What It’s Really Like to Be ultra-Orthodox in America – and Illiterate in English
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This was submitted to us by a frequent reader and we tip our hats to that reader.
We note that we are posting this without the prior knowledge of Yaffed’s Naftuli Moster.
This post should not be deemed to imply that we have the support of either Yaffed or Mr. Moster, nor should it be assumed that they are readers of our posts.
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JERUSALEM (JTA) — A man from the haredi Orthodox town of Bnei Brak was indicted for making death threats against leaders of the Reform movement and vandalizing a Reform synagogue.
The man, whose name has not been made public, was arrested last month and prosecutors asked that he be held in custody until the end of his trial. He was indicted Monday on charges of extortion, threats, vandalism and intent to commit arson.
He allegedly also targeted the left-wing Breaking the Silence organization and threatened well-known atheists in Israel.
The incidents date back to 2014.
In November 2016, hate graffiti was painted on the walls of the Kehilat Ra’anan Reform synagogue in Raanana and death threats left in envelopes held down by a knife addressed to prominent Reform leaders were left at its doorstep.
The phrase “The divine presence will never leave the Western Wall,” was spray-painted on the building, as well biblical references “Ovadia 18 and 21,” and “Psalms 139:21-22.” The Ovadia citation deals with the destruction of Israel’s enemies at the hand of a vengeful God. The Psalms citation states of enemies of God, “I hate them with utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.”
The letters were addressed to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; and Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall and the head of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel. The threats came days after a protest for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall led by the Reform leaders.
It was the second time the Raanana synagogue had been vandalized. Similar graffiti has been painted on the walls of the synagogue in January 2016, though no death threats had been issued. The threats included arson against the synagogue.
The man also left threatening letters held down by knives and graffiti outside of the homes of Israeli atheists, and had information on activists for Breaking the Silence in order to leave similar messages. He reportedly also had purchased gasoline and other equipment in order to burn down the headquarters of Breaking the Silence.
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JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the current government arrangement allowing for mass exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. The ruling redraws the battle lines over an issue that has long roiled Israeli society.
The impassioned debate over military exemptions for strictly Orthodox Jews engaged in full-time Torah study goes to the heart of the struggle for the future character of Israel.
In a country where most Jewish men and women are conscripted at 18, and where the military is hallowed as a social equalizer and a people’s army protecting Israel from threats on its borders, past attempts to reduce the scope of exemptions and create a more equitable sharing of the national burden only seem to have underscored deep social divisions.
“The history of this societal controversy reflects the history of the State of Israel itself,” wrote the departing president of the Supreme Court, Justice Miriam Naor, in the 148-page ruling, noting that the court had already ruled on the issue several times before.
The court gave the government a year to come up with alternative legislation that would satisfy the basic principle of equality. This latest ruling came in response to a petition by several nongovernmental pressure groups and Yesh Atid, a centrist party led by Yair Lapid, who has championed the cause of equal service in recent years both in the government and now in the opposition.
The court decision was reached by eight members of a nine-judge panel sitting as the High Court of Justice, with one member dissenting. It presents a new challenge for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, already beleaguered by corruption investigations and reliant on the support of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
Ultra-Orthodox politicians strongly denounced the ruling and vowed to fight it, but given the yearlong time frame for amending the law, the stability of the governing coalition did not appear to be in imminent danger.
“Those same Torah sons who chose to dedicate their lives to Torah study will continue to study Torah here in the land of Israel, the holy land,” said Aryeh Deri, the interior minister and the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, in remarks after the ruling. “No force in the world will stop them,” he said, adding that the court has proved itself “totally disconnected from our heritage and tradition and from our people.”
Mr. Lapid of Yesh Atid (Hebrew for There Is a Future), speaking after the decision was announced, said: “Today we started to turn the ship toward sanity and values. That’s why we are in politics.”
Mr. Netanyahu, he added, could not continue to wriggle out of making a decision. The draft, he said, is “for everyone, not just for suckers who don’t have a party in the coalition. We’re done being suckers. The court decided that we will not have first- and second-class citizens in Israel.”
The policy of open-ended deferment dates to 1949 when Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, exempted 400 religious students from military service in an effort to restore the tradition of yeshiva scholarship, which had been nearly destroyed during the Holocaust. The issue has since become tendentious, with the number of those who have been exempted by now amounting to tens of thousands.
Those who support wholesale deferment and exemption for Torah students in seminaries argue that Israel needs spiritual preservation as much as physical protection. Critics protest that the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox minority, known in Hebrew as Haredim, or those in awe of God, are not contributing enough to the country’s economy or security, leaving others to bear an unfair burden.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector makes up about 10 percent of the population of more than 8.5 million but it is rapidly increasing, with its members typically marrying young and having large families. Worry and anger has been growing among many Israelis who fear that the economy will become unsustainable in the coming decades without radical change, in part because many ultra-Orthodox men prefer full time Torah study over work and rely on government stipends.
With the ultra-Orthodox parties often serving as coalition kingmakers and serving in most of the governments for more than three decades, they have accrued what many see as disproportionate power, privileges and subsidies.
Far from homogeneous, the Haredi world is made up of different rabbinical courts, and a small but growing number of strictly religious Jews have already been opting for military service or civilian national service as a way of acquiring skills and a path out of poverty and toward integration into the work force. The army has tried to accommodate Haredi recruits. It has even established ultra-Orthodox battalions, allowing those soldiers to combine military service with religious life.
But the more hard-core rabbis, who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah, have resisted change. Ultra-Orthodox soldiers have been harassed and abused in their neighborhoods and stormy street protests have erupted in cases where members of the community who did not qualify for an army exemption, perhaps because they were found to be not properly engaged in yeshiva study, have been detained for draft dodging. Religious women are exempted from army service because they adhere to strict rules of modesty. Israel’s Arab minority is also largely exempted.
Tuesday’s ruling was just the latest twist in a long political and legal saga. In 2012, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that had been in force for a decade regulating the exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The law was supposed to encourage ultra-Orthodox enlistment without coercion, but it failed to achieve results and the court deemed it unconstitutional.
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No. This isn’t Meah Shearim. This is Monsey, NY on Erev Shabbos Nachamu.
These Chareidi extremists staged a protest outside the “Ping Cellular Store” which is a Verizon Wireless Dealer, located on Route 59, at the “Town Square Mall”, right next to the Evergreen Supermarket.
The group is upset that the establishment is selling smartphones.
A few dozen extremists were part of the protest, as a few dozens counter protesters grabbed their signs and yelled back.
Police were on the scene keeping the two groups apart.
It is not known who this group of extremists belong to.
Becoming Every Brother’s Keeper
All humanity descended from one family.
“And in this original familial relationship resides our profound responsibility to one another. The recitation of the generations of Adam trumps the golden rule as the “greater principle” because it clarifies the subject of the ethical imperative. “Let there be no mistake,” the begetting seem to say. “The ‘neighbors’ for whom you must care are not only the people around you, but the entirety of this large, unruly human family from which you are a lucky, and burdened, descendent. Each member of this family is your ‘brother.’ And none, therefore, are you free to abandon.”
This section of the Torah, the recitation of the generations of Adam, thus challenges us to allow God’s question to Cain–“Where is Abel, your brother?”–to reverberate throughout the millennia. It demands that we pose this question with the awareness that, in the eyes of Bereshit, all humanity is descended of one family. It compels us to pay attention to the words of the question itself–to recognize that it is not only a query about Abel’s whereabouts, but also an insistence that he is our brother.
As common descendants of Adam, we are not free to shed our brotherhood with Abel. We are simply not at liberty to allow the gulfs created by national, cultural, linguistic, religious, or racial differences to obscure our responsibility to those who are hurt or violated. Instead, we must step up to this haunting question whenever it is asked and answer resolutely: “I am my brother’s keeper.””
The following is a comment received by one of our readers. We are bothered by the comment because, whether intentionally or otherwise, it defines all ultra-Orthodox Jews by the actions of those who chose to defraud the system.
It then by association defines all Jews by those very same ultra-Orthodox criminals and the various Rabbis, websites (OJPAC) and other Jewish spokespeople who try to justify or whitewash the criminal behavior. It is our belief that if you paint the truth and the lies with the same white paintbrush you taint the good while you are trying to shade the bad.
To the author of the initial post below: there are exemplary, devout, honest and descent members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Simply because they dress the same as those accused of committing crimes, does not mean that they themselves don’t find those very same crimes unthinkable and the very same people reprehensible. Your commentary makes broad generalizations, that we agree are difficult at times to avoid.
While sadly we can’t disagree with much of it, we would be remiss if we did not point to a religion which, when not taken to extremism, when taken as written is rich in charitable random acts of kindness, laden with spectacular cultural history, sincere in its piety and actively trying to achieve a high moral standard and ethical character.
We are here because we believe that we must be our brothers’ keepers. That means reporting the good with the bad. We may miss our mark on reporting the good, but it is there nonetheless.
Finally, you are right in commenting that religion is not the issue. Criminal behavior is the result of those committing the crimes. Judaism does not allow it. As such, please do not view the entire community by the acts of some.
But one statistic stands out among all other municipalities in the state. There are 10,000 more children in households with married couples in Lakewood receiving food, income or state aid than the next closest town.
Of the 43,600 children under 18 years of age, 18,200 with married parents receive government assistance. Newark, the largest city in the state, is second with 7,800 families receiving aid, according to the Census Bureau’s 2015 5-year average American Community Survey.
That poverty indicator is telling in two ways: Lakewood has a strong family tradition with many of it residents living in a two-parent household with young children, yet most of those families can’t make ends meet without government help.
Following the FBI’s public assistance fraud raids this week that saw the arrest of seven married couples with children, it may be an understatement that many township residents are in a “panic,” as termed by one of the leaders of the majority Orthodox Jewish community.
“It’s absolute panic,” said Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, a member of Lakewood’s Vaad, or Jewish council, about the mood in the town after this week’s arrests. “People are begging us for guidance.”
Rapidly growing Lakewood has more than 100,000 residents, up 15,000 from 2010, according to census records. The average Lakewood resident is 22.4 years old – making it one of the youngest towns in the state – and roughly 31 percent of people in town live under the poverty line, including retirees and single residents, according to the Census Bureau. The median household income in the town is just under $42,000, which is in the bottom 5 percent of N.J. towns, data shows.
Lakewood has a flourishing Jewish population, thanks in no small part to Beth Medrash Govoha, one of the largest yeshivas in the world, which now has about 6,500 students, according to Aaron Kotler, CEO of the yeshiva.
Seven married couples were arrested in Lakewood this week on charges of welfare fraud, including a well-known rabbi of a congregation. He and his wife are accused of taking more than $338,000 in public assistance they weren’t entitled to receive. Five couples face state charges and the other two couples face federal charges. Combined, they are accused of stealing about $2 million in government assistance.
After the arrests, and considering so many Lakewood families receive some form of public assistance, the Vaad on Wednesday announced that it will hold seminars to educate residents about the rules for full financial disclosure when it comes to applying for and collecting public assistance.
“Federal and state social safety-net programs are meant for those in need, even those in need have rules and criteria that must be strictly followed,” the Vaad said in its statement. “To deliberately bend a safety-net eligibility rule is stealing, no different than stealing from your friend or neighbor.”
Weisberg said that many young Jewish families collect public assistance as their families grow.
The men are often studying in yeshivas and have moderate incomes, if any income at all, he said. Census data shows that 3,302 people in Lakewood between the ages of 25 and 34 — 21.8 percent of everyone in that age range — are enrolled in school, most of those likely being yeshiva students.
Meanwhile, there is strong community pressure for men and women to have large families and send the children to private Jewish schools.
“The average family feels it an absolute necessity to send their children to private schools,” Weisberg said, adding that large families are also a part of Jewish culture. “They really want to build a large family with lots of happy children.
“Financial considerations come second,” he said.
To make ends meet, many of these families rely on public assistance, Weisberg said.
Duvi Honig, CEO of the Lakewood-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, said for many Jewish families, collecting public assistance is almost an inevitability.
“People have such overhead that they don’t have a choice,” Honig said.
Honig and Weisberg condemned the alleged assistance fraud but acknowledged that some residents are tempted to take more welfare than they’re entitled to get.
“There are bad actors and bad apples,” Weisberg said. “A lot of this is not, most of this is not.”
Weisberg added that the vast majority of people reaching out to the Vaad after the arrests are concerned about what they termed as minor discretions in their public assistance applications, not people involved in a large-scale welfare fraud scheme.
Some of the minor discretions Weisberg mentioned are not reporting cash gifts or school tuition received from family members.
“These are families under stress,” he said. “Regrettably, people are a little loose with it.
“Until the hammer falls, people are lax about it.”
The hammer is expected to keep falling in Lakewood.
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