Yehuda Sabiner, the Gur Yeshiva Community Should be Proud – Chesed… Save One Person and Save the World

Yehuda Sabiner by the Forward

Meet Israel’s First Hasidic Med School Student

Does every Jewish mother want her son to become a doctor? Not always. If you’re a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, where many young men are expected to spend their days learning Torah full-time, many mothers in these communities would much rather say, “my son the rabbi” than “my son the doctor.”

And while there are ultra-Orthodox doctors, many of whom immigrated from abroad or found religion later in life, a Hasidic doctor who grew up in a local Hasidic community is as rare as a unicorn.

For Yehuda Sabiner, the path to medical school was an unorthodox one. The son of the dean of a Hasidic Gur yeshiva in Jerusalem, Sabiner, now a 29 year-old father of three, said that he has wanted to enter the medical profession since he was four years old, when he innocently asked his pediatrician what he would have to do to become an MD.

When he told his parents that he wanted to be a doctor, they saw it “as a cute thing that children say,” he recalled. But when he continued insisting on his chosen profession at age 16, it ceased being amusing and became a source of concern for members of his family.

“As I grew up, I saw you can do it as a religious mission, as hesed[lovingkindness], which is very important part of the Jewish tradition. My mother had tears in eyes and said ‘I thought we passed the hard times,’” Sabiner told the Forward. But as he continued in yeshiva, getting high marks in Talmud and appearing to be on track to eventually become a rabbi or a religious court judge, his parents began to relax, although he would occasionally bring up the subject of medicine throughout.

While the ultra-Orthodox world is anything but monolithic, its overall workforce participation is significantly lower than in the national-religious and secular sectors, and many members of the most fervent Haredi communities shun secular studies and higher education.

According to figures released by the Israel Democracy Institute in December, some 45 percent of Haredim live in poverty and just under half of Haredi men are unemployed. Employment figures tend to be lower among members of “Lithuanian” or non-Hasidic Haredim. Despite these figures, however, there has been an increase in the number of Haredim studying for professional careers and the average Haredi monthly income increased by eight percent between 2015-16, “reflect[ing] a rise in ultra-Orthodox salaries among those employed,” according to the IDI. These gains can be credited to the “rise in the number of well-educated members of the ultra-Orthodox community and the advancement of ultra-Orthodox workers in the labor market (as a result of a combination of appropriate skills and education, and government programs).”

Sabiner’s dreams did not fade after his marriage. When he again announced that he intended to become a doctor, his parents replied that it was an issue for him and his wife to handle, while his new bride broke out crying.

“It almost destroyed our marriage,” he recalled, describing how her wife had thought she was marrying a future rabbi.

However, she soon had a change of heart and “came to me with tears in eyes, still upset, and said she won’t be the one to destroy my dream.”

Enrolling in a academic preparatory program run by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Sabiner worked hard to make up all of the education that he missed attending a Haredi school. “I didn’t know anything, even the ABCs, [certainly] not to write or read in English,” he said. Studying late into the night, his wife helping him, and he gradually began to approach the level of education necessary to undertake medical studies.

After he left the Technion’s Haredi program and integrated into their primary track together with secular students, social life was initially awkward but he was soon accepted by his peers as just another student.

“The beginning was very strange,” he recalled. “It already began in the entrance of the building. The guard stopped me and wouldn’t let me go in: ‘What are you doing here?’ Girls were terrified to sit next to me, but after two weeks the ice melted and I have probably the best fiends of my lifetime here.”

Back in the Hasidic community, Sabiner initially kept his studies secret, but after he let the cat out of the bag he said he was surprised by the response.

“I give classes in my shul about halacha and ethics and medicine,” he said. “I cannot say that I’ve had any problems in the last couple of years.”

And despite their initial reluctance to support his dream, once he had chosen his path, Sabiner said that his parents became his biggest supporters, both financially and emotionally, giving him the breathing room to finish his studies.


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Quebec, Canada and the Battle with Government over Education and Obligations to Children

Yohanan Lowen, right, and his wife, Shifra, are taking the Quebec government to court. They are seen here outside their Montreal apartment in 2017. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Ex-Hasidic couple’s battle with Quebec government over education to go to trial

Yohanen and Shifra Lowen, former Hasidic Jews who claim the Quebec government didn’t do enough to ensure they received a proper education, will finally get their day in court — a year from now.

A trial pitting the Lowens against the province has been set for Feb. 10, 2020 in Quebec Superior Court, five years after they first filed a lawsuit against the province.

Their lawyer, Clara Poissant-Lespérance, said its outcome will be pivotal in determining the government’s obligations towards children educated in religious communities.

“The trial will give an answer to those very important questions about if the government did enough to make sure children receive a proper education,” she said.

The Lowens are seeking a declaratory judgment which, if they win, would force the province to take steps to ensure children in religious communities are taught the provincial curriculum.

Named in the lawsuit are the provincial government and Hasidic schools in their home community of Tash, a secluded ultra-orthodox Hasidic community in Boisbriand, Que., about 30 kilometres from Montreal.

Representatives from the local school board, the province and youth protection services will be called to testify.


Yohanen Lowen alleges that, when he finished school at 18, he could barely add or subtract, couldn’t read and write in English or in French, and was left unequipped to find work.

He broke ties with his home community a decade ago and now lives in Montreal with his wife and four children. He is unemployed and is still working toward his high school diploma.

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Izzy Posen, a Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jew, What he Faced to Leave the Community – BBC


Inside the hidden world of Britain’s Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews

Would you be able to leave everything you have ever known behind in order to follow your dreams?

That was the choice Izzy Posen, a Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jew faced when he decided to leave his isolated religious community.

He told BBC World Service how his life has been transformed since breaking free.

Video produced by Trystan Young and Alice Porter.

Listen to more stories from The Newsroom.


What Do We Owe the Children, the Yeshiva Debate Rages On…


FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2013 file photo, children and adults cross a street in front of a school bus in Borough Park, a neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York that is home to many ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Critics have charged for years that the rudimentary level of secular education at private yeshiva schools serving New York’s Hasidic communities are deficient in teaching science, geography and math to grade school students. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)ASSOCIATED PRESS

Yeshiva Battle Raises Fundamental Question, “What Do We Owe The Children?”

Understanding what should be the default level of government intervention in a free society isn’t hard. Individuals able to make informed, rational decisions, as long as they do not impose on others by force or fraud, ought to be able to interact without government interference. But children are generally considered incapable of making such decisions about numerous aspects of their lives. Which is why the role of government in education is more complicated than in many other matters, and why a burgeoning battle over yeshivas—Orthodox Jewish schools—in New York cannot be resolved with a simple, “Let the families do what they want.”

At issue is whether some yeshivas are providing children with the educational foundations they need to eventually function as independent adults. Yeshiva graduate Shulem Deen asserted in the New York Times that some yeshivas focus almost exclusively on teaching Hebrew and religion, and furnish little instruction in English or other basic skills. “I know about the cost” of such an education, he wrote, including great difficulty finding employment sufficient to sustain a family.

Yeshiva defenders argue in part that the schools are being smeared. “There are more than 440 yeshivas in New York state, educating 165,000 students,” wrote Rabbis Elya Brudny and Yisroel Reisman in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “There will always be schools that need to improve and students who can be better served. But underperforming schools are the outliers, and they don’t define the yeshiva system.”

Of particular concern not just to the rabbis, but people running religious schools of various stripes in New York, is a state requirement that private institutions provide an education “substantially equivalent” to that in the public schools. This is where the much deeper, more essential response, grounded in freedom and pluralism, from yeshiva advocates comes in.

“Parents who want to send their children to a school offering a course list devised by the state enroll their children in the local public school,” wrote Brudny and Reisman. “But parents who choose religious education want their children to have a specific moral, ethical and religious framework for life.”

So what is the right balance between children’s need to be equipped for eventual independence, and the freedom of the nation’s wonderfully diverse communities?

The answer is emphatically not to require that private schools furnish the same education as public institutions. Freedom as an adult means little if as a child your mind is engineered to think as the state demands. And there is grave danger to diversity and freedom of thought if government dictates that education cannot be solidly constructed around conceptions of what is good and right outside the mainstream.

The good news for pluralism is that it is difficult to impose a strong curriculum on diverse people. But that is bad news for peace and educational quality. What we see in the history of American public schooling is where there have been diverse views, efforts to standardize have sometimes been met by stiff resistance and painful conflict, conflict that has frequently been evaded by people separating themselves or avoided by providing lowest-common-denominator instruction.

Quite simply, equality, peace, and educational rigor need parental and educator freedom. And yet…

Whether parents or the state are making educational decisions, someone is imposing on a child. We accept this because someone other than the child must make such decisions, but to ultimately be a free person that child must be equipped, by the time they have reached adulthood, to make decisions for him or herself. So the answer to what we owe children cannot end at “whatever parents choose” if what they choose would render a child unable to eventually exercise the liberty to which all are entitled.

The way to ensure the eventual liberty of the child, while protecting freedom and diversity in society, is a system in which educators are free to offer education as they see fit—Orthodox Jewish, Roman Catholic, science-intensive, arts-based, etc.—and parents are free to choose. The only role for the state would be to intervene, were a child not being provided with the skills necessary to become a self-governing adult.

What are those skills? There are grounds to debate the exact lines, but I would submit only literacy—including an ability to write—in English, and numeracy perhaps to the level of basic algebra. The former, because while English is not the country’s official language it is the de facto national language, and the latter because it is a gateway to higher math, though most adults use far less.

State intervention would only occur were there reasonable suspicion a child was not receiving these basic skills. Evidence would be collected, and if sufficient, parents would be charged with neglect. Then only if the parents admitted guilt, or were found guilty in a court of law, would government officials be empowered to intervene in a child’s education.

But what of science, history, and other subjects beyond basic skills?

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Tom Cotton, Saving the World from Prison Reform – It WILL NOT Keep Our Communities Safe, it Will Allow Fraud with Impunity

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks to reporters as he arrives for a meeting with fellow Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who are at the Capitol to discuss the nation's criminal justice sentencing laws, in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ** FILE **

Sen. Tom Cotton says prison-reform bill shouldn’t allow early release for felons

A key Republican opponent of a prison-reform bill backed by President Trump said Tuesday that supporters of the measure should kill provisions allowing certain federal inmates out of prison before they complete their sentences.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said the legislation should focus on helping people “who have paid their debts to society.”

“We shouldn’t be slashing sentences and releasing child abusers and serious felons and drug dealers early from prison,” Mr. Cotton said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

The White House and Senate supporters of the bill are pushing for a vote on the First Step Act before the end of the lame-duck session later this month. Presidential adviser Jared Kushner, who is Mr. Trump’s point person on the legislation, said Monday night that the bill “will accomplish a lot to make our communities safer.”

“The recidivism rate that we have is way too high and not doing anything about that is irresponsible,” Mr. Kushner told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We’re very close right now and hopefully this will get to the floor and we’ll be able to have a big bipartisan celebration before Christmas.”

“It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!” the president said.

Jewish Fundamentalism and Mafia Bosses – Another Blogger’s Take… And Heilman’s Book


by Lawrence Bush

Discussed in this essay: Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America, by Samuel C. Heilman (University of California Press, 2017, 269 pages).


AS MY WIFE AND I were driving this week on the New York State Thruway, a magnificent double rainbow with a full 180º arc pushed through the clouds and diverted us to the Sloatsburg rest stop for a good look. We parked on the roof deck, hopped out of our car, and found ourselves in the company of some twenty or thirty khasidic men gathering in a corner of the parking lot for evening prayers before heading to their homes in Kiryas Joel, New Square and other ultra-Orthodox enclaves in Orange and Sullivan counties.

Susan and I had our smiling faces turned upwards towards one of the best displays of water-and-light refraction that we’ve ever seen, but the men in black barely glanced skywards as they hurried over to where their fellows were reading and rocking. (There were no women; among Skver khasidim of New Square, women are not allowed to drive.) I wondered how many of them had ever in their lives taken the opportunity to recite the Jewish blessing for seeing a rainbow: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheynu melekh ha’olam zokher ha’brit v’ne’eman bivrito v’kayam b’ma’amaro (blessed is God, etcetera, for remembering the covenant — the rainbow being the sign of the renewed covenant in the Biblical story of Noah). Surely all of them knew it, but they seemed intent on practicing that ultra-Orthodox thing of being indifferent to the aesthetics of the natural world.

Poor stooges: leading lives of strict sex segregation, ridiculously prohibitive rules of female modesty, absurdly large families, a 65 percent poverty rate (within a community that is rich in real estate and other resources), fealty to mystical, messianic nonsense, and utter obsession with their rebbe. Am I being biased or uncharitable in this assessment? Having just read Samuel C. Heilman’s Who Will Lead Us?, I would say no, not at all. Although Heilman, America’s most prolific portraitist of Orthodox Jewish life, refuses to “judge” or even dig underneath the surface of the stories he tells (“[T]his book,” he writes in his prologue, “is not a consideration of the writings, ideological arguments, and teachings of Hasidic rebbes or the spirituality that animates followers’ attachment to them”), Who Will Lead Us? authenticates every negative feeling I’ve ever carried about the cultish Jewish fundamentalism of khasidism.


HEILMAN’S BOOK traces the history of the dynasties of Hungary’s Munkacs khasidim, Vienna’s Boyan and Kopyczynitz sects, the Bobovers of Poland and Brooklyn, the Satmarers of Hungary, Brooklyn, and upstate New York, and the Lubavitchers, who are the most well-known and worldly of khasidic groupings. In each instance, a late-18th-century democratizing movement that sought to move Judaism out of the hands of “learned” and legalistic rabbis and into the hearts of the common folk via joyous worship devolved within a generation or two into a cult movement, religiously inflexible, dead-set against modernity (and, in most cases, against one another), and utterly in thrall to a rabbinical “court” consisting of the rebbe, his family, his lieutenants, and his enforcers.

“Ultimately, Hasidim viewed their leaders as model individuals to be emulated and embraced with devotion (dvekut),” Heilman writes. “In return, the rebbes would (sometimes miraculously) provide for their followers the blessings of children (bonei), health (chayei), and livelihood (mzonei). Hasidism held that the material and spiritual well-being of the entire community was part of the rebbe’s responsibility.” He continues:

In some cases, even the rebbe’s smallest gestures were judged as having cosmic significance, and his Hasidim dwelt endlessly on the meaning of them. . . . Every detail mattered in this drama, in which both the observers and the observed were certain heaven was involved because the [rebbe] was after all able to ascend spiritually to the highest regions and powers. . . The longing to be near him even competed with the Hasid’s attachments to his own family, so that men left home, wife, and children to spend extended time near their master.

The chief building blocks of this relationship are notes of supplication (kvittels), accompanied by monetary gifts (pidyon nefesh) and ongoing donations of a portion of each household income (ma’amad); attendance at the rebbe’s weekly table (tish) and any and all other opportunities for “face time” with the holy man; constant testimonials about his magnificence and miracle-making power; and bonding around ideologies that include a rigid anti-Zionism (Israel is a form of humanistic idolatry, a human interference with God’s plan for bringing the messiah), a belief in the imminence of messianic salvation, and a loathing for, and paranoid fear of, the temptations and corruptions of the modern world.


ULTIMATELY, these movements resemble nothing so much as mafia families minus the guns (though enforcers, shtarkers, often have a role to play in enforcing the rebbe’s will and enforcing conformity among the khasidim). In Heilman’s book, the essential corruption and powermongering of khasidic sects are implicit in his narratives of succession, in which sons and son-in-laws compete for control over the multi-million-dollar properties and institutions of aging, failing rebbes — wealth established through the contributions of followers, control over the resources of their Orthodox Jewish lives (school tuitions, kosher butchers, etc.), and fundraising from outside sources who view khasidism as uniquely authentic Judaism.

Mixed in with the gang wars of succession are also moving episodes of coping with Nazism and the Holocaust. Some of the escape stories of rebbes and their courts are just short of miraculous (usually entailing multiple acts of bribery more than derring-do) — and the khasidic retelling has eliminated the “just short of.” Ironically for movements that made a demon of Zionism, Palestine loomed large, right alongside America, as their sanctuary.

Few such ironies or critical interpretations are explored in Heilman’s narrative, however. Who Will Lead Us?acknowledges bloc voting and its influence among the khasidim, but fails to identify the quid pro quibusdemanded by them for their votes. Heilman notes the “conspicuous wealth and consumption of the rebbe as well as his stable of philanthropists who pay him tribute,” but never discusses how that wealth interacts with the endemic poverty of khasidic households as well as the “millions of public dollars” finagled “for health, welfare, food stamps, and public housing” — nor how khasidic wealth and power can dominate in communities that are non-khasidic and subject people outside the community to shoddy housing, reduced school budgets, and suspicion and hostility.

Heilman also identifies the confining rules faced by khasidic followers, especially women and girls, without exploring the crippling effect of these rules, particularly regarding education, on those who seek escape from their cults. In this regard, Heilman’s own son, journalist Uriel Heilman, does a far better job: In a recent portrait of several refugees from khasidism in Hadassah magazine, the younger Heilman describes “cloistered, Yiddish-speaking enclaves” in which people “frequently find themselves ill-equipped for life in the wider world: Their English may be substandard, they have little secular education and few marketable skills.” “It’s like being an immigrant from . . . North Korea,” says one of his contacts.

Says another, who grew up as a Belzer, prayed two doors down from his home at the Vishnitz shul and studied in the Sanz yeshiva in Brooklyn: “‘I grew up with all these flavors, different extreme versions of the same bullshit.’”