocking the child molesters, fraudsters and felons in its own ranks. If the RCA will not stand up for its members and for its flock, it will cease to be relevant to Jews who actually care about what the Torah tells us to do, not who wrote it down.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Jewish bodies are different

Someone once told me that a Jewish person doesn't have to worry about getting cancer from cigarettes because all the tests and experiments that demonstrated the dangers of smoking were performed on non-Jews. We see here (below) that one of our great Torah leaders has a similar POV

Rough Translation

Question: We know that its okay for a yeshiva boy who owns cigarettes to use them to fulfil his obligation to give charity on Purim [That is a gift of the cigarettes can be the act of charity] I'd like to know if that ruling is still valid nowadays now that the doctors have established that cigarette smoking is unhealthy.

Answer: Doctors don't know anything.

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Dating advice for women from

Dating advice for women from

1) be stupid. Men hate to listen to girls defend their ideas
2) Dress appropriately (this one isn't bad advice)
3) hide your proffesional accomplishments
4) stifle yourself
5) hide your interests in the guy. Make him guess and chase.

Best of all this brilliance is based on conversations the author had with only three men. Three insecure lunatics feels their penises shrink in the presence of a confident and accomplished woman so now all women have to cater to that? Because no other types of guys exist?
Mistakes that make a man quickly lose interest.

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Bleeding Cool

 A guest post by Y. Bloch
I should be used to the theological whiplash of reading those colorful printouts known as parsha sheets that clutter the entrance of every synagogue in the Jewish world. Before their advent, congregants had no choice but to listen to the actual Torah portion; now, it's pre-digested for them. At best, they are boring but inoffensive; at worst, they are boring and highly offensive. And sometimes they're both.
This Shabbat, my neighbor dragged me into a discussion of a particular article from Torah Tidbits, the thousand-issue behemoth that is second-to-none in telling you which Torah portion has the seventeenth-lowest total number of commandments but the seventeenth-highest number of letters per verse. This particular piece was written by Rabbi Gideon Weitzman of the PUAH (Fertility and Medicine in Accordance with Halacha) Institute. Now, PUAH does great work, helping couples navigate the treacherous waters where modern reproductive science and traditional Jewish law meet. He notes, apropos of the mitzva of circumcision mandated in the Torah portion of Bo, that the Talmud (Yevamot 64b) states that if a woman's first two boys die due to circumcision, the third must not be circumcised.
The mitzva of circumcision is a very important one: If a Jew wasn't circumcised as a baby and refuses to undergo Mila as an adult, he can be liable for the punishment of karet - being “cut off”, excluded - on a par with such sins as eating on Yom Kippur, eating chametz on Pesach, doing forbidden types of work on Shabbat, and various immoral sexual acts. Nevertheless, though in this particular Talmudic case we cannot know for sure that the third son actually has hemophilia - it is only a possibility, at most a probability - the concern for human life and the Rabbis’ comprehension of the possible risk of death override the obligation to circumcise the child.
Fair enough. R. Weitzman is making the point that human life is a halakhic value of supreme importance. That's not the whiplash part. That came with R. Weitzman's continuation, where he sets out the difference of opinion in the Shulchan Arukh regarding whether this applies even if the man remarries. The Mechabber, Rav Yosef Karo (YD 263:2) rules that it does, but Rav Moshe Isserles (the Rema) is not so sure. What does this tell us?
While the above reasoning is not in keeping with our modern understanding of medicine, the discussion does reveal how the Rabbis recognized Mendelian Inheritance as being sex-linked, and passed on from generation to generation.
The Shulchan Aruch then goes further and states that if two sisters were to have sons, and both babies died as a result of circumcision, the sons of any remaining sisters in the family would be exempt from the mitzva of brit mila.
The above discussion suggests a deep understanding of the existence of familial genetic abnormalities. The Rabbis’ rulings seem to be based on medical information similar to the complex family history drawn up during a session of modern genetic counseling, today.
So let's get this straight. The rabbis had a deep understanding of modern genetics? Well, hemophilia is X-linked, and since we Jews only circumcise boys, who are XY, the X must come from the mother. So one of the opinions cited by the Rema (that the hemophilia can only come from the mother) is correct  and based on science, while the other one, which is the one cited by the Mechabber, is what? Anti-scientific? Non-scientific?
Of course, when the Mechabber then says that we would consider two sisters as being evidence of carrying the disease, then he does line up with science. Did he discover genetics between one line and the next?
Even more laughable is R. Weitzman's contention that the Vilna Gaon's comment ad loc. about "the blood coming from the mother" is evidence of knowing about X chromosomes. That's ludicrous; he's quoting another Talmudic statement:
The father provides the white material from which the bones and the brain in the head are formed. The mother provides the red material from which skin and flesh are made. [Nida 31a].
Sorry, R. Weitzman, but turning the sages of the 6th or the 16th century into geneticists is an insult to your readers' intelligence. These great men were still men, and as human knowledge increases, the Torah must grow as well.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Global warming hoax

Hey global warming deniers, here is something important you need to know if you want to avoid sounding ignorant, dishonest and uninformed. The scientists who exchanged those emails that were stolen by denier blogs in what was dubbed "climate gate" were fully exonerated. Eight different committees reviewed all the emails and found the scientists innocent of fraud and scientific misconduct. The only people who still pretend the climate scientists did something wrong are either ignorant or being paid by corporations to lie. And now you know.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Snow and the climate change deniers

It snowed this weekend on the east coast, so of course the anti science morons think this means climate scientists are all conspiring to mislead us. Can we please put the climate change deniers, the anti vax idiots, and the "evolution is just a theory" people on a plane to the dark ages where they belong?

The overwhelming consensus within the scientific community is that human being are causing the earth to warm. To reject that consensus you need something more than the vague feeling that climate scientists are all liars. You need evidence. If you have some evidence please share it, but if you don't have concrete reasons for disbelieving the overwhelming consensus please just go away and rethink your irrational biases.

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Our community priorities are perfect

Such a good thing Avi Safran and Aguda and Yitzchak Alderstein and Cross Currents and the RCA have been spending all their time and energy hunting heresy in the Modern Orthodox world. Because clearly nothing is happening in the Hasidic world that needs addressing.

Sex-abuse victims lack voice in New Square

In Hasidic community, those who take assault claims to cops 'are damaged goods'

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