Can Allegedly Demonizing Yeshivas co-Exist with Defending Against Violence?

Comments to Rabbi Avi Shafran’s Opinion in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

by LM

Below we have republished a portion of an opinion that appeared in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, written by Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel. We would like to thank the person who sent this our way, though we are certain he would not agree with our conclusions. Thankfully, there is a mutual respect for differing opinions. We thank him for that also.

There are a few points that should be made about Shafran’s opinion in JTA. The first is we believe you can criticize over-development and the draining of the public school system for the benefit of private yeshivas (and parochial schools) and still defend against anti-Semitism and resentment. The two are not mutually exclusive. While he refers to the links as “indirect” he spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing efforts to uphold educational standards, presumably albeit indirectly linking criticism to hate.

We take the position that only when these uncomfortable subjects are aired can the differences in perception (that often create resentment) be either resolved or peacefully tabled. One can agree to disagree so long as both sides can be vocal and respectful.  

Second, Safran’s comments about the criticism of the substandard Yeshiva education in many (but not all) Hasidic yeshivas is, in our belief misguided.  Contrary to Shafran’s opinion, a fair indictment of a school system that public money is also partially funding does not detract from defending the religious beliefs that the children who graduate from those yeshivas share. It is simply a criticism of the leadership and the political governmental system that allows the education of these kids to be neglected. If public money is being used to fund these yeshivas, even a single dollar of public tax funds, then they should comply to certain state mandates. To do otherwise is an unfair requirement on all taxpayers; and that does not even address the future tax burdens that stem from inadequate education.

If Shafran’s comments are to be taken to their extreme, then perhaps this country should allow schools for white supremacists, schools for radical Muslims, schools for the Church of Latter Day Saints, Scientologists, and an endless list, all without any oversight guaranteeing that the children have some level of conformity to basic subjects when they graduate. According to Shafran, if applied equally to all faiths, any criticism of any non-conforming schools, whatever the religious belief, is contrary to a peaceful co-existence. That is absurd. Demanding certain standards be met is not indicting an entire religious belief system. Rather, it is holding an educational system to a conforming standard. The United States is based upon a system of equality and laws should be upheld equally. For the yeshiva system in New York, equality has gone out the window.  

  

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First All-Female Ambulance Corp (Ezras Nashim) Denied Permit in NY – Huh???

Ezras Nashim application hearing

FIRST THEY ARE INDOCTRINATED THEN DEBASED, THE DENIAL OF AN AMBULANCE PERMIT IN BROOKLYN

The following is a commentary – nothing more than the opinion of the blogger or bloggers, followed by the story:

It seems to us that this was a no-brainer, an all women ambulance corp designated to respond to the needs of women in the Hasidic community. Why not? Women are the caregivers. Women are the mothers. Women are the empathetic. Women are often better educated (within the Hasidic community). Why would someone even think to deny such a service? Money.

We believe there can be no other answer than the money and the control. We contend that those in charge of this decision should be ashamed. To those of you who voted against, or simply stayed home to avoid a quorum, the life of every woman who does not seek emergency care because she does not want to be touched by a man, is in your hands. Any death, yours to shoulder. 

The obvious gender bias is tough to palate. 

Hasidic women have been raised to believe that the touch of a man other than their husband and young sons is forbidden. In the Hasidic community, there are areas where men and women are segregated, even on streets.  A woman will not even shake the hand of a man, even as a gesture of courtesy in a business setting. Some find it insulting, but to these women it an engendered part of the sanctity of their belief in G-d. Distance between the sexes is required.

The most religious of women will not even take something directly from a man. “Please pass the salt” means that the salt gets placed down on the table by the man and picked up off the table by the woman so as to avoid any direct contact, even albeit vis a vis a salt shaker. In some cases, this is also true of the relationship between husband and wife during the time of “Nidah” or “ritual impurity.” A woman’s husband will not even take something directly from her hand. Some think this is extremism. In the religious community it is about piousness, virtue, the sanctity of a marriage and unintended sexual consequences of such interactions. 

We pass no judgement. 

We ask the following question to those ill-advised members of the committee who voted against the all-woman ambulance corp, and to those who decided to stay home, knowing the lack of quorum would fail the vote: When you indoctrinate a woman with a belief that the touch of a man is forbidden, how then is she to feel comfortable getting medical care provided by a man? How is any woman who has been raised within this belief system to feel comfortable if she is sick and needs medical assistance, even emergency medical assistance, when the person offering that assistance is a man?

Many women grapple with this decision. Others endure the touch and try not to feel somehow demeaned.

But, is this a fair demand of women within the religious society? What if the man who answers an emergency call is the Paramedic from next door who rides on the EMS truck for Hatzolah?

We have been told that many, many Hasidic women will avoid calling an ambulance, and will risk whatever medical danger they may be in because they fear the contact required to treat them will be the touch of a man.

As such being a Hasidic woman in a medical emergency can be tortuously uncomfortable. And these women deserve better from the society in which they are raised. They deserve better from the Rabbinate that petitioned against the bid for a permit for the all-female ambulance corp. These women bear your children. They are your future and the decision to deny Hasidic women a gender-appropriate ambulance is a travesty. It is an injustice.

The decision to deny the bid, in our view, has everything to do with money, control,  sharing of financial resources and the financial accountability of Hatzolah.

All-women Hasidic EMT group denied bid for ambulance in Brooklyn

The bid of an all-women Hasidic EMT crew to operate an ambulance in Brooklyn was denied Tuesday by a state-sanctioned board, in what the group is blasting as an act of bias.

Members of Ezras Nashim say the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City (REMSCO) is packed with sympathizers of Hatzolah, an Orthodox mens-only EMT group, that has forcefully opposed its female counterpart’s right to exist.

“It’s biased,” said Leah Levine, outreach and development director for the all-women group. “Once there’s a situation that there’s so many board members with Hatzolah, there’s really a very slight chance [for us to succeed].”

Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “helping women” — sought to serve female clientele within a 2-square-mile area in the predominantly Orthodox Borough Park neighborhood. The women were previously turned away when they sought to join the men’s group.

On Tuesday night, REMSCO denied the group’s application with a 12-7 vote. There were five abstentions and two members were absent.

Ezras Nashim needed a 14-vote majority in order to get the OK to operate its own ambulance.

At least three of the men who voted against the women have ties to Hatzolah, The Post found.

“They should have recused themselves and they didn’t,” charged Ezras Nashim member Sarah Weisshaus, calling the vote “an injustice.”

“Because they are part of REMSCO they really had an advantage in terms of manipulating the situation.”

Scott Orlanski, a REMSCO board member who opposed the application, said Ezras Nashim didn’t meet certain requirements.

“This has nothing to do with Hatzolah,” Orlanski said at the meeting, referring to the Orthodox ambulance corps Hatzolah that operates in Brooklyn. “This has to do with Ezras Nashim and their proving need [to qualify for an ambulance].”

He added, “They may want to be met, there may be a desire to meet them, as has been indicated in the application submitted by Ezras Nashim, but we are not here to debate wishes, wants or desires … religion is not one of those [requirements] and I submit to my fellow members that should we tread into those dangerous, murky waters, we will be in a world of hurt.”

REMSCO board member Nancy Benedetto voted yes for the ambulance.

“What we are looking at this evening is that there is a lack of evidence that existing resources will be reallocated to fulfill the maintaining of modesty for observant Jewish women. That is a key piece here,” she said ahead of the vote.

REMSCO didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The women plan on appealing the decision in Albany.

Ezras Nashim, which launched in 2012, wants to serve Orthodox women who feel uncomfortable being cared for by male first responders.

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Another Perspective…. A Different Voice -Are we Targeting Hasidim?

Note to our readers:

We are often accused of taking a one-sided approach to the issues involving the Hasidic (Chasidic) community, of ignoring that there are two sides to every story and of crossing the line from factual information to hate speech. For that we apologize. It is during those times when you will see breaks in publication.  There is a fine line between opinions and facts and the message they send (perception is everything) and it is not always walked as cleanly as it should be or frankly as intended.

Here at LM we admire with significant emphasis, those like the Rabbi from New Jersey who commented on prior pages of this blog. His comments are important in the debate of how a community can live together, religious and non-religious, Jew and non-Jew together in harmony.

It takes courage to speak out.

We admire Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone (mentioned in the article below) for his tutorials and opinions or Chabad.org, some of which have graced our pages, whether we agree with them or not. We most admire people like the nurse, Blima Marcus mentioned below, who has gone on a virtual crusade to “debunk vaccination myths”. We don’t express our admiration enough.

We take issue, however, with the belief, expressed below and in the continuation of the Algemeiner article, that it is acceptable for an entire community to be groomed to study ancient texts. While their knowledge, ability to understand and parse out the details of the Jewish texts, and carry that kowledge to the next generation is, indeed, important; it cannot be to the exclusion of all else. Many of these people do not speak the language of the land, and we feel there is no legitimate excuse for that. If that same Jewish scholar is going home, having 9 children and then expecting non-religious, secular or non-Jewish members of society to foot the bills for those 9 children, he is imposing his religion on others. There is a fundamental unfairness to the rest of us, which perpetuates resentment and hate. Those who get angry and resentful should be understood in the context from which that is generated as well.

There must be a balance struck between study for the sake of study and contributing to the economic and financial continuance of that society. In the United States, we refer to the greater US. When living in London we refer to the greater UK and when living in Canada, we refer to the greater Canada. It is all well and good to be a scholar, but when you take money from society to study, you breed resentment. This blogger, for one, would love to return to study, a government and philosophy student who spent years editing translations of the scrolls of Elephantine Island for a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But it is unrealistic to do so if a family must be fed, taxes must be paid and children must attend school. We are not living in a vacuum.

Within the writing of some of the most scholarly rabbis, there was a clear understanding, if not an outright demand of the Jewish people, that we be self-sufficient. However we chose to establish our society, the religion demands that we not rely on others for support. When religion starts to encroach upon the lives and livelihoods of others, it is an imposition and unacceptable. To deem those not religious as not even Jewish or as lesser humans, which can be found in multiple teachings throughout the religious (and perhaps fundamentalist Jewish world – yes… every religion has its kooks), then the balance gets tipped and damage is done.

We, with admiration, agree wholeheartedly that there must be a way forward that provides for mutual respect, mutual tolerance, global sensitivity and a measure of love for those notable people on all sides of the debate and political divide. We thank Algemeiner for the published opinion and those highlighted within the article. 

We ask that you please read the Algemeiner article below and that you consult its original sources.  It tells a different story then most that grace our pages, but one that should be read without a passive indifference or active criticism.

With respect, LM 

Stop Picking on the Hasidim

The Orthodox Jewish community of New York is under attack. In just a few days, a 63-year-old Hasidic grandfather was beaten with a brick, another was made to strip off his yarmulke at gunpoint, a gang attacked a truck, and more. Then a shocking campaign video was posted by Republicans in Rockland County, depicting Hasidic Jews as a threat to their fellow Americans.

Those behind the video refused to apologize, and as The New York Post revealed, they had deviously plotted their modern-age blood libel months in advance.

These unmistakably antisemitic attacks are not sui generis in nature. On the contrary, the NYPD found a 101 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes compared to the same period last year. With their distinctive black and white uniforms and visible religious head coverings, the Orthodox make an easy target for physical violence and societal prejudice.

As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at Chabad.org, puts it, Hasidim “are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”

The fact is that the Orthodox are growing extremely fast. With 70 percent of Jewish-Americans assimilating out of religious existence, these “black hat” communities (I refuse to call them “ultra-Orthodox”) will reportedly soon constitute 25 percent of Jewry in the entire nation.

An example of the way these people have recently been picked on is the public reaction to the measles crisis that recently swept New York. With a health ban that was placed only on yeshiva schools, many began to blame the Orthodox for not vaccinating their children. Never mind the fact that most of the schools with unvaccinated students weren’t even Jewish, or arguably that the common denominator between those who refuse vaccinations isn’t religion but being white, rich, and well-educated.

Regardless, by painting the vaccination crisis in New York as an Orthodox Jewish issue, the national conversation is skewed away from the reality that nine percent of Americans (30 million people!) are reportedly anti-vaxxers. Furthermore, it is an Orthodox nurse, Blima Marcus, who is leading the way in teaching healthcare clinicians how to effectively debunk vaccination myths for the American public.

The problem is that this bias leads directly to the short-sighted and dangerous “us vs. them” mentality that pits public opinion against minority groups. In her New York Times article “Is it Safe to be a Jew in New York?” Ginia Bellafante points out that the societal intransigence to take action against the blaze of anti-Orthodox bigotry stems from stories like these that carelessly stoke the “existing impressions of backwardness.”

I believe the flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Deborah Lauter, previously of the Anti-Defamation League, to run the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. They should follow the advice of Elan Carr, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, who recently remarked that fighting antisemitism must include “philosemitic education” about positive Jewish contributions to society.

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, arguably the most politically active Hasidic Jew in New York City, laments the ignorance surrounding the contributions his community offers the general public. “I think most New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that our non-profit, United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg, provides social services to anyone, regardless of religion, race, or creed.”

Although most of Niederman’s clientele are Hasidim, he advocates for fellow New Yorkers of all backgrounds who are referred to UJO. “We help anyone who walks in the door,” Niederman says, “it could be food stamps, housing assistance or whatever else they need.”

This public service ethos is derived from Jewish spiritual theology, which places a moral mandate on its followers to engage in “Chessed,” colloquially translated as “acts of loving kindness.” As Professor Jack Werthheimer writes in his article “What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox,” the Orthodox have made “Chessed” into an “art form” by creating hundreds of aid programs, known as “Gemachs” — a Hebrew acronym for “Gemilut Chasadim,” literally, “the giving of loving-kindness.”

In the marketplace of ideas, cultural contributions from these most visible Jews should be cherished and protected as a national resource. In these communities, young men are expected to dedicate their post-high school years to studying at Kollelim, yeshivas of higher learning, where they pour over the ancient texts from morning until night. The purpose of this higher education model isn’t to obtain a degree but to engage in study for its own sake.

To continue reading in Algemeiner click here.

Rockland County, New York and a Legislative Meeting with More Residents Outside Than Inside

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Speakers sound off at packed Rockland Legislature meeting, with hundreds still outside

NEW CITY — Tuesday night’s county Legislature meeting turned into a venting session for distressed community members, with speakers letting loose about legislators Aron Wieder and Laurie Santulli, unsustainable growth, anti-Semitism, a proposed summit to address divisiveness in Rockland and more.

“You want to fix the anger?” speaker Lauren Marie told the legislators. “Do your jobs!” She was later removed from the room for shouting at another speaker while many spectators rose and cheered for her.

The atmosphere was intense from early evening, with hundreds waiting on line outside to get into the 7 p.m. meeting. The Legislature’s auditorium quickly reached its capacity of 220 people, though, and officials estimated that another couple hundred people remained outside, behind locked doors. Sheriff’s deputies were all around, one with a police dog.

The Legislature, with 13 members present, opened the meeting by moving directly to public comment. The audience included several Orthodox and Hasidic men and women, but the overwhelmingly majority appeared to be non-Orthodox.

Many speakers began their remarks by noting that they were not anti-Semitic or that their concerns were not about religion. Speakers who warned against over-development and called for fair treatment for all received applause. Several speakers who tried to defend Wieder or the Orthodox community were interrupted or booed.

The Legislature wound up not officially discussing its two agenda items, which were moved to committee. One called for praising those who condemned a controversial video shared by the Rockland County GOP last week, which many condemned as anti-Semitic, and the second called for a community summit in 2020 to address the county’s tensions.

Several speakers did comment about the lack of a resolution requested by Santulli to censure Wieder. Santulli wanted Wieder censured for calling a Clarkstown blogger “the anti-Semite of Rockland County” after an Aug. 23 press conference and for comments Wieder made about state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee at an Aug. 15 Ramapo Town Board hearing related to development.

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