Throughout centuries of Jewish history, there has been a rich and wide-ranging debate over what constitutes Jewish values and how we might live them out as Jews. Talmudic tradition repeatedly makes it clear that this debate is in fact, a sacrosanct cornerstone of our spiritual heritage.
Jewish Voice for Peace is proud to be part of this Jewish marketplace of ideas. We believe our vision has important and critical role to play in the Jewish communal debate over Israel/Palestine. But we have no illusions that all Jewish institutions will accept our alternate views. We are certainly open to hearing differing points of view; indeed, we would welcome such a conversation as a machloket l’shem shamayim — a debate for the sake of heaven.
Sadly, in the Jewish communal world sacred debate too often devolves into denigration and political name-calling. The latest example: the Anti-Defamation League’s recently released report that publicly puts JVP on the same level as hate groups such as the Aryan Nations and the Montana State Militia.
The people of Newtown have received plenty of advice on keeping children safe since their town was plunged into the national spotlight last December.
Now, Israel is offering its best words of wisdom.
“Awareness has become part of our DNA,” said David Rubin, a former Israeli government official.
Rubin and a group of Israeli experts spoke last week at the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, established by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to review and recommend policies on mental health, gun safety, and school security in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown.
The 16-member Commission, meeting in Hartford, battled technological difficulties to communicate via Skype with consultants from The Israel Experience in Homeland Security, or TIX, which advises law enforcement, government agencies, and businesses on matters of security.
Since the December rampage, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza drove up to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 students and staff, school security has been a concern in Connecticut. Yet the attention it has received in the state has paled in comparison to the polarizing issue of firearms restrictions and the compelling dilemmas surrounding the treatment of mental illness.
A working group of a bipartisan legislative task force was dedicated to discussing school safety, but Friday’s appearance by the Israeli group introduced a more comprehensive security philosophy. It also revealed a nuanced but profound divide in the way Americans and Israelis view public safety.
Rubin, former Israeli Economic Minister to North America, along with Israeli Secret Intelligence Service veteran Dov Shiloah and Assaf Heffetz, former Commissioner of the Israel Police, explained that in Israel, school security begins with awareness, a sort of intensified version of the American “If you see something, say something” campaign.
Not every creative endeavor is a great one, as we note in this week’s quiz, which touches on a Jerry Lewis movie and a Craigslist personal ad that may or may not bring joy (and boy) to its writers. But at least we’re hoping for that last one.
The short clip of Sam Horowitz’s burlesque show-themed bar mitzvah celebration received significant criticism last week. Rabbi David Wolpe, writing in the Washington Post, called it “egregious, licentious … awful” and “a travesty.” Debra Nussbaum Cohen wrote that Wolpe “forcefully and gracefully articulated what many of us were thinking.”
We should be commending this young man for celebrating his religious right-of-passage, not condemning. Many Jews don’t even celebrate their bar mitzvah. It is better to have a bar mitzvah, even with an over-the-top ostentatious celebration, then no bar mitzvah at all.
A bar mitzvah has two parts: the ceremony, which includes reading from the Torah and then the party. Many wrongly presumed Sam’s bar mitzvah was all a Vegas showgirl parade. As it turns out Sam’s bar mitzvah was more than just boogying with dancers to the lyrics of Jennifer Lopez – but included a religious ceremony that took Sam two years to prepare.
The 17th century Hasidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, once observed a Jew greasing the wheels of his wagon while simultaneously praying with tallit (shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries). While others rebuked the Jew for denigrating the prayer, Rabbi Levi judged him favorably, and exclaimed: “God, look at how holy he is. He even greases the wheels of his buggy with tallit and tefillin on.”
To Sam we should exclaim: Look at how holy you are. Even with a showgirl parade, you still had a bar mitzva! You still spent two years preparing for it.
Sam told ABC News that the highlight was not the dancing but the services ceremony itself, not the well-choreographed dance routine. Allison Kaplan Sommer, in Haaretz, also reported that Sam had participants donate money to charity in lieu of giving him gifts, contributions which totaled $36,000.
If all bar mitzvah boys spent two years preparing for their Torah reading and fundraised $36,000 for charity, the Jewish community would be much stronger. Sam is a role model. I did far less for my Orthodox bar mitzvah.
It is true that the celebration did not need to include prancing girls in short skirts, nor the prohibitive cost associated with the spectacle, but that does not give people the right to denigrate. As a society we overspend on weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, sweet 16 birthday parties, and other occasions. But how people spend their money is their business, and the extent of unwise splurging does not diminish the value of marking the occasion.
Alarming statistics from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicate that the adult Jewish population identifying as practicing Jews declined from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.6 million in 2008. How many of those 500,000+ non-identifying Jews hosted a bar/bat mitzvah for their children? Maybe Sam will inspire more to embrace their heritage.
Jews should be lamenting the fact that many don’t care enough, or know enough, to celebrate their bar mitzva — not criticizing those who do.
Was the carving of two swastikas into a Toronto golf course last weekend a random hate crime — or a twisted nod to history?
Police think it was a run-of-the-mill act of anti-Semitic vandalism. But some note the crime took place on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the historic Christie Pits riots, when Jews rose up in anger after being provoked by Nazi symbols.
According to the Toronto Sun, the Nazi carvings were found by a groundskeeper at the tony Richmond Hill Golf Club over the weekend. Police don’t think they have anything to do with the fact that Jewish groups were holding commemorations of the riots at the same time. The timing “is certainly coincidental,” a local police sergeant insisted to the paper.
The historic Christie Pits riots – which took place in a west Toronto park on August 16, 1933, erupted when a Nazi club taunted Jews with swastikas after a ball game.
“Members pulled out a swastika flag, while chanting ‘Heil Hitler’ near the end of a playoff baseball game involving mainly Jewish players,” the Sun wrote.
The riots were “a seminal moment for the old pre-multiculturalism Toronto,” according to a report in the Toronto Star this week.
“This was one time that Toronto’s Jewish community would not stand for the abuse, the Jew-baiting, which was quite prevalent in the city in those years just before World War II, when Adolf Hitler had just taken power in an economically flattened Germany and Nazism was ascendant,” wrote Star columnist Rosie DiManno. “This one time, Toronto’s Jews — the teen boys, at least — fought back.”
The now-defunct Toronto Telegram blamed the violence on “Jewish hooligans who started the whole thing,’’ DiManno noted.
To commemorate the riots, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) hosted “a friendly softball game” at Christie Pits last weekend. Organizers called it “an opportunity to not only to remember the past, but also celebrate the present,” according to CTV.
“We are here more to celebrate where we are – Toronto is the greatest city in the world … and [Canada] is an unbelievably safe and welcoming country for the Jewish community,” Jordan Kerbel of the CIJA told the network.
In the meantime, York Regional Police hate crimes unit has been called in to investigate the swastika carvings.
The new English Premier League season will kick off on Saturday without a single Israeli on any of the top league’s 20 teams.
It shouldn’t be seen as entirely out of the ordinary for a nation of Israel’s size and resources not to have any representatives in the Premier League. As Joshua Halickman, aka The Sports Rabbi, explained to the Forward over the past two decades of the League’s existence, only two Israeli players have really made an impact on the English game: Yossi Benayoun and Eyal Berkovic. In reality, “Israelis have never been major players in the Premier League.”
Yet last season, there was a relative glut of Israeli footballers in England’s top tier. Europa League winners Chelsea had ‘the Diamond from Dimona’ Benayoun in their ranks, though he was only a bit-part player, used mostly as a substitute and was unpopular with the fans. Striker Itay Schechter could have made more of an impact at Swansea City had he been given a fair run in the side, while workhorse defender Tal Ben Haim joined Queens Park Rangers for the second half of the season, playing only three games.
Now they’re all gone. Benayoun’s contract expired and he’s now a free agent, rumored to be on his way to Turkey or the MLS. Ben Haim, after having a loan move to Toronto FC nixed, signed a two-year contract with Belgian side Standard Liège. In search of first-team football, Schechter has gone back to Israel and Hapoel Tel Aviv, as has young Fulham forward Omri Altman — though he will play for crosstown rivals Maccabi.
Benayoun and Ben Haim were, in any case, moving to the latter stage of their careers. Both over the age of 30, they were no longer demonstrating that they had the pace, strength, or technical ability to compete in the Premier League. What is concerning, however, is that no players are coming up out of Israel to succeed them. “I don’t think English clubs are at all adverse to purchasing Israeli players,” CNN’s James Masters told The Forward. “It’s just at this moment in time, the majority aren’t at the standard required.”
The question of why countries produce good or bad generations of players is rarely answerable satisfactorily. In the case of Israel’s current paucity of talent able to play in the Premier League, it might have something to do with that as a small nation with fewer resources, the system for developing players at the club level is underdeveloped. “The youth academies need to be revamped top to bottom,” Halickman said. “Israel needs some serious football people and investment which, unfortunately, they don’t have to be able to produce top line footballers.”
It might also be the case, however, that Premier League clubs aren’t looking hard enough. “The problem is that Premier League teams always want proven players and high-profile names,” Raphael Gellar, founder of Gellar Sports Radio and host of Kicking it with Raphael on World Football Daily, told the Forward. “Israel doesn’t have that big name the fans or the clubs in England want. Even if they were very successful in Israel, it doesn’t mean much. If they let the youth play more often and gave more Israelis a chance, I think we would see a lot more Israelis try and play in England.”
Hooters is drawing a line in the sand — and his name is San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.
The jiggle joint restaurant chain, not normally known for its political correctness, has announced it will no longer serve the embattled Jewish pol, according to signs posted outside locations across the city.
The unlikely coalition arrayed against Filner now includes prominent female Jewish leaders such as Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Debbie Wasserman Schultz — and Hooters.
“We believe it is imperative for people to have standards,” reads Hooters’ sign, posted next to an ad featuring a blond woman, in the restaurants’ typical revealing waitress uniform, inviting men to drink Coors Light. “We believe women should be treated with respect.”
“Our Hooters girls in San Diego have spoken. Not a corporate gig, but we support our girls,” the company said in a message posted via Twitter, Reuters reported.
This may seem like a case of the fleshpot calling the kettle black: Hooters itself is not unfamiliar with sexual abuse lawsuits, as when, in 2004, dozens of women sued after being secretly filmed during interviews which involved changing into the chain’s skimpy waitress outfit.
Allegations against Filner, including a claim that he demanded a date in return for helping a Marine recovering from PTSD, have become so extreme that Hooters’ decision seems less than ironic.
In fact, Filner may find that Hooters’ doors aren’t the only ones closed to him from now on. The locks to the mayor’s office have been reportedly changed to give Filner a very unwelcome return from therapy.
The Supreme Court’s decisions around marriage rights may have elated gay and lesbian Jews and their allies. But for LGBT Jews in the Orthodox community, the ruling might have the opposite effect. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations issued a statement reiterating Judaism “forbids homosexual relationships”; Agudath Israel went a step further, claiming the “sanctity” of marriage “may have been grievously insulted by the High Court.”
Enter Shlomo Ashkinazy. A quiet but pathbreaking activist, Ashkinazy has counseled gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews about reconciling “untenable contradictions” in their religious and sexual identities. Most recently, he’s leading a video storytelling project for Eshel, the New York-based organization which advocates for acceptance of LGBT Jews in Orthodox communities.
Ashkinazy’s personal activism stretches back much farther. In the 1970s, he became the nation’s first openly gay social-work graduate student. And in 1985, he became founding principal at the Harvey Milk High School, the first public school for LGBT students in the country.
On the heels of historic high-court decisions on civil rights for LGBT people, the Forward caught up with Ashkinazy from Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, where he lives with his partner Michael.
Medical marijuana is spreading in acceptance, with Illinois this month becoming the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. But so far no states have legalized religious marijuana use, even though there is compelling reason to do so.
People consume alcohol for religious reasons, especially Jews. At least 25 states even allow minors to consume alcohol for religious purposes. So why not legalize marijuana for legitimate religious purposes?
Various world religions include the practice of ritual drinking of alcohol. Christians drink communion wine. Jews drink Kiddush wine, Passover Seder wine, and consume alcohol on festivals such as Purim where the tradition is to celebrate by drinking until one can’t distinguish Haman (our enemy) and Mordecai (our hero).
Last year, Northwestern University defrocked Chabad rabbi Dov Hillel Klien for serving alcohol to underage students. Klien maintains that he was serving moderate amounts of alcohol for legitimate religious purposes, such as Kidush wine on Shabbat, with the knowledge of university officials. Klien is currently suing Northwestern for religious discrimination and for “singling (Jewish groups) out from other campus religious organizations that ‘commit the same acts’ — meaning Christians who celebrate the Eucharist with wine.”
Similarly, many religions engage in ritualistic marijuana smoking dating back thousands of years. It was used in the worship of the Hindu deity, Shiva, and most widespread today by Rastafarian’s as a Bible study, and meditation aid.
Roger Christie is a minister of the Religion of Jesus Church, which uses marijuana as a “sacramental herb.” Christie and 13 others associated with his ministry are currently facing marijuana possession and trafficking charges for offering pot as a part of religious services in Hawaii.
Whether Christie was using and selling marijuana for bona fide religious purposes, or as a cover for conventional drug dealing is unclear, but the question remains whether marijuana should be permitted for sacramental use.
Even though religious marijuana use is not generally permitted, in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Brazilian-American church União do Vegetal could import and use illegal drugs in worship services. Native Americans are routinely given exceptions to use an illegal Schedule I substance called peyote.
Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, the government is required to show a “compelling interest” in order to “substantially burden” a legitimate religious practice. If hallucinogens like peyote can be legal under this standard, why should more mild drugs like marijuana be any different?
Even Prohibition, which banned alcohols in the U.S., exempted wine “for sacramental purposes, or like religious rites.”
Alcohol is a drug like marijuana with potentially harmful effects. But if alcohol is widely accepted for religious use among Jews and others - maybe marijuana should be too.
True, this week’s quiz touches on Anthony Weiner and pickles, but not in the same question. We have our standards! We also have Daniel Radcliffe, A-Rod and Dr. Zizmor, all ready to quiz you about the Jewish news of the week.
J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby that was shunned in its early years by Israeli government officials, is now making another step toward the acceptance by Israeli politicians.
This coming September, J Street will host, for the first time, a member of Knesset from the ruling Likud Party and a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party at its annual conference in Washington.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a hardliner turned peace supporter, will be the first member of the Likud to participate in a J Street event. Hanegbi is the son of Geula Cohen who was a fighter in the Irgun underground organization operating before the establishment of the State of Israel and who later became a right-wing politician.
Hanegbi’s first steps in politics were as a pro-settlers activist and he was one a handful of Israelis who refused to evacuate the settlement of Yamit during the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai which was part of its peace agreement with Egypt.
He was also a vocal critic of the Peace Now movement during the 1980’s.
In the Knesset, Hanegbi was first elected in 1988 as part of the Likud Party, but in 2005 he broke off with other members led by Ariel Sharon to establish the more moderate Kadima party. Later Hanegbi returned to the Likud and has since spoken in favor of a two-state solution. Still, in interviews and statements Hanegbi has stressed the responsibility of the Palestinians for the lack of progress in peace negotiations.
Hanegbi’s participation at the J Street conference, a result of outreach efforts conducted by the lobby’s office in Israel, is viewed by organizers as a mark of success. It is a sign, said Jessica Rosenblum, the group’s director of media and communications, “of the growing acceptance of J Street and the growing recognition of the common purpose,” of advancing a two-state solution.
J Street’s founding in 2008 was initially met with a cold shoulder by the Israeli government. Officials refused to meet with the lobby’s activists and the Israeli embassy boycotted its events. Since, however, the group established working relations with the embassy and an Israel senior diplomat delivered a speech at last year’s conference gala dinner. Hanegbi’s participation will signal yet another step by J Street away from its lefty image and closer to the Israeli mainstream.
Another first at this year’s conference will be the participation of Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas at the event. Shas, a Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party has supported in the past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but has since shifted to the right. Currently it is not a member of the Netanyahu governing coalition.
Ringed with barbed wire and isolated from surrounding communities, the notorious internment camp held more than 700 Jews in the early days of World War II.
But this wasn’t Germany or Poland. Internment Camp B70 was located in a bucolic corner of the Canadian province of New Brunswick — and only now are locals, and former prisoners, coming to terms with its existence.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill “was worried there could be spies among the Jews, and he asked Canada and Australia to house them as internees,” according to a new report in The Toronto Star.
Canada’s immigration minister at the time, Frederick Charles Blair, also believed “an international Jewish conspiracy was trying to skirt Canadian immigration policies by sneaking the refugees into the country,” according to JTA. And anti-Semitic attitudes among Canada’s Protestant elite had hardened in the run-up to World War II.
Jews who had fled Nazi-occupied Europe for safe haven in Canada – like then-15-year-old Fred Kaufman – “found themselves stepping off a train on Aug. 12, 1940, and led on foot to an internment camp in Ripples, an isolated community” about 19 miles east of Fredericton, the capital.
“The camp was in the middle of the woods and we spent our days chopping down trees into heating-sized cords of wood,” Kaufman told the paper. “It was cold.”
The 54-acre site had been a relief camp during the Depression before it opened in 1940 as an internment camp, one of 26 in Canada. That includes the horrific Camp I in Ile-aux-Noix, Quebec, where Austrian and German Jews who had escaped Nazism by fleeing to Britain during the 1930s found themselves interred in camps with the same Nazis they had escaped, according to JTA. The tragic mixup was the result of a warning about a Canada-bound boat carrying “very dangerous” prisoners of war – but which also held Jewish refugees.
After a year, Britain realized that many of the internees could contribute to the war effort and were given the choice to return to England and join the military or obtain a sponsor and stay in Canada. Fred Kaufman chose the latter.
The camp was closed in 1941 for three weeks to prepare for prisoners of war. Over the next four years, the camp would house 1,200 captured prisoners, including German and Italian merchant marines as well as Canadians who spoke out against the war.
Now that Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post, the newspaper’s star blogger has been promoted to even greater influence as a Featured Amazon Reviewer.
Kafka, Golda and one of the New York Knicks — that’s just not a threesome you’d expect anywhere but here, in your news quiz. We’ve also thrown in some “Real Housewives” gossip and a Hasidic girl group. Time to dive in!
In the insular Jewish world there is constant buzz around the so-called shidduch (marriage) crisis, where Orthodox are single despite wanting to find a mate.
This marriage worldview manifested itself in a recent letter, published on the Jewish news site Shmais, in which an anonymous “older single girl” describes her shame and depression for being unmarried.
The stigma of singlehood is rooted in conformist values that lack individual expression. It is sacrificing the individual for the sake of family and community.
The letter is addressed to her “Married Friends.” She starts by describing herself as a nebech – a pity case. She then details the pain and frustration of being single and without children.
She mostly refers to her married friends as a reference point for the ideal life she is lacking. She never discussed why she wants to be married and have children – but only about the life she sees others living.
Marriage is sacred and beautiful. Children are the greatest blessing. But it is harmful when a society conveys the message that you must be married to be happy.
It tells people they must conform to be happy. They must have kids. They must be married. Otherwise they will be miserable. In reality, happiness comes from within, not external factors like marriage.
If you can’t be happily single, you can’t be happily married.
(JTA) — Sarajevo is a city with a rich multicultural past, but it also bears the scars of war. Take a short walk through the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and you will see the many cemeteries and bullet-riddled walls, which are undergoing restoration.
These lay side by side with magnificent churches, mosques and synagogues. For this reason, 100 Jews and Muslims from 39 countries gathered there last month to listen and learn from one another at an interfaith dialogue conference organized by the Muslim-Jewish Conference.
I was uneasy about participating. I was concerned that as an Israeli, a secular Jew, a combat soldier in the reserves and a Zionist activist, I would be surrounded by political activists whose sole purpose is to vilify Israel. From my experience, many dialogue initiatives have been hijacked by radicals, who silence any voice that is different.
On the very first day, however, my concerns were allayed. I found myself sitting and talking with young men and women from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, European Muslims, along with Jews from all over the world, each voicing their unique perspectives on conflicts, hate speech, gender relations and religious practice. Miraculously, despite the Arab-Israeli conflict, the different sides succeeded in overcoming the stereotypes, biases and ignorance we all have.
On the interpersonal level, it was a great success: a diverse group of Jews and Muslims who set aside their cynicism and mistrust, and engaged in friendly conversation for a week. Many questions were asked, some of them difficult and pointed, but there was room for answering, explaining and listening, an attempt to bridge the gaps that for many Israelis often seem unbridgeable.
It was not all rosy. Disagreements and tensions were present, and groups opposing interreligious dialogue accused the organizers of promoting certain political agendas. We may have been successful in overcoming our personal differences and finding common ground, but hatred, the foundation of violence, is still rife in many parts of the Muslim and Western worlds.
A piece by our columnist, Jordana Horn, elicited a lot of response from readers last week. She argued that Jewish day school was not essential to instilling a sense of Jewish identity in children. Instead, what we need is a kind of Jewish homeschooling, Jordana said, creating a real and vibrant Jewish family life for children to emulate.
The biggest response came from people who felt that Jordana downplayed the importance of day school, that its value could not be replaced, even by the most committed and engaged Jewish parents. Take this comment from Sheppsela:
The only thing that will save the Jewish People are the day schools. All Jewish kids should attend them regardless of the level of observance. Even if the child comes from a home where only the mother is Jewish should attend them. It is not a “bulletproof system”. Some kids will still fall through the cracks. But at the end of the day the majority will be saved through education. We really need to get behind the day schools and help them as much as possible. I am glad that this woman and her sisters married Jews but my experience working in the Jewish world is the opposite. When a person is honest with themselves they will realize that the real reason they cheat their children out of a good education is because they are stingy. They are cheap at their child’s expense. I have not gone on any vacation since we started paying tuition but it is well worth the sacrifice. In my life, few things made me prouder than when my child opened up a Sefer Tehillim and began to recite these holy words written by King David. I will never forget that sweetest of moments. I could not have felt prouder and the level of happiness was beyond compare.The reason why Jews go off the path is mainly a lack of Jewish education. The afternoon horror show known as the Hebrew school cannot substitute for a real day school education.
You could probably forgive the proprietors of Nikuv for feeling slightly giddy after the final results of Zimbabwe’s election were announced this weekend.
The Israeli company’s client, President Robert G. Mugabe, romped home with 60% of the vote and his ruling ZANU-PF party grabbed more than two-thirds of the seats in the troubled southern African nation’s parliament.
Mugabe, 89, turned back a challenge from longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party, beating the former trade union leader by about 1 million votes, according to official results.
Even better, there was none of the violence or blatant intimidation that marked past elections, like the 2008 vote that Tsvanigirai won and also led to widespread chaos and international condemnation.
So how did Nikuv, a shadowy company headquartered the Israeli town of Herzliya, play such a central role in the vote in a farflung African land?
Why did Nikuv CEO Emmanuel Antebi, and top aide Ammon Peer reportedly jet into the capital of Harare for 90 minutes of valuable face time with Mugabe on Tuesday, just hours before the polls opened?
The opposition and independent watchdogs say it’s because Nikuv was a vital cog in Mugabe’s strategy to massively rig the watershed election and maintain his grip on power.
The strategy apparently succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with Mugabe and ZANU-PF running up never before seen vote totals in some areas. In some urban constituencies, ZANU-PF increased its vote 10 and 20-fold. In rural areas, some districts recorded more votes than the adult population.
When I first saw that the faces were blurred out in a photo of two little girls in the Williamsburg Bulletin, a weekly newsletter aimed at the Satmar Hasidic community, I was not surprised. It’s not that I believe that a little girl young enough to throw a tantrum could be sexually suggestive, and therefore an alluring threat to pious male readers. It’s because the Hasidic community, and Satmar Hasidim in particular, has been on this radical trajectory for the last few decades. It’s a trajectory of intolerance and extremism without any moderation in sight — and it may lead to the social implosion of the Hasidic communities.
There is a popular Yiddish saying I grew up with, which served as the justification for new restrictions: di doyres falen, which roughly translates to: ‘the generations are in [religious] decline.’ This notion epitomizes the beliefs and practices of the Hasidim in the 21st Century. Prominent Hasidic groups in America – Satmar at the epicenter – constantly seek ways to combat this supposed decline. In order to reverse the inevitable, they engage in the Sisyphean task of raising their walls ever higher to ward off secular encroachment. They constantly add new restrictions, and tightening the loopholes that allow for this slippery slope of spiritual decline to continue.
As the world becomes more open, the Hasidim continue to raise the fences to limit that encroachment.
We cannot discuss Hasidism in America without invoking the name of the late Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum. He was the pioneering force of contemporary American Hasidism, and his influence is far-reaching to this day.
When Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum landed on the shores of the treifene medina (un-kosher country) after the utter destruction of European Jewry, America was nearly devoid of Hasidic life. The rebbe was well aware of the dire state of Orthodoxy, at least by ultra-Orthodox standards. And, in order to distract his people from the lures and dangers of American culture, he immediately set out to transplant a very simple, pre-modern way of life in this deeply profane city of New York.
Back in the Hungarian town of Szátmar (the place that gave Satmar its name), Rebbe Yoel fought zealously to maintain this lifestyle. This was not as difficult, since it was located in Máramaros County – the Hungarian province populated with ultra-Orthodox groups – and considered the backwater of Hungary, nothing like the urbane Budapest hub of modernity, let alone the polyglot of New York.
Forward editor Naomi Zeveloff talks about the groundbreaking series on transgender Jews in an interview with Sirius satellite radio. Click to listen.