Anti-Semitism? Might be Time for Our Jewish Brethren to Look in the Mirror

“Judaism and Zionism are Absolute Antonyms”

Posted 5.10.21 4:17pm

Dear Reader:

The above is on posters being held by some of the protesters in these videos.

Many of the ultra-Orthodox zealots in this video are funded by American Jewish counterparts. These are people who believe, from a fundamental perspective, in the destruction of the State of Israel. And, as the birth rate within the ultra-Orthodox community grows exponentially when compared to secular birth rates, once must wonder what happens when a majority of Israel’s Jews are opposed to the existence of the very state in which they live.

To the American supporters of these radical Jewish groups, who characterize every criticism as anti-Semitism, unwilling to stand up and say that this is not Judaism but something altogether foreign, you will have the inevitable destruction of the Jewish state as we know it today, sitting on your collective shoulders.

Protesters like those above are destructive to all Jewish identity, whether religious or secular. They are not tolerant of anything or anyone and yet, as American Jewish organizations fight anti-Semitism they refuse to question the integrity of the version of Judaism depicted above.

Mainstream Judaism does not support the view that “Judaism and Zionism are Absolute Antonyms.” Sadly, it might be time for organizations like Agudath Israel, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish National Fund and others to speak out against the expression of “Judaism” in this video.

The Supreme Court, Covid-19 and Religious Freedoms, Tone Deafness

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October. (photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October.
(photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS) Photo from the following article in The Jerusalem Post

Dear Readers,

I write this in response to an Op-Ed posted by Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel regarding the recent decision of the Supreme Court in which the Archdiosese of New York and Agudath Israel were a party. It is written with the utmost respect. The Op-Ed in Haaretz is entitled, “Why Are Jews Flinging anti-Semitic Libels at Jews Who Simply Want to Pray in Synagogue?”

I value our Constitution and the principles it purports to enshrine. Freedom of Religious Practice and Assembly being two of the great rights supposedly guaranteed under the First Amendment to that Constitution. But, I propose this: Is the freedom to not practice a religion, the freedom to be free from the religious whims of another also enshrined in the First Amendment? The Supreme Court, in rendering its decision in this case, seems to think not.

The basis of the Supreme Court decision was, indeed, draconian restrictions on religious practice by Governor Cuomo, wherein he color coded certain areas of New York and within those zones restricted gatherings of, in this instance, greater than between 10 and 25 people. That number was arbitrary. It had some basis in reasoning from public health experts; but it ignored indoor space size and in effect was not even-handed. That being said, it was not as proposed by the Plaintiffs intended to single out the Orthodox Jewish synagogues and religious churches but rather to provide a voice of reason to religious adherents who have been congregating in large and maskless numbers. Unfortunately, that brush painted with broad strokes the religious Jewish community.

Governor Cuomo’s mandates admittedly would have made far more sense, and been far more palatable and even-handed, had the restrictions been fluid with the size of any space. In other words, if the capacity of an indoor space is safely 1000, the limit of gathering within that space should have been 10% or 15%. Similarly, if the limit of capacity of a location is 100 people, 10% or 15% would have been a fair and uniform method of keeping attendance at any location to a minimum while Covid-19 is spreading. Governor Cuomo’s restrictions were not consistent and uniform and that may have been a problem, but it was not the focus of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Rather, the protected class within the context of the ruling related to the definition of “an essential business” and whether the practice of religious belief is “essential.” In response, I similarly ask if the decision to not practice religion is also “essential.” The comparison used by the litigants in the case was that of synagogues and churches to liquor stores and bicycle shops, the latter of which were not restricted in the same or similar manner under Governor Cuomo’s restrictions as the former.

I maintain that comparing liquor stores and bicycle stores to synagogues and churches is not an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of how each is “attended” by the general public and thus how each is affected by the Covid-19 contagion. The numbers in New York have quantifiably proven that the pandemic adversely affects large numbers of people enclosed indoors for extended periods of time in far greater numbers than those who go to purchase items in stores. In other words, the results of walking in to buy a bicycle or a bottle of wine is far different than the results of congregating for long periods of time in a synagogue or a church. And, it is upon that basis that the Supreme Court should have ruled.

In wine stores, bicycle stores and other stores, people enter, look around, purchase something or not and leave. The ingress and egress are not all at once but sporadically; and liquor stores and bicycle stores generally do not attract crowds of people. In churches and synagogues people are in attendance in large numbers for hours. They come and go at generally the same time and congregate and talk amongst themselves before and after services. Attendees dance and they sing and they are indoors together in a closed (and sometimes poorly ventilated space) for lengthy periods of time. This is an important distinction that should have been made by the majority of the Supreme Court; and the one Justice Sotomayor made in her scathing dissenting opinion.

What was ignored both in the litigants’ papers and in the ruling itself is that mask and social distance restrictions are, have been and continue to be ignored by much of the religious community, at least the religious Jewish community. The photo above says it all “We will not comply”. That is the attitude that has been taken since the Covid-19 pandemic began and one that puts everyone at risk.

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NY’s Covid-19 Rules – Not anti-Jewish, Fundamentally Misguided? Read On.

A man holds a sign as he joins protesters outside the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in New York. Three Rockland County Jewish congregations are suing New York state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying Cuomo engaged in a “streak of anti-Semitic discrimination” with a recent crackdown on religious gatherings to reduce the state’s coronavirus infection rate. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Dear Readers:

The following is a small excerpt of an op-ed posted in Religious News Service by Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs of Agugath Israel. While our views are not necessarily aligned with those of Agudath Israel (and likewise the reverse is probably true), Rabbi Shafran’s comments here are worth a review.

Our objectives of keeping people safe do align, even if we do not agree with how strict restrictions should be or how they should be imposed and implemented. While we agree that there are many within the Haredi community that did follow the rules, those that chose to flout them did so with inglorious detail and the optics have been bad.

Like Rabbi Shafran, we have stated that we do not believe Covid-19 mandates to be anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. However, we also do not believe them to be misguided.

New York’s COVID-19 rules aren’t anti-Jewish. They show ignorance of Orthodox Judaism

(RNS) — Rightly or wrongly, many in New York’s Haredi, or “ultra-Orthodox” Jewish, community have concluded that Governor Andrew Cuomo has not engaged in a good-faith effort to balance the needs of their families with his responsibility to keep them and all New Yorkers safe. 

Some members of Haredi communities, to be sure, have acted less than responsibly at times, but they are not alone, even among religious groups. Yet the governor (and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio) has repeatedly and exclusively focused on Haredi neighborhoods, saying things like: “What’s happening there is the rules were never enforced… they never followed the first rules.”

Most Haredim, like most members of other religious or ethnic groups, very much did follow those rules.

Anger at the governor’s statements has fueled two nights of loud protests in Brooklyn, which, along with a much-videoed rabble-rouser’s ugly words and threats, garnered national attention. 

The new rules, despite the governor’s claim, were widely perceived as an attempt not to protect but to punish. He shut down not only entire Jewish schools, but also, in some Haredi neighborhoods, limited houses of worship, no matter how large their space, to a 10-person maximum occupancy. 

However, establishing a limit of 10 people to all buildings used for a specific purpose, no matter how large they might be, is something short of scientifically sound. 

To continue reading in the Religion News Service, click here.

Agudath Israel Files Suit Against Governor Cuomo and Loses – Covid-19


Dear Readers:

On October 8, 2020, Agudath Israel of America, along with other Plaintiffs filed a law suite against Governor Andrew Cuomo:

asking for a temporary restraining order to bar the State of New York from enforcing its limits on house of worship attendance in certain areas of the state. The limits, announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo just two days ago, would cap Shul and other houses of worship attendance in so-called “red zones” to ten individuals.”

Yeshiva World News, click here.

In short Plaintiffs,

argue[d] that the Executive Order’s restrictions unconstitutionally discriminate against religious practice while simultaneously permitting comparable secular conduct. Moreover, the restrictions violate Free Exercise rights because they appear to target conduct due to their religious motivation.

Yeshiva World News, click here.

The filing requested that the court – in light of the holidays beginning [today] – immediately grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the state government from enforcing the new limits, as well as declaring the executive order unconstitutional.

Yeshiva World News, click here.

In a hearing held by video and audio, which listed 1492 participants at one point, Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto gave a significantly thorough and well-reasoned review of the issues raised by Agudath Israel as well as the counter arguments by Governor Cuomo’s attorneys, who were asked specific questions for points of clarification.

The main question at hand was whether or not the Governor’s recent Executive Order placed a disproportionate and undue burden upon the religious rights of one particular group of people to freely practice religion under the Constitution.

The final ruling was that the current public health emergency, the rise in cases of Covid-19, and the health threat it presents outweighs the rights of any one religious group. In a well-reasoned and lengthy discussion, Judge Matsumoto ruled against Agudath Israel. She came to the conclusion that the health and safety of the population at large trumps any single religious group’s religious freedoms.

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Haredistan and the Militancy of the Ultra-Orthodox Response to Covid-19 Rules

This is being reposted from a Facebook Group – Frum Watch. It is being reprinted in its entirety with permission from the author, Rabbi Yossi Newfield.

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Haredistan – What Went Wrong?

From Bnei Brak to Boro Park, the haredi community has had higher case numbers, higher hospitalization rates, and higher deaths rate than the surrounding areas. The question is why? We believe the very nature of the haredi community is the cause.

Inevitably, wherever there is a critical mass of haredim, the community feels that it can disregard secular laws and norms. Sometimes this is done openly; other times there is a great deal of dissembling, with community apologists such as Avi Shafran working overtime. Before the coronavirus pandemic the disregard and rejection of civil society may not have been as pronounced, but it always lurked just below the surface, waiting to raise its ugly head.

An example of this is the haredi (especially hasidic) self-ghettoization and their rejection of state mandated minimal secular education standards. The resulting intellectual isolation of their communities is considerable and it is accompanied by severe side effects, such as systemic fraud, rampant sexual abuse, and poverty.

But so long as the harm was confined to the haredi community itself, the civil authorities from Israel to London to New York looked the other way. They reasoned that if a community wants to stay ignorant, poor, and a refuge for sexual predators, so be it. It’s not our problem.

However, the moment the pandemic struck, these same civil authorities began demanding that the haredi community abide by the social distancing guidelines promulgated by their respective health departments.

To their shock and amazement, they were surprised to learn that haredi society was not willing to curtail their communal way of life, even in the face of a once in a century world-wide pandemic. But we were not surprised in the least. Once a society is allowed to disregard civil laws and norms for decades, it is no wonder that they will not become normal law abiding citizens overnight.

Let’s look at how things progressed:

At first secular society convinced themselves that the haredim in Israel were trying to follow the guidelines, but they just couldn’t on account of their large families and crowded living conditions. Then came the grand wedding in Belz. The Belzer rebbe brazenly ordered that his grandson’s wedding continue as planned, covid be damned. Thousands of men packed together to witness the chuppah. At that point, it became clear to the rest of Israel that the disregard of the guidelines was pre-meditated and intentional.


The Belzer rebbe decided that his sect would not follow state mandated guidelines out of fear for the spiritual welfare of his flock or out of fear of the breakdown of communal life. Pick either reason. In haredi eyes they are one and the same.

But Belz is not alone. The haredim in Bnei Brak, Meah Shearim, Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights have all made the same decision. They will not follow the guidelines because the guidelines disrupt their daily prayer and torah learning schedule, tisches, weddings — their communal life and routine.

This disregard for coronavirus guidelines does not only jeopardize the health of haredi communities, it puts the surrounding non-haredi communities in grave danger. The haredim are either so used to getting their own way or so insensitive as to be unaware of the reaction that’s bound to come.

Back to the present, in New York Governor Cuomo ordered the shuls in Boro Park and Flatbush closed for Simchat Torah because of rising Covid-19 case numbers. Instead of accepting the executive order, Agudas Israel sued him in Federal Court. This is the same Agudas Israel who sued the New York State Education Department for having the nerve to order hasidic yeshivas to teach the English language!

The chickens have come home to roost. Even before the virus escaped from Wuhan, the haredi community was on a dangerous and unsustainable path. Covid-19 just made this apparent for all to see.

While a last minute correction of course by haredi communal leaders may avoid total disaster, we are afraid that this will not occur and we will all suffer because of it.

By Rabbi Yossi Newfield

Dr. Stuart Ditchek and Agudath Yisroel – Heroic Move to Advocate Yeshiva Closures Amid Covid-19 –


This Orthodox Brooklyn doctor saw the truth about coronavirus weeks ago

On Wednesday evening last week, Dr. Stuart Ditchek convened an unprecedented meeting. At a synagogue in Midwood, Brooklyn, he gathered 170 rabbis, yeshiva principals and administrators (some streaming in via Zoom) to ask them to make a difficult, but necessary, decision: close their doors immediately to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Ditchek, a pediatrician and an Orthodox Jew who is well known in South Brooklyn’s Orthodox communities, has been working at the grassroots level over the past weeks, trying to urge yeshivas and synagogues to help “flatten the curve” of new infections, giving hospitals more space and resources to treat patients with coronavirus and other serious illnesses.

At the meeting, Ditchek presented the evidence in a slide deck: The infection rate is high. Children under 10 are not dying, but they are transmitting the disease. Limiting interaction of all kinds, immediately, will make an enormous difference compared with waiting even a few days, given the exponential rate of new infections every day.

“It was well received by about half of the room,” Ditchek said in a phone interview Sunday morning, in between seeing patients and speaking to rabbis calling for his advice. “It was not so well received by the other half.”

As the coronavirus has spread across the United States, it hit the Orthodox community early and hard. A synagogue, Yeshiva University and several schools in suburban Westchester County were among the first institutions in the country to close their doors in response to the virus.

Yet the Orthodox community has grappled in recent days about whether to push for full-scale closures of schools and shuls across the country. Many organizations — some persuaded by Ditchek, working around the clock — have closed. On Sunday afternoon, Agudath Israel of America, the largest Orthodox umbrella organization, reversed itself and started urging communities to shutter their synagogues and schools. There are still some holdouts, however, and Ditchek hasn’t given up on them.


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The GOP Bowing to Pressures of Agudath Yisroel and Major Fundraisers – Not About Religion, About Over-Development

This is a Land Use Issue. It Always Has Been. Any Other Characterization is a Strategic Misrepresentation.

Dear Readers:

This blogger has been accused of being a liberal, a self-hating Jew and an anti-Semite. If I am to be judged by those who choose to bully and use the judicial system as a constant weapon, shove the mantra of anti-Semitism down everyone’s throats and toss integrity to the wind, then I will take whatever insults someone wants to sling my way.

A more recent accusation was that I am an idealist too. Yeah… true enough. It would be nice if money was not the currency of darkness, if honest opinions and speech was not chilled by hundreds of thousands of dollars; and if truth and transparency were the goals for which we all strive.

But that is just not happening. It was a lofty goal when this blog was started.

Four years later, the insults sometimes feel more like compliments when the judgments come from those whose moral compass sits far askew from my own.

This piece is focused on over development and the misapplication of laws, the manipulation of a system by those who want to use anti-Semitism to justify any mode of behavior and the resulting tragedy for everyone.

Zoning in Jackson Township, New Jersey should never have invited the chorus of the “anti-Semitism” choir. It should not have attracted big money donors and Agudath Yisroel who want to chalk everything up to anti-Semitism to allow their own to act with impunity. Codes and laws should be enforced equally across the board. The laws passed were intended to foster responsible development and maintain a quality of life within a specific landscape, not to chase out religion. That ultra-Orthodox Jews were and continue to be the most affected by those laws is a function of sheer numbers and statistics, not a generalized hatred.

I have said repeatedly that the Holocaust should not have given us a sharper spear to toss when things don’t go our way. Using it as such demoralizes everyone who perished during the Holocaust, and only increases an “us versus them mentality” which ultimately intensifies hostility. It is a dangerous game to play. And so it begins.   

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