Category Archives: Contemporary Life

Disorder in the Court

Last week was not a particularly good one for jurisprudence, integrity, marriage, morality, common sense and even the United States’ viability as a nation. Two court cases undermined traditional notions of morality and marriage, respectively, and enshrined in law – or at least purported to – draconian limitations on the pursuit of self-help as well as a dramatic redefinition of marriage that will hasten the decline of the American family if not the American polity itself.

First, a New Jersey jury found JONAH liable for consumer fraud. JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) is a referral agency that helps people struggling with unwanted same sex attraction. It was sued by a number of patients – all instigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ranging far afield from its stated mission – who were unsuccessfully treated and could not overcome their same sex tendencies. The victims claimed that they were guaranteed recovery if they did the hard work necessary and protested some of the unconventional methods used by some of the therapists. They sued for recovery of the fees they paid – as well as substantial damages that now threatens the very existence of the organization. And they won.

The fix was in even before the trial started. There is no conceivable way JONAH could have prevailed.  The trial judge ruled that the court would not allow any evidence that homosexuality can result from a mental disorder or youthful trauma – that such science had been settled and was no longer under discussion. Of course, the case effectively ended there because if homosexuality is not the result of any disorder, then why would anyone treat it? Why would anyone try to cure what does not need to be cured or attempt to abandon what the court ruled is a normal, healthy expression of sexuality? Why, indeed.

The dark secret is that many mental health professionals continue to maintain that homosexuality can result from some disorder but they are petrified to say it publicly or to put it in writing. Once the psychiatric establishment amended the DSM over forty years ago to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder – a decision based not on science but on politics and pressure – the expression of any dissenting views has been chilled. There is real fear of ostracism and employment termination, and so professionals play along. But once the court here ruled that it would not even entertain any evidence that homosexuals need or can benefit from therapy, even if the patient wants it, there was no way JONAH could prevail. Psychologists do not treat people to change their eye color or their right-handedness, so of course, under these parameters, the jury found JONAH liable for consumer fraud.

The jury was left with no real choice, notwithstanding the hundreds of people who have been helped by JONAH and were able to marry (or remain married) and parent children and notwithstanding JONAH’s own assertions that its “success” rate is consistent with that of successful therapy from other afflictions or addictions, a rate of perhaps 15-20%. It is not as if the desires disappear and the person is completely reoriented; rather, patients were urged to face the reality of their condition and sometimes in harsh ways, and then received behavioral tools to sublimate the desires and lead a heterosexual life. It won’t work for everyone – JONAH never made such a claim – but it has worked for many. So who are you going to believe –the jury, “science,” or these lying eyes?

Only a layman can fairly ask: how is it possible for a man to change into a woman – and be honored, feted and praised as courageous for doing so – but a homosexual cannot change into a heterosexual? Indeed, the possibility itself must be suppressed and denied, and all who participate shunned by civil society. Here is one answer: it is because the manipulators of morality and the debauched social engineers have decided that homosexuals are a protected class and homosexuality the equivalent of a religion, that it is normal and that the rest of society must accept it as normal, and change therapy challenges all those notions and must be repudiated. Sex changes also must be protected because they also challenge conventional society. Everyone else must kowtow to them and live on the defensive, afraid to speak the truth we all recognize. Thus, there is a bill pending before Congress that would ban even talk therapy for unwanted same sex attraction. Can anyone name another condition for which therapy is banned even for someone desperate for it?

It is a strange world we live in.

Like the American Psychiatric Association’s waffling on this issue, the court’s ruling, which informed the jury that homosexuality both should not and could not be treated, was politics and populism, not law, unsuited to a courtroom and unfair to the defendants. It is also unfair to religious Jews: the only options recognized by halacha for the homosexual are therapy (if possible) or celibacy. The verdict is therefore an outrageous assault on individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

The ruling should also terrify mental health professionals who now are subject to lawsuits if therapy fails, and especially if the malady being treated can be deemed by some to be normal, healthy and worthy of celebration. (Maybe the alcoholic is just an unusually thirsty fellow…so why treat alcoholism?)  No one maintains that homosexuality must be treated – but to deny the right of someone with homosexual tendencies to seek treatment is bizarre, unjust and dictatorial. Such is the power of the homosexual lobby to intimidate, threaten and harass anyone who disagrees with its agenda.

Thus, it was quite predictable that the Supreme Court would find in the US Constitution a “right” to same sex marriage and even more predictable that Justice Kennedy would provide the deciding vote and write the majority decision. It was classic Supreme Court jurisprudence, in the worst sense – placing an arrow on the target and then drawing a circle around it. Bull’s eye! The scathing dissents are all worthy of reading because they underscore the sorry state of the American judiciary and the utter absence of any semblance of constitutionality, democracy and legal coherence. It is telling that none of the other four justices in the majority wrote a concurrence; can one add gossamer to already thin air?

Obviously, the Constitution makes no reference to marriage (a purely state issue) and so it can contain no “right” to same sex marriage. It is all made up, and for the crass purpose of social engineering. Kennedy gamely wrote that the legitimate, natural expression of love is limited to two people. Why that is so is a mystery; and even a first week law student could explain that such a sentiment is dicta and not binding on anyone. The fact is that there is no logical reason Kennedy or any supporter of this decision can offer as to why polygamy, polyandry or polyamory should not also be constitutionally protected for those who wish to practice it, nor incest for consenting adults. There is a father and daughter in Kentucky, for example, currently incarcerated, as they – both consenting adults – have sired several offspring together. ACLU, where are you? Why can’t they express their love for each other as well, or must they too be victimized by such obsolete Biblical inhibitions?

Even further afield, those who object that bestiality should remain illegal because it does not involve two consenting adults seem to miss the point that one can slaughter an animal without the animal’s consent. Surely if slaughter is permissible, a romantic evening together –steak dinner by candlelight followed perhaps by some dancing – should not be the subject of state action.

That is a joke (I think) – and of course this is not meant to equate all sexual sins – but what is no joking matter is the threat to religious liberty posed by this decision. All of Kennedy’s protestations notwithstanding, people of faith – people who believe in G-d’s Bible and its objective moral laws and attempt to incorporate those laws in their daily lives – will suffer as a result of this decision. Wait – it won’t be that long – for a same sex couple to demand their right to hold their wedding in a church or synagogue. A refusal will result in prosecution, lawsuits and/or loss of tax exempt status. Wait – perhaps a little longer – for a rabbi, priest or minister to be sued for refusing to officiate at a same sex wedding. The homosexual lobby masterfully (and disingenuously) conflated same sex marriage with interracial marriage; consequently, religious institutions or individuals that continue to object to same sex marriage will be no better than racists. Recall that Bob Jones University lost its tax exempt status in 1983 because its policies banned interracial dating (it rescinded the policy in 2000). Get ready, people of faith. Our heads are now on the chopping block.

That is the invariable next step now that individuals have already lost their religious liberties and rights of conscience. The Mozilla CEO was hounded out of his position because he contributed to a ballot initiative in California that – successfully but now futilely – opposed same sex marriage. Bakers, caterers, photographers, and florists have all refused to lend their personal services to same sex weddings on grounds of religious conscience, have all been sued, and have all lost. A New Jersey church refused to allow its beach front property to be used for a same sex wedding, was sued and lost. A couple in northern New York was sued and fined $13,000 for refusing to rent their farm for a same sex wedding. To top it off – right out of the playbook of North Korea and Communist China – that couple was ordered by the court to undergo sensitivity training in order to regain the good graces of civilized society. The Communists always called those facilities “re-indoctrination camps.” Such is the new America, land of the unfree and home of the depraved.

And here’s the secular danger to the decision: it will result in the collapse of the family, already under siege in this hedonistic society. American youth, already bedeviled by gender confusion and late to marry, if at all, will grow up in a society in which there is no preferred family structure – no vision of an ideal family unit that has the best chance of rearing healthy, well-grounded, and productive children. The radical homosexual activists would have us believe that it does not matter whether one is raised by a mother and father, two mothers, two fathers, one mother, one father, or any other permutation thereof. But, of course, it does, and G-d – and common sense – teaches us otherwise.

Do not believe any study that claims that it doesn’t matter; all purported studies will be politicized, fabricated and dishonest. Indeed, this process has been fraught with such studies. One much ballyhooed study was recently exposed as a fraud. The WSJ two weeks ago reported the following: A UCLA graduate student, one Michael LaCour, released a study last year entitled “When Contact Changes Minds,” which claimed that people’s opinions on same sex marriage dramatically shifted when they were visited by homosexual activists. Opponents were converted into supporters after one twenty minute conversation. Only the report was a fake! Others tried to duplicate his results and could not, and now the former student (Princeton revoked its offer to him of a professorship) is claiming that he discarded his raw data. Sure…and that is what passes for “science” today.

The homosexual activists are not seeking equal rights but wish to upend the social order. They don’t want to live and let live, or conscientious objectors would not be pilloried or harassed out of business. (See Jonathan Last’s “You Will Be Assimilated” in the Weekly Standard of June 22, 2015.) It would not be surprising if teaching parts of the Bible will soon be construed as hate speech, if those parts are not altogether excised from the Bible.

This agenda is fueled by a classic tactic of the left in America that has gained traction in last decade: the depiction of any dissenting opinion as “bigotry” and any dissenter as a “bigot” whose views are unworthy of discussion. This is never meant sincerely or earnestly but as a trick intended to stifle debate, as if the public square needs to be sanitized of the arguments of their adversaries. (Read the new “End of Discussion,” by Mary Katherine Ham and Guy Benson.) And this stratagem works! That is why expect it to be used against anyone who rejects the Supreme Court decision and continues to oppose same sex marriage; it is why there has been such relative silence from rabbis and others, with the focus not on the immorality of the decision and its consequences but on the reasonable need to safeguard religious liberties in the wake of such a decision. Good and decent people are afraid of being called bigots.

Of course, there are no greater anti-religious bigots today than the homosexual activists. (Can two play the same game? Probably not!)

There are compelling secular arguments that have been made in the failed attempt to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. (See “What is Marriage” by Girgis, George and Anderson, in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 34.) Marriage is not primarily an emotional union of two people but a bodily union (with an emotional component) that can produce children. An emotional union only is really just a glorified friendship that renders marriage inherently unstable, as friendships come and go. This is already a problem in traditional marriages, as is the tendency to veer away from committed monogamy, but this situation will now be exacerbated. Marriage shapes and is shaped by the cultural cues that are extant; transforming the institution will transform it even for heterosexuals. And, as noted above, traditional marriage also reinforces the ideal of opposite-sex parenting, while same sex marriage threatens the religious freedoms that Americans have long cherished and that have made America unique in the annals of mankind.

The bitterness, acrimony and censorship that the homosexual activists have inserted into this discussion – and with which they prevailed – have already made us more fearful and less free. And if you doubt that, just ask the businesspeople pestered by the new McCarthyites and ask the well meaning people at JONAH as well.

But the moral dimension transcends all. Russell Kirk wrote: “True law necessarily is rooted in ethical assumptions or norms; and those ethical principles are derived, in the beginning at least, from religious

convictions. When the religious understanding, from which a concept of law arose in a culture, has been discarded or denied, the laws may endure for some time, through what sociologists call “cultural lag”; but in the long run, the laws also will be discarded or denied.”    This is precisely what has happened to American society.

It is thus the rampant secularism that has been an affliction since the 1960’s that now defines American society. It accompanies the mindless pursuit of hedonism that in part is also responsible for America’s retreat from global leadership. Relatively few Americans are interested in the critical issues of the age, and of those who are interested many of them are not particularly helpful. All this greases the slippery slope down which the United States is sliding. There is hope for a renaissance, but it is faint and dimming.

The Talmud (Masechet Chulin 92b) states that even the antediluvian degenerates who practiced homosexuality did not go so far as to “write marriage contracts between men.” The familial system set up by G-d establishes opposite sex parents as the natural and most effective people to raise children. Such an arrangement is best for human beings, for children, and the most stable for society. It is normal and proper. But we have long moved past slouching towards Gomorrah and have already lurched past Sodom.

Even worse, there are nominally Orthodox rabbis (even serving nominally Orthodox synagogues, although both designations will have to be revisited in the near future) who celebrated the Court’s decision, one gushing that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Breisheet 2:18; he was likely unaware that G-d then presented the first man with the first woman as a spouse and not with the second man. Sometimes, you just have to read on!). Another opined that Facebook has paskened that homosexuality is now permissible and it doesn’t matter what the rabbis say. Well, actually, it doesn’t matter what he says; but the breathtaking shallowness and intellectual vacuity of some people aspiring to the rabbinate is shameful and alarming. Is ordination of such empty vessels worth anything? Not that I can see.

Personally, I am saddened by anyone who is suffering from these problems, and all the court decisions, parades, weddings and hijinks change nothing. It is important to reiterate that no person should be persecuted, assaulted, bullied, etc. for any reason, and certainly not because of predilections of one sort or another  – nor should people of faith be bullied, assaulted or persecuted for their adherence and commitment to G-d’s immutable law. And we should distinguish – as the Torah does – between sins of the flesh (which reflect human weakness) and sins of the mind, ideological sins that come from a rebellious soul. The latter are far worse. Indeed, it is far worse to deny that the Torah forbids homosexuality than it is to engage in homosexual activity, especially if the latter is performed out of compulsion. We should not deny the sin, nor should we ever celebrate the sin. We should see them as part of the class of sinners, which, unfortunately, to one extent or another, includes all of us.

But civilization will pay a heavy price for this aberrant decision, as other departed civilizations already have.  Those who think that the homosexual activists will rest now that they have won the right to marriage are gravely mistaken. They will continue to press their agenda until all people are forced to consider homosexuality a moral and legitimate expression of human longings, and until all notions of objective, Biblically-based morality are a dead letter. And those who supported the homosexual agenda thinking that it was all about love and freedom and live-and-let-live will soon realize that they have been the greatest victims of consumer fraud.

May G-d have mercy!

“Cure” for Racism?

In the wake of the horrific massacre of nine people – studying the Bible, no less – in the black church in Charleston, President Obama lamented that America is “not cured” yet of racism. He is right.
Indeed, there are many other maladies of which America and the world itself are not yet “cured.” We are not cured of Jew hatred, or bias against Christians or people of faith. We are not cured of homicide and theft, of robbery, burglary and assault. We are not cured of evil, hatred, slander or gossip. We are not cured of malice and impropriety, of adultery and immorality. We are not cured of foolish talk and self-destructive behavior. We are not cured of mental illness. All those maladies still exist but the good thing is, like racism, they exist in very small groups and sometimes just in demented or decadent individuals.
We are also not yet cured of demagogues who cannot lead or inspire but can incite – and proffer abundant platitudes disguised as wisdom. Is a cure possible for any of this? Of course not.
The answer is so simple that one wonders why such risible statements are uttered in the first place. The great conservative thinker Russell Kirk once wrote: “the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect.” Of course America is not yet “cured” of racism; no country in the world, no civilization that has ever existed has been “cured” of any evil doctrine, deed or temptation. That is the essence of the human dilemma. Why the President should think otherwise is a mystery, unless he believes that – since he can slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet – he can also eliminate bad thoughts and evil behavior from the human race.
Only perfect people can create a perfect society, and since there are no perfect people, it stands to reason that there is no perfect society. To the liberal mind, that is unconscionable and unacceptable, and must be a source of great vexation. It is also responsible for a lack of perspective, an absence of deliberation and a foolish rush to judgment about American society.
Is America a racist society? Certainly not, although there are obviously a small number of people who hate blacks or Jews or Christians or whites or anyone else. The proof of the contrary is in the response of all Americans to these brutal homicides: universal condemnation of the murderer. I even heard rumors that he was denounced as an extremist by the skinheads and other white supremacist groups –and that is saying something. Everyone I have heard considers the murderer to be a monster, obviously deranged but not clinically so or he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. But he can’t be normal. No normal person could think like him and certainly not act like him. The sooner he is executed, the quicker our society can be cleansed.
And the reaction of the church members was uplifting in its grace and nobility. Those who hastened to forgive were acting in accordance with Christian doctrine, but I hope that he is not forgiven enough that he escapes a speedy execution (or at least execution; nothing in the American judicial system is speedy).
The widespread denunciation of his heinous acts speaks well of American society but unsurprisingly so. Sure, slavery was the great evil of America’s founding, but the American people are also the only people in world history to fight a bloody civil war – still the bloodiest war in American history – in order to free slaves. That was unprecedented and unduplicated, and reports of the virtues of such a nation filtered to Eastern Europe in the last third of the 19th century and sparked the great immigration to the United States, especially of Jews. This is what they heard: brother fought against brother in a war whose primary cause and consequence was the abolition of slavery. Let that sink in. G-d liberated us from Egypt; the Egyptians didn’t fight each other so Jewish slaves could go free.
As a result, people flocked – and still do – to a country that guaranteed freedom and liberty, that attempted to share its values with the world, and that constantly wrestles with the morality of its actions. How many other countries are like that –that Obama should bemoan that America is not perfect?
There is something both odious and unctuous about the President’s remarks, as if his disappointment that America is not Utopia changes anything about human nature or solves any problem. Of course America is not Utopia. Only Utopia is Utopia, and Utopia doesn’t exist in reality.
What is truly remarkable is absence of racism in American society, notwithstanding the reprehensible homicides of a lone gunman and haters that exist here and there. It is a particularly hollow claim in a country in which wealthiest entertainers and athletes are black, and where the most powerful politicians are black – including a president elected twice by a nation who, in his words, has racism in its DNA. And this from a man who spent 20 years in the pews of a church in which he regularly heard sermons from a racist black preacher. Is there a racist politician today who can get elected to any office, even on a municipal level? But as Shelby Steele wrote, asserting the claim of ongoing racism furnishes an ongoing “entitlement to power.”
Are there people who don’t like one ethnic group or another? Yes. There is not a country on earth that contains perfect people who love and appreciate everyone. That is not to say that hatred is built into the DNA of mankind – everyone has free choice to be loving and tolerant or spiteful and narrow-minded – but Obama might as well decry the continued existence of tornadoes and hurricanes in a nation that could put a man on the moon. He might as well lament the persistence of poverty in an affluent nation (wait; he does, hence his drive for redistribution of wealth).
It is a shame, but an unsurprising one, that Obama chose a moment in which he could have united Americans in shared grief and politicized it with complaints first about gun control (as if there are no laws already in place outlawing the murderer’s possession and use of that firearm; actually, had some of the churchgoers packed some legal heat that night – as is common in shuls in Israel – the event might have had a different ending) and then about racism (as if what happened reflected a societal flaw rather than the work of one evil loser). Obama’s error was underscored in last week’s sedra, the query of Moshe and Aharon to G-d: “Shall one man sin, and You will be angry at the entire congregation?” (Bamidbar 16:22)
The anguished search for and failure to find Utopia engenders an interesting conclusion noted here in the past and verified by a host of social scientists. Conservatives tend to be happier people than liberals. Because liberals expect perfection, they are irritated by the foibles of human nature. Nothing is ever good enough and the liberal is therefore pained by the deficiencies of mankind, but always pained, as mankind is always deficient in something. Conservatives are more realistic, more willing view the present as satisfactory, if not even satisfying, and less likely to live in a constant state of discontent.
That and more explain the tendencies and clumsy rhetoric of the man who currently occupies the Oval Office. But even his missteps should not distract us from the epic sadness in Charleston, and the crime that touched every person of faith. The refinement of the survivors and the victims’ families, and the support shown from every quarter of this country, shows the elementary decency of Americans of all backgrounds and all walks of life.
Even the disgruntled musings of the President in perpetual political mode cannot nullify that essential truth.

Paralyzing Paradigms

Some things seem to be done only because they have always been done, notwithstanding that they are wrong, harmful, embarrassing, senseless, immoral or obsolete. Patterns become established, paradigms become fixed and real thinking – or re-thinking – ceases. There are few more inane defenses of a particular action than to assert “this has been our longstanding policy,” and yet, in many circles, on a variety of issues, that passes for a reasonable explanation and an end to a discussion of the matter. A few examples will suffice.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the decade-old Congressional law mandating that American citizens born in Jerusalem can be recorded as having been born in Israel. As predicted here six months ago, the three Jewish justices (and two others) upheld the traditional US policy of not “prejudging” the outcome of negotiations by officially recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Obviously, as noted, it didn’t have to be. Recording country of birth in a passport does not articulate diplomatic policy as much as it states a geographical reality. The Court could have easily concluded that this notation is procedural, not substantive, and reflects a reality that is acknowledged across the world in other disputed territories (see the dissent of the estimable Justice Antonin Scalia). But if the feckless Jews on the Court do not wish to recognize the historical and geographical reality of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, why should the six Catholics?

The broader point is the soundness of the “policy.” As mentioned in the Court’s opinion and by Obama administration spokesmen, the longstanding “policy” of the American government has been not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but to leave the matter of its status to the negotiations between the parties. This policy has existed since Israel’s founding, and has been embraced by Presidents friendly to Israel and unfriendly to Israel. But does this “policy” make any sense? Of course not.

It strikes me that the policy has its strongest advocates in the pro-Arab, striped pants contingent at the State Department, and even friendly presidents saw no reason to change the policy and risk antagonizing the bureaucrats at State, especially since successive Israeli governments, to their discredit, have never pushed for its modification. It behooves Americans – and especially American Jews – to recognize that the denial of recognition applies to all of Jerusalem, from 1948 on, and has nothing to do with the Six Day War and the Old City. But Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it is obviously in Israel, a verity denied acknowledgment for my little grandson who, as far as the United States is concerned, was born in a city without a country.

Forget, for a moment, reality (as politicians often do), and examine the “policy” on its face. Jerusalem is not recognized as capital of Israel because, officially, “it is a matter subject to negotiations between the parties and the US does not wish to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations” (for almost 70 years). But didn’t Obama call for a two-state “solution”? Hasn’t Obama insisted on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders? Didn’t Obama demand that part of Jerusalem be made the capital of the “Palestinian” state? Aren’t those all matters “subject to negotiations between the parties” for which the US also should not wish to prejudge the outcome? Why is the matter of Jerusalem singled out for special diplomatic treatment? Clearly, consistency is not a requisite of American foreign policy.

And shouldn’t we expect more from President Obama? After all, Obama unctuously – and bizarrely –asserted recently that he is “the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat” in the White House. Shouldn’t this almost-Jew recognize the intrinsic connection between his own Jewish people and the City of Jerusalem? Or is this another example of Yiddishe Mazal: who would have thought that the “first Jewish president” – as per New York Magazine – would turn out to be a self-hating Jew?

The “policy” makes no sense, and maintaining the “policy” makes even less sense. The stated fear – prompting turmoil and unrest in the Arab world – is risible, especially given that the Arab world only knows turmoil and unrest. If Israel does not begin a campaign – no quid pro quo, just elementary integrity – to have the US recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then shame on Israel. And Obama can do it with one stroke of his fabled pen. Perhaps that will boost his popularity among American Jews above the 41% level to which it has fallen.

Take another failed paradigm. The other day I was listening to a former Palestinian Arab activist, turned pro-Israel, who stated that peace is impossible now given the culture of violence in the Arab world. One non-Orthodox rabbi asked: “for those of us who still believe in the two-state solution, to whom should we talk?” The answer was: no one. There is no one to talk to. Her disappointment was palpable. A generation of Jews – maybe two – has invested so much into encouraging or cajoling a surrender of Judea and Samaria and the creation of another Palestinian state that those advocates are simply lost and bereft without that vision, lacking any means of moving forward. They are trapped in the old reality, paralyzed into thinking that the world that is long gone is still there or will soon return. The wise person sees the nolad – what is foreseeable, what trends are probable – and adjusts accordingly.

On another topic but still with another paralyzing paradigm, America’s culture wars heated up with the curious case of Rachel Dolezal, deposed president of the Spokane NAACP, who was exposed this week as a racial fraud – a white girl who claimed to be black and identified as black, to the chagrin of her parents. Granted, we have to allow for some mental illness and moderate our tone, but she did assert the victimhood of a black identity and was rewarded with some of the spoils generally assigned in the American political system to blacks with grievances.

That is troubling, because those spoils are designated for real blacks and not wannabes. But can a person claim a new racial identity? Can a white claim to be a black or vice versa? Indeed , if a man can claim that he is really a woman trapped in a man’s body, why can’t a white person claim that he is a black trapped in a white body? And in both cases, utilize the basic medical procedures to coordinate the exterior with the interior? Shouldn’t a world that celebrates gender fluidity also celebrate racial fluidity? Why can’t a Scandinavian claim that he feels very, very Chinese?

The great Shelby Steele (in his new book, “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country”) insightfully refers to these excursions as “poetic truth,” which ignores or even rejects actual truth in order to assert “a larger essential truth that supports one’s ideological position.” One of the afflictions of American society is the license taken by anyone to create “poetic truths” that are thrust upon others and enforced through the moral intimidation known as political correctness.

The original sin – the paradigm that paralyzes progress and precludes rational discussion – is the segregation of American society today into disparate groups. “Identity politics” has little room or interest in an individual, and one’s worth and standing are only determined by identification with a particular group. Of course, there are favored and disfavored groups, but where the group is the ticket to rights and privileges, the individual becomes devalued. It partly explains the Dolezal phenomenon, but also why Americans have become so polarized and acrimonious. You are your group, and all others will relate to you as they would relate to your group. That degradation of the individual can only be reversed when “identity politics” is ended, and that will not be in this election cycle, if ever.

Finally, the rampant promiscuity on college campuses has created expectations of amorous activity in both men and women that has necessitated the creation of speech and conduct codes, with rigid rules that purport to define acceptance or rejection of one’s lustful advances. To be sure, feminism – among its other grand achievements – has succeeded in making some women as lecherous as many men. A new “yes means yes” campaign has begun, which undercuts the traditional role of seduction, not to mention marriage.

But the problem is not excessive concupiscence among young people. That has existed since Adam and Eve. The problem is the expectations of promiscuity, the casualness of coupling, the nonchalance of the hookup culture that is bound to leave some party, subsequently scorned the day after, irritated and despondent even when yes meant yes, and certainly when intentions are left ambiguous.

How about changing the expectations? Hey, here’s a crazy idea: how about saving sexual activity for marriage? Really, has anyone ever thought of that?? That way there will be no need for oral agreements, written contracts, or legal stipulations in the presence of two witnesses. There will be no misunderstandings or lawsuits. It will also help young people learn a little about self-control, also a good virtue to cultivate in life.

It will happen eventually – some time before Rachel Dolezal decides she is Asian but after Jerusalem is recognized by the United States as the capital of Israel.

Liberal Policing

Unmentioned, as far as I know, in all the discussion about the escape of two convicted murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility (the name itself could be the title of a future article on politics!) is this simple fact: had the murderers been executed, as murderers should be, they would not be currently on the lam, people in the vicinity of the escape would not be hiding behind closed doors with all local schools closed, and we would not be talking about them. Much of the opposition to the death penalty ignores its basic justice and focuses on the dangers of executing the innocent (whom, of course, no one wants to execute, just like no one wants to imprison the innocent); but it fails to consider the danger to society posed by keeping the convicted violent alive, either on their fellow inmates, prison guards, or – as now – innocent civilians who might be caught in the crossfire.

That is simply a sidebar to the return to the 1970’s that American society is now undergoing – the increase in crime, the urban discontent, the persistent sniping at the police and authority and the lingering notion that much of urban America is a failed society that cannot be redeemed. Politicians – especially liberals – are looking assiduously for answers in all the wrong places. Cities with the most restrictive gun control laws are – not ironically but predictably – the most violent places in the country. Those laws keep guns out of the hands of the law-abiding, not the violent and depraved. The evisceration of the “stop and frisk” policy of the NYPD has led to an increase in shootings and homicides, and mostly in depressed communities. Who would’ve thought that?? Criminals who no longer fear being stopped, frisked and arrested are now carrying firearms more frequently, and they are not being stopped and frisked. Those results were, unfortunately, almost impossible to foresee (by those wearing blinders). It just seemed to them more likely that a decrease in “stop and frisk” would have engendered a more grateful community, whose criminal elements would now desist from illegal weapons possession out of respect for the respect shown them.

Do people with ideas like that really exist? Yes. And not only do they exist but also they largely govern America’s cities. The consequences are obvious.

More importantly, police shootings of civilians have decreased dramatically over the last 10, 20, 30 and 40 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the hullabaloo across the country. Police conduct – from Ferguson to New York, from Baltimore to Texas – is ab initio judged unfavorably. The police are suspects in any confrontation with minorities and presumed to be guilty even if after due process has found no cause for prosecution. Since the Baltimore riots, violent crime has escalated in Baltimore and there has been a spike in homicides and other crimes in the depressed neighborhoods. The same has occurred in other cities in which the police have found themselves under siege.

It is as if the police have absented themselves and said: “You don’t want us? You only find fault with us? You blame us for any confrontation? So, live without us. See how much you enjoy that.” A black man died in police custody, and Baltimore erupted in violence, arson and mayhem.  Politicians and racial hucksters of all types descended on Baltimore to make their statements and castigate the police. The next weekend, nine blacks were shot to death in Baltimore, presumably by other blacks. No politicians, no hucksters, no statements – and no riots. Go figure.

In my work as an attorney, I met the occasional police officer who bent the rules (usually, to facilitate the prosecution of someone who otherwise could not be charged) and some who were arrogant and condescending. Then as now, the overwhelming majority are not like that but are attempting to do an impossible job – protecting the innocent from an underclass that is essentially fatherless, uneducated or just undereducated, with little prospects for income-producing jobs that can support families if indeed they desired to support their families.

It doesn’t have to be like that nor does it help to blame everyone else for one’s own problems – the standard approach today. Intact families usually produce decent, law-abiding children. Even in fatherless families, strong mothers have been able to control and guide their offspring into becoming productive citizens. I knew teenage delinquents who were hesitant to be released from custody on bail or on their own recognizance because they feared the repercussions from their mothers who awaited them in the courtroom. On several occasions, I personally witnessed mothers smack their sons upon their release to the extent that court officers had to intervene, so disappointed and disgusted were the mothers with their sons’ misconduct. I trust that still exists.

But blaming the police has been added to blaming the society, the white establishment, slavery, etc. for all the ailments of the black community. Such is misguided, self-serving and plain wrong. Whatever one says about the tragic encounters between police and black men who have died in the recent past (and it seems clear in hindsight that some of the situations should have been resolved without fatalities) it should be noted that the police were not engaging choirboys and choirgirls, nuns and saints. Almost everyone was involved in some past or present unlawful conduct, not conduct that merited death but conduct that was criminal – petty theft, trespassing, outstanding warrants, failure to pay child support, resisting arrest, etc. I can’t say that no police officer ever randomly selects an innocent individual for excessively harsh treatment (I represented any number of people charged with resisting arrest – but no underlying crime!) but it is and was extremely rare.

It should be possible to acknowledge that some of the victims here died unnecessarily and also concede that they were up to no good, and that no good attracted the attention of the police. And then their real problems began. But would you rather have the police not intervene, looking away so as not to confront wrongdoers? Well, that is Baltimore in the weeks after the riots, and that is New York City where crime is up and arrests are down for much the same reason. It’s a terrible choice for each police officer: ignore crime-ridden neighborhoods and leave the innocent to their fate (and come home alive every night) or try to arrest the bad guys and be automatically accused of bias, and then watch the arrest and the force used to execute that arrest on YouTube painting you in the eyes of the world as just another yahoo cracker. Why bother?

And here’s the police dilemma, and why I tend to support the police despite occasional missteps that stem not from prejudice or overzealousness as much as from the need to make split-second decisions under great stress. Much was made – and not unfairly – of the black man shot in the back by a police officer (since fired and charged with murder) in South Carolina. Even if the deceased ran two blocks to escape arrest on an outstanding warrant, he need not have died and being shot in the back is never easy to defend.

In New York City not long ago, a young police officer thought he saw a gun in the waistband of a young black man who was walking away from him. The officer ordered the man to stop, pulled his gun but did not shoot that man in the back. The man instead turned, and fired his weapon into the head of Police Officer Brian Moore. The officer, highly acclaimed during his five years on the NYPD, was 25 years old at the time of his death.

Moore did not shoot – and he was murdered.

In such an environment, it makes one wonder why anyone would want to be a police officer and risk one’s life to protect people in the inner cities, some of whom seem less than appreciative of the role of the police officer. Worse, if Moore had shot his killer first – before he himself was shot – he would have been pilloried by the liberal media as another reckless, hateful white cop gunning down blacks. The difference between the two outcomes – and between life and death – was a split second. Was Officer Moore hesitant in responding because of the negative publicity of the other incidents, because of the open season on police officers across the country, because of the fear of being presumed a racist murderer if he had fired first? We will never know.

It shouldn’t be like that. The irony is that police shootings of civilians are a tiny fraction today of what they were even forty years ago. A further irony is that blacks are worse off today by every indicator than they were before the Obama presidency which they supported almost unanimously and which was supposed to bring them salvation from all their ills. Nothing will change until the black family is reinvigorated and stabilized, and the black community begins to accept responsibility for its own failings. Nothing will change until there is an outcry in the black community against the dysfunction in their homes and the criminals in their midst, and a return to values.

Indeed, nothing will change as long as the outrage against the one white cop who kills a black youth dramatically exceeds the outrage against the hundred black youth who kill each other and some innocent bystanders as well. Ultimately, the fault lies with the evildoers – not with the people who try to prevent the evil or have to pick up the pieces afterward.

So where are the leaders – black or white, politicians or preachers – who will say that?

No Offense

The usually insightful Peggy Noonan (WSJ) broached an issue several weeks ago that brought back memories of my college years. It related to an article published by four aggrieved students in the Spectator, Columbia’s student newspaper, about their sensitivities and concerns that, they claim, are being trampled by some faculty members and elements of the curriculum. What happened?

In the mandatory Humanities Literature course, some of the selections are provocative even if they are not meant to be. The most offensive passage, the writers found, was in Ovid’s Metamorphoses which contained “triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.” To wit: passages that vividly depict sexual assault in a way that engendered (“triggered” is the phrase de jure) unpleasant reactions in a student who had unfortunately been the victim of such an assault. To add insult to injury, the teacher insensitively focused on “the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery” and did not take care to tiptoe around the feelings of this or any other student. The student “did not feel safe” and “disengaged from classroom discussion as a means of self-preservation.”

Poor child.

We should cut her some slack given her troubling experiences but sometimes one simply has to remain silent and even endure some discomfort. For where does it end? Should every student be pre-screened for disquieting images or incidents in the past that might prove vexatious or irksome when raised in an educational setting?

Perhaps Jews should be exempt from reading the “Merchant of Venice,” pacifists from reading the “Red Badge of Courage,” blacks from “Huckleberry Finn” and vegans from “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Moby Dick.” Or perhaps we should stop reading altogether because the only books that don’t challenge our minds are those that bore us to tears.

Well, the world has certainly changed. When I was a student at Columbia (mercifully, we didn’t read Ovid, who is only being spared prosecution and incarceration because of his untimely demise 1998 years ago), I also had to take Hum Lit and, as I now recall it (having been triggered), the trauma is just being felt. At one time, I too was vexed and irked, and didn’t even realize I was traumatized until now. Maybe that explains everything.

Our Hum Lit class studied the Bible as part of the curriculum, and the professor made it absolutely clear that the Bible was just another work of literature, the product of human hands r”l, and would be studied accordingly. Fresh from Yeshiva, I protested loudly, and rather than use the assigned New Oxford Bible translation, which I soon realized was flawed and inaccurate in several places, I daily brought in my “Mikraot Gedolot.” Every incorrect translation I corrected, every “contradictory” passage I explained as the Sages did, and every question he had on the text I swatted away. He got more miserable by the day, often cutting me off and not letting me speak.

And then one day he asked me to see him after class, and I did. My professor – interestingly enough – had attended yeshiva in his youth and so was familiar enough with the Hebrew original to know that I was right but had lapsed years earlier in his observance and Jewish commitment. He did not appreciate my theologizing the Bible, as I did not appreciate his secularizing it.

At our meeting, he shared his concerns. He didn’t mind the discussions as much as he did my assumption that the Bible was the Word of G-d and had to be analyzed with respect, humility and sensitivity. That assumption had no place or even standing in a secular university, and then he popped the question: “Why are you here? You belong in yeshiva!”

At the time, I was too young and innocent to realize the great offense that I should have taken and the trauma inflicted upon me. Imagine – a professor telling a student that his views are so unwelcome he should leave and find another place to study! Today, a professor who suggested that would be tarred and feathered, ridiculed and scorned, lambasted and fired after he took the required sensitivity training courses so that he should be able to re-enter society and not be forever banished to the wilderness.

We weren’t so fragile then, apparently, and so I simply responded that he is right – I do belong in Yeshiva – but, nonetheless, if I have some expertise in one of the books in the curriculum, and in its original language, I should be allowed to share it, and especially since the class seemed very interested in what I had to say (or at least – it was the 1970s – enjoyed seeing any professor successfully refuted by a student). I actually appreciated the dialogue, his sentiments, our exchanges and the rest of the semester. He even directed me – and only me – to answer a finals essay comparing something from the Bible to another work of literature (the rest of the class had a choice of essays) and I simply refused, noting on my exam that on religious principle I do not compare G-d’s word to that of human beings.

The writers herein went on protest the use of various tracts in the “Western” canon, “narratives of exclusion and oppression [that] can be difficult to read as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.” (There goes “The Great Gatsby.”) They also protested a classmate who urged the teacher not to assign Toni Morrison books because they had been studied already in high school; such a request was “insensitive.” And they found that, too often, the great works of literature traumatized some students and silenced others.

Memo to writers: get over yourselves and grow up. Part of maturity is learning how to deal with all types of people from all types of backgrounds, even with people who are so clueless and insensitive that they would try to impose blasphemous views on a naïve teenager fresh from years of learning Torah. The writers – and their sympathizers, which might constitute a majority of young people today – seem to feel that they have a constitutional right not to be offended, and that if they ever are offended, the fault lies with the offenders who must be officially silenced, sometimes (if they are fellow students) expelled, sometimes (if they are professors) dismissed, and always dispatched for sensitivity training that is right out of Mao’s Little Red Book.

Imagine, just imagine, if rather than rebuked and put in their place, a professor had said to them: “Why are you here? You belong in another school. Here we study the classics, here we challenge minds, here we confront our premises, here we learn to hold our emotions in check and engage our minds.” Yeah, right.

Naturally, the University has already caved. The curricula will be adjusted, the faculty is on notice that “trigger warnings” must be issued in case a problematic passage is assigned for reading or discussed in class, and everyone is on notice to walk on eggshells around the highly sensitive, i.e., anyone who wants to bully others into silence. What a shame that is – an insult to the university (any university), to their fellow students and to these students themselves who are grotesquely ill-prepared to enter the real world having lived in a politically correct cocoon their entire lives.

But maybe they are right after all. With the intimidators prevailing, traditional values weakening and free expression stifled, these delicate flowers have found a rapt and receptive audience. Civil society is already under siege. Few have the stomach to fight back against censorship and risk being branded racists, haters, etc. Tolerance is a one-way street. If this is the new normal, then pity higher education.

One thing is true: unprepared as they are for the real world – its frustrations, disappointments, imperfections and, yes, offenses – the writers are unlikely to have any impact beyond the college campus. Except, that is, for the restrictions they impose on their fellow students who actually attend college to learn things they did not know rather than have the tired clichés and biases of their adolescent minds validated. And that seems to be a waste of time and money.

Perhaps, as my professor suggested to me so many years ago, it would be best if they just went elsewhere. And talked only to themselves – after screening any potential conversations for “triggers” that will shatter their cozy world.

Inflection Point

Question: if an Orthodox rabbi does things that are not particularly “Orthodox,” do those actions then become defined as “Orthodox” because he did them or does he cease to be called an “Orthodox” rabbi? The answer is not entirely clear, even if it should be. Some actions are so egregious that the claim to Orthodoxy would seem to lapse, others cross or skirt the line of propriety, and still others are hailed as courageous innovations by many who are not schooled in Torah and Mesorah.

The question is general and I do not suggest that the above applies to Rav Shlomo Riskin, nor that Rav Riskin should be compelled to resign as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. I, for one, did not even know that his position was held pursuant to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; I just assumed he served at the deference of his constituents in the city he was instrumental in founding. On the one hand, a retirement of age of 75 seems about right, if only to reinvigorate the rabbinate everywhere with younger blood; on the other hand, Rav Riskin is indefatigable even at 75, with an energy level that dwarfs that of many younger rabbis and he would certainly remain in Efrat whatever the Rabbanut does. I am among a group of numerous rabbis who admire and respect Rav Riskin for his accomplishments, his personality and his midot, all of which have inspired generations of Jews of all backgrounds including Orthodox. And, for sure, I would not want the Rabbanut passing judgment on American rabbis, so I will not pass judgment on their decisions even as I hope that this matter is resolved amicably and with full respect for all concerned.

Truth be told, no rabbi (and I mean, no rabbi,  from the time of Moshe Rabbenu until today) enjoys universal support and approbation. It is the nature of the profession, and Rav Riskin has begun to stake out positions on the leftist wing of Orthodoxy that has riled up many of his erstwhile supporters, some of his own constituents and perhaps even elements of the Chief Rabbinate. I have no inside information, but I can state with some degree of confidence that, in general, religious mavericks play better in the spiritual anarchy that prevails in America than in the more formalized religious establishments that exist in the State of Israel. Israel, after all, is the Jewish state, and providing that designation with substance has been a controversial endeavor since 1948, if not before.

In the United States, where the government stays out of matters of religious doctrine and where – especially today – the ethos is staunchly secular, few people really care (outside the particular denomination in question) what happens, what changes and what stays the same. If Episcopalians ordain women and Catholics do not, it is well understood that Episcopalians perceive themselves as deviating from tradition to promote a modern agenda and Catholics are clinging to their traditional norms. In our world, we have witnessed a steady erosion of commitment to traditional norms under the rubric of “Orthodoxy” and often emanating from putative Orthodox rabbis. The only recourse is censure from Orthodox Jewish organizations but that has been almost non-existent or ineffectual for reasons best known to them. Thus, the American religious environment is much more hospitable to the culture of “each man does what it right in his own eyes.”

Israel is different, for obvious reasons even beyond the integration of religion and state. Take the conversion issue, which allegedly is one dispute the Rabbanut has with Rav Riskin. (He favors the bill granting conversion authority outside the Chief Rabbinate framework to local rabbinical councils.) In Israel, conversion of a foreigner conveys not only Jewish status but also Israeli citizenship. The latter is clearly a valid concern of government even if the former is not. One can understand why conversion carries with it more than the change in personal status that it does, for example, in the United States; in Israel, there is a national dimension as well. The government – and a national entity, like the Rabbanut –

has to be involved and give its approval. And even conversion of those who are already Israeli citizens should not engender two (or more) standards of conversion – those for Israeli citizens and those who are not. The laws of conversion do not sustain such dichotomies. There cannot be one level of kabbalat hamitzvot incumbent on Israeli citizens who wish to convert and a wholly different one that pertains to non-Israeli citizens who wish to convert. Indeed, do not dual standards constitute a violation of tormenting the convert? Unless we just want to convert every Israeli citizen (just try it on the Muslims!) then the criteria for conversion to Judaism must be based on Jewish and Torah constructs and not nationalistic ones, such as IDF service. Many non-Jews also serve in the IDF.

This must remain so if for no other reason than this: I cannot dictate to the State of Israel who can or cannot be an Israeli citizen but I never agreed to delegate to the Knesset of Israel or its Government the authority to determine who is or isn’t Jewish. Those laws were made by Torah and are the province of the Sages – and not even individual Sages, but the consensus of each generation. Otherwise, the conversion anarchy that used to exist in the United States will find its way to Israel’s shores, if it hasn’t already.

No individual rabbi has the authority to unilaterally change the procedures or requirements for conversion or even to rely on minority precedent that has been rejected by generations of Jews, anymore than he can change Shabbat to Sunday for the convenience of his congregants.

So, too, the phenomenon of female clergy is alien to Israeli Orthodox life and is a hard sell, there even more than here. Indeed, its advocates are disproportionately not indigenous Israelis (i.e., they are disproportionately American) and are simply importing the disorder of American Orthodox life to Israel. Many do not know any better than to say “well, if a rabbi endorses it, it must be fine.” That is an error.

To answer the question raised at the outset requires a little history. As noted here in the recent past, we have been down this road before. Most Conservative rabbis in the early years of the movement were in fact Orthodox, both in practice and even in ideology. There was a time – the 1930s, for example – when more YU graduates went directly to JTS than to RIETS for rabbinical training. There were people who straddled the fence and people on both sides of the fence. That almost never happens today because Orthodoxy grew and became more established, but more importantly, the norms of the Torah world became more settled and deviations from those norms were quickly repudiated.

There were Orthodox rabbis who rationalized the absence of a mechitza in shul; did that then make mixed seating an “Orthodox” practice? There were Orthodox rabbis who rationalized appearing bare-headed in public; did that then make bare-headedness an “Orthodox” practice? There were Orthodox rabbis who favored changing the procedures for shechita, permitting kohanim to marry divorcees, allowing women to count for a minyan and using microphones on Shabbat. The list goes on. We have a vast literature, so there are sources for everything, or almost everything. But none of the above became “Orthodox” practice because they were never widely accepted and were indeed widely rejected, notwithstanding the occasional “source” here or there. (Similarly, one can find singular opinions in lower courts in the US that do not become established law or precedent. The “kosher switch” is a good example of something proposed, almost uniformly rejected but will no doubt live on. Many of the rabbis who promoted any of the above eventually dropped out of “Orthodoxy” because the dissonance in their lives was too much and their acceptance of the Mesorah too tenuous. They became the vanguard of the non-Orthodox movements.

To reject “change” is not necessarily a sign of stagnation or even “ultra-Orthodoxy;” it is often just a simple act of faith and a submission to G-d’s will. So, too, the passion for “change” is not always rooted in a pure understanding of Torah; sometimes it is influenced by personalities, pressure and outside (even non-Jewish) stimuli.

We are at an inflection point in Orthodoxy as the desire to dilute the Mesorah – think women rabbis, for one, something that was a hallmark of non-Orthodoxy for 40 years – has enormous media support but less popular support, and certainly no support inside the more populous Haredi world. (Personally I wish they would stop the charade of concocted titles and just call them rabbis; people can then accept it or reject it. I don’t think if Carly Fiorina is elected President she will get a different title than that of her male predecessors.) The female clergy has made inroads in some communities, often less committed to halacha generally, and that is certainly understandable; told that the forbidden is now permitted – in this and other areas – people are naturally drawn to experience the new and exotic. This is a weakness of Modern Orthodoxy, and the relative silence of the modern Orthodox organizations is significant in its own way. Endless discussions, think tanks and competing papers usurp the place of clarity and psak. If a lawyer or doctor was as indecisive, each would lose his clients or patients and rightly so. But life goes on and each organization focuses on what is important to it.

I sincerely hope that Rav Riskin resolves whatever dispute he has with the Rabbanut (or vice versa, although I haven’t read an official word of the Rabbanut at all about this matter) and we see the return of the traditional Rav Riskin who has inspired countless thousands of Jews to a greater love, appreciation and observance of Torah. The Jewish world needs his mentshlichkeit, his passion, his goodness and his Torah. We also need his leadership in preventing Orthodoxy from drifting back into the last century.

 

 

The Torah Imperative

On the festival of Shavuot, we saturate ourselves with Torah study, all very worthwhile and understandable. The Torah is “our life and the length of our days” (Devarim  30:20). But how is it our life, and how is “life” different from “length of days”?

We are living in remarkable times, and so we too often take for granted what we have today and what we have accomplished. In many ways, we are dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants, benefiting from the greatness of prior generations.

At the turn of the last century, the situation was dire for Torah Jewry. Upwards of 90% of immigrants to the United States gave up the observance of mitzvot, and of their children an even greater percentage. Shabbat was lost, as people were forced to work on Saturdays. Kashrut was in many places a joke, a scandal and a source of corruption, with many people relying on anything that had Hebrew letters on it, if they cared at all. Jewish education was almost non-existent.

Harry Fischel, one of the great builders of Torah in America, wrote that when he came to America he was told to forget about G-d and religion, and especially about Shabbat and kashrut. “You must work every day including the Sabbath and eat what you can eat, for G-d has been left on the other side of the ocean.” He begged to differ.

So how did we get from that dire situation to today’s world, in which, for all our grievances and all our trepidation about the Jewish future,  we are living in infinitely better circumstances with a flourishing Torah world ? What changed? What always changes Jews: Torah. From Yeshiva Etz Chaim to RIETS to Yeshiva College to Torah Vadaas and Torah U’Mesorah, and then high schools and elementary schools and Batei Midrash, the seeds of Torah were planted. The few Jews to whom it mattered were pioneers and revolutionaries – literally, “it was a tree of life to those who grasped it.” Because of their courage and self-sacrifice, we exist and thrive, overseeing Torah enterprises and enjoying a Torah renaissance that was unimaginable 100 years ago.

We are not accustomed to such self-sacrifice, indeed reluctant to rein in any impulse or desire just because we have accepted the Torah. Note the hoopla over the so-called “kosher switch,” because, you know, it is really too demanding to expect people to keep lights on or set a clock in advance.   Ask people to dress modestly? That, today, is “kill but don’t transgress!” Embrace the traditional morality of the Torah? No, we do not encroach on people’s freedoms, desires and self-expression. That is too big a sacrifice, too much to ask. That is a major weakness of our generation.

But at the heart of any Jewish community, at the foundation of Jewish life generally, is Torah, and especially the study of Torah. It is the secret to our existence and to our survival. And the most evil and heinous of our enemies knew it.

Right after the Holocaust, Rav Yitzchak Herzog was presented by a senior British officer with a most remarkable discovery. The British recovered from Hitler’s bunker two Jewish books and  Rav Herzog received a copy of a Talmudic tractate (Masechet Pesachim) and Chaim Weizmann was given one volume from the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Two sefarim! Hitler had two Jewish books on the shelf in the library in his bunker, where he killed himself seventy years ago. It is a true story that just sounds fabricated but his grandson (and namesake – Buji Herzog, leader of Israel’s’ Labor Party)  has a picture of his grandfather with that sefer. But why did Hitler retain these two volumes?

Of course no one knows. Perhaps to remind himself every day of his life’s mission – to murder Jews? But then he would have kept sefarim elsewhere also, in his other lairs and retreats and residences. They were only found in the Fuhrerbunker. Perhaps it was something else: Hitler only lived in his bunker during the last three months of the war. Maybe he knew that the Torah was the secret to Jewish survival. Or maybe he saw that the end was near, that the Reich that was suppose to last for 1000 years was collapsing – and he knew he had lost out to the Jews of the Talmud, to those who were faithful to the Rambam – because those Jews are indestructible.

Just as remarkably, barely a block from the site of Hitler’s bunker – now destroyed and remembered only with a sign, a diagram and apartments above it – stands Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2711 concrete slabs, looking like tombstones of different sizes, the number, said the artist, chosen at random. What is 2711? The number of pages in the Babylonian Talmud, in the Daf Yomi cycle. It is hard to believe, but it is true. Look it up.

The Torah is our life and the length of our days. It is our lives as individuals, but it is our eternity as a people. For an individual Jew, the study of Torah is the primary vehicle through which we eat the fruits thereof in this world but the principal is still stored for us in the world-to-come.

For the Jewish people as a whole, where there is Torah study, there is life, existence, vitality and vigor. Our enemies know it – but we know it as well. When Shavuot comes, we reinforce to ourselves this basic truth, with love and dedication, with renewed commitment and enthusiasm, not so much to defy our enemies as to reinvigorate ourselves, rejoice with the Giver of the Torah and all who love the Torah, and hasten the era of salvation.