Category Archives: Contemporary Life

Clarification!

Let me be absolutely clear: The “savages” referred to in “Dealing with Savages” were terrorists such as those who perpetrated the horrific massacre in Har Nof last week. Indeed, Mike Huckabee began his FOX program this past week referring to the perpetrators as savages. Which they were. But I certainly did not, nor did I intend to, call all Arabs or Muslims “savages,” nor do I, obviously, believe that to be so.

I condemn those who support those savages, and I include in their number those who aid them, assist them and even – as happened last week – those who raucously celebrated the dismemberment of four rabbis and the death of the Druze police officer.

But to extrapolate from that sentiment and apply it to all Arabs or all Muslims is repugnant to me, and a complete distortion of what I wrote and intended to write. To the extent that my words could be misinterpreted, I take full responsibility and regret the lack of clarity.

    I wrote, in part: “Of course, [Arabs] who wish to stay and be peaceful, acknowledging the sovereignty of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, are welcome to stay.”

     There is much more that I can cite about my previous post, but the controversy swirling around it traces, in essence, to a JTA report that omitted that phrase – and others – and thus sought to portray me as a raving lunatic who hates all Arabs and perhaps all non-Jews, and wishes ill upon all of them. G-d forbid.

I strongly advocate the rights of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. I strongly condemn terrorists and their supporters. That, after all, was the Bush Doctrine: “you are either with us or with the terrorists.” What is remarkable is that the overwhelming majority of victims of radical Muslim terror today are not Jews or Christians – but Muslims. Good Muslims therefore have a self-interest, and not only an obligation, to denounce such terror in all its guises.

I find the murder of Jews and all innocents  intolerable, and it was with those images in mind that I wrote.

The gist of my remarks offered suggestions on how terror in Israel could be deterred. The government of Israel is wrestling with this very issue. Many people wrote in support of those suggestions. Some people took issue with one, two, several or all of the measures – while pointedly offering no suggestions of their own.

I wish there was greater outrage, among rabbis, Jews, Christians and Muslims at the loss of life. Among Jews, there is often sadness, grief and mourning – but little constructive is offered that might deter future attacks. Indeed, I wish there was greater outrage at the ongoing carnage in Syria, in the endless suicide bombings that kill Muslims weekly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does anyone care about the loss of life – beyond the platitudes? I am certain there are many people who care, and I wish they would suggest concrete ways to change the situation.

We must always take care to protect the innocent. Israel has done an outstanding job in making its diverse, multi-ethnic society hospitable to all. Israeli Arabs who are peaceful and appreciative make important contributions to their society in all aspects. They deserve our respect and admiration. If my words did not make that clear enough, then I offer my sincere regrets. The fact that few Israeli-Arabs depart Israel to live in other Arab countries is eloquent testimony to their appreciation of their freedoms in Israel and a refutation to those who would castigate Israel for “discrimination.”

That the threat of violence hangs in the air is most troubling. It is unacceptable in a civil society to express displeasure or seek to resolve disputes through violence. That three more Jews were attacked and wounded tonight in Jerusalem is also unconscionable. More is required than mere condemnation of terror, sympathy for the victims, and life goes on. Because for some, it doesn’t. Complacency also kills.

There is already too much hatred in the world. To the extent that my remarks, even unintentionally, added to that hatred, I certainly apologize. I would like nothing more than for all Bible-believing people to recognize the rights of the Jewish people to our historic homeland and enable the Jewish people to live in peace. In the end, despite all the overcharged rhetoric, that remains my passion and the reason why I wrote what I did.

Let us remain calm, faithful and strong.

 

Response

(The following in similar form was submitted to the Jewish Link as a response to Rabbi Goldin’s response. They declined to print it this week.)

To the Editor:

I thank my dear colleague Rabbi Goldin for his response to my concerns. I do trust, as I am sure he does, that nothing awry, unusual or illegal will be found in the operation of any other batei din. One correction that he made is indeed welcome: under the current guidelines, contrary to what I wrote, sponsoring rabbis may be part of the conversion court as well.

In that regard, I erred for the best of reasons. The complete separation of the two roles – sponsoring rabbi and dayyan­ ­– was part of the original protocols established. That made sense for the reasons I outlined last week. But they were changed – perhaps at the very beginning – because of the insistence of small town courts that they did not have the manpower (i.e., “rabbi”-power) to consistently isolate the sponsoring rabbi from the conversion court. The language was then amended to permit such affiliation. I was unaware that they were changed, so, in any event, here in Bergen County, we always adhered to the original standard. We never allowed a sponsoring rabbi to be part of the conversion court in any respect. Never. All sponsoring rabbis knew that. I just assumed other batei din did the same. Our way made sense, and still does. The safety measures that I outlined last week were in place – but in Teaneck. That the protocol in DC applied the amended standard was, in retrospect, part of the problem. I assume as well that trying to re-implement the original standard will meet with the same objections of the small town courts.

Without re-hashing what has already been written on this matter, there is one questionable situation that remains that is neither slanderous nor speculative. It is clear from Rabbi Goldin’s own account that concerns were raised about the character of our DC colleague long before the voyeurism charges were adduced. These concerns were known to a very small group in the RCA, and resulted in our colleague’s dismissal as chairman of the GPS committee. Clearly there were red flags. Which begs the question: why were the allegations sufficient to remove him as head of the GPS committee but insufficient to remove him as head of the DC Bet Din, which, in retrospect, would have been a blessing for everyone concerned?

I don’t for a moment suspect mens rea on the part of the small group that decided his fate. If anything, it seems like negligence born of compassion. But, if the new committee is investigating (among other things) what went wrong in DC, and one thing that went wrong was the failure of the leadership in both oversight and effective response to the original DC misconduct, it is indeed odd that someone from that same leadership should serve on the committee – indeed, as chairman of the committee. No person should investigate himself. The errors, such as they were, in the end reflected poorly – apparently, as the formation of the committee itself indicates – on all batei din and all rabbis.

We have suffered inordinately in the last 25 years because of the accusation that rabbinic scandals are swept under the rug, investigated privately or not investigated at all. There should be accountability for poor decisions, however well-intentioned. Retaining someone as head of a Bet Din when it was known – regardless of justification or the peculiarities of the DC system – that he was exploiting conversion candidates to work for him in his home, in his university office, for donations, et al – was an error of judgment. The RCA could have sought his dismissal or could have insisted that the Beth Din of America dismiss him. The Executive Committee could have been apprised and offered its recommendation. None of that was not done, and victims paid a steep price for that. Hindsight is usually 20/20, but hindsight is 20/400 when the lights are dimmed, the curtains are drawn, the walls are erected, and the wagons are circled.

Consequently, there are many people – rabbis and laymen who have spoken to me – who feel that an outside investigation that includes no members of the RCA is warranted in order to fully explore how such errors were made and in order to regain public trust. A movement is already under way calling for such an investigation. And if, as media report, the female victims here are considering suing (among others) the RCA for malfeasance, such an investigation will happen sooner or later. Sooner is better. That is neither slander nor speculation, nor are any insinuations or accusations being made. It just seems like elementary yashrut and common sense.

I thank Rabbi Goldin for his kind words about me. The feelings are mutual. And in navigating those treacherous waters between dueling expectations for the conversion committee, and between maintaining the status quo and the vehement demand for modifications, I wish him much success. I, too, hope the work of the committee bears positive fruit.

- RSP

Breaking News!

Well, not really…

One week from tonight (Wednesday, November 19), I am honored to be receiving the Rabbinic Leadership Award at the annual banquet of the American Friends of Sderot. The dinner will begin at 6:00 PM, and will be held at the Hilton Meadowlands (free parking included!).

For well over a decade, the Jews of Sderot have been on the front lines of the Arab terror war against Israel. Situated less than a kilometer from the Gaza border, Sderot has been the recipient of more than 10,000 Arab rockets and missiles during that time frame. One cannot walk more than 15 seconds anywhere in Sderot without encountering a bomb shelter. They are ubiquitous – at bus stops and in public parks, in playgrounds and commercial districts. They are testament to the capacity of evil people to perpetrate their evil and the capacity of good people to remain steadfast and resolute, and not to surrender to that evil.

At the heart of Sderot is the Yeshivat Hesder led by Rav Dovid Fendel, a native Long Islander. Notwithstanding its location – and perhaps due to its location and the iron will of Israeli youth – it is one of the largest Hesder yeshivot in Israel, educating hundreds of students annually. The yeshiva as well is fortified with reinforced concrete – roof, walls and dormitory – to enable it to withstand the onslaught of enemy evil. And the yeshiva administration and student body (all IDF soldiers, past and present) are renowned for teaching Torah throughout Sderot and going to each neighborhood under fire in order to bring strength and courage to the beleaguered residents.

I try to visit Sderot at least once a year, spend some time in the yeshiva, with the residents and in the shopping areas, and I did again this past summer during Operation Protective Edge. The good people of Sderot and the Yeshiva at its heart have taught all Jews never to run from evil, never to cower before our enemies, and never to abandon our principles and values in the face of challenges. Both continue to inspire all Israel with their sacrifice, strength and perseverance. They remind us that we can grow, prosper, contribute and advance the destiny of the Jewish people notwithstanding the “background noise” of our enemies.

I invite all of you to attend the dinner or otherwise contribute to the American Friends of Sderot, so we all can have a share in what they have built and we all can reap a small part of the heavenly reward that is theirs. Those wishing to attend or contribute are invited to log on to https://www.sderot.org/dinner, or call 718-673-4945.

I look forward to personally greeting all attendees. Thank you for your support.

The Last Word: Gary Rosenblatt Still Lies

This is, I hope, my last word on this subject. I confess that I expected better. I expected that Gary Rosenblatt and the Jewish Week would do what is honorable and decent, a sign of integrity, and what should be typical among Jews with even faint aspirations for ethical goodness: retract and apologize for printing a demonstrable lie, to wit: that I resigned as Rosh Bet Din in Bergen County because the RCA appointed women to a committee to review the standards and practices for conversion and to minimize the potential for future abuses. But rather than apologize, the Jewish Week utilized two standard journalistic gimmicks, both of which reflect poorly on the publisher and his staff.

The first gimmick involved just dropping the lie from subsequent news accounts. No clarification, no correction, no retraction and, of course, no apology. The lie was just dropped, lifted from the printed page as precipitously as it was first placed there. To the unsuspecting or casual reader, it is as if it never took place. But, of course, the lie remains in cyberspace, and especially in the accounts of other newspapers that re-printed it before it was summarily dropped. To the Jewish Week way of thinking, apparently, dropping a lie is the same as retracting it. In the real world where normal people live and interact, it is not. One who wrongly insults another person does not make amends for the insult by abstaining from its repetition.
The second gimmick – oh, how they must have enjoyed this one! – was accusing me of exploiting the Holocaust by, in their words, comparing the publisher to a Nazi and the paper to an infamous Nazi propaganda vehicle. Of course, as several astute readers pointed out with elaboration, I did no such thing. Sadly, not every reader is as astute, and many – apparently including some of my colleagues – suffer from reading comprehension issues. (Granted, any mention of anything Holocaust-related often causes people’s rational faculties to shut down and their emotional sensitivities to shift into overdrive.)
All I did was respond in kind to a sleazy journalistic trick that they attempted to use on me. The trick? Conflating “comparison” with “commonality.” It goes like this: the statement, “Gary Rosenblatt has two eyes and two feet, just like Genghis Khan” is a true statement. It is not a comparison of those two individuals, but an assertion of what they have “in common.” It is no indication at all that the two men are essentially alike – values, personality, temperament, world-view, etc. – but the linkage of the two is designed to arouse in the mind of the reader an  unfavorable image.
This is the game that the Jewish Weak played with me (I imagine it does with other targets as well). Writing about me, they decided to drop in a couple of sentences that indicated that I served on the Executive Committee of the RCA (a true statement) along with (the gratuitous expression of commonality) a certain DC colleague who has since been arrested for voyeurism. In their choice phrase, I “shared company” with him on the RCA. Did they “compare” me to him? Not really. They just wanted to awaken in the mind of the reader the unfortunate association on the RCA between him (alleged miscreant) and me (their new target).
Obviously, dozens of other rabbis, perhaps as many as 100, at one time or another “shared company” with the alleged offender. Not as obviously, some RCA rabbis had a much closer relationship with him than I did and failed to rein him in when made aware of his past misconduct. But no matter: what was important to this tabloid was to plant the thought in the mind of the reader that bad guy (him)=bad guy (me) without actually saying that.
Well, if they wanted to play the game of commonality v. comparison, then I suggested they should try this on for size: both Gary Rosenblatt and Julius Streicher publish[ed] newspapers. Both use[d] ink on paper. Both were preoccupied with Jews. Etc. Is that a comparison? Of course not. It is just underscoring the commonalities that exist between the two – in non-essential matters – in order to plant a negative image in the mind of the reader.
Having exposed the cheap trick that they used, the publisher soared into high dudgeon and accused me of “exploiting the Holocaust.” That was certainly a masterful way of changing the topic away from his lies, and attempting to portray himself as victim rather than as victimizer. I did remove the phrase from my comment in deference to an esteemed colleague who is exquisitely sensitive to any Holocaust reference, not that it did me any good. But the focus wasn’t on the Holocaust – but on journalism. I could’ve provided examples of “yellow journalism” and Hearst, Pulitzer and the rest, but that allusion would have been lost on most people.

It is true that whenever the Holocaust is referred to at all, any subtlety is completely lost in the process. It is indeed unpleasant to find one’s name gratuitously linked in the same sentence with a Nazi, as it is unpleasant to find one’s name gratuitously linked in the same sentence with an accused voyeur. That was my point! Yet, the publisher acts as if it was some innocent mistake on his part, or something that lent itself to different meanings, and something that offended me and would not have offended another person.
It is not surprising that he resented having his sordid tactics used against him, and his only response – rather than concede the use of the dastardly ploy – was to cry “Holocaust.”
So allow me to state unequivocally that Gary Rosenblatt is not a Nazi, and the Jewish Week is not Der Sturmer. The Jewish Week is adept at a modern form of yellow journalism, in which the use of commonality as comparison is rampant, in which lies are wantonly published and in which targets – especially Orthodox Rabbis, Orthodox Jews and the Holy Torah – are routinely assailed. Sadly, such drivel has its audience.
I am among the legion of Jews who ordinarily pay absolutely no attention to the Jewish Week. As such, I never realized the extent to which this paper and its publisher have tormented Rabbis, trampled Orthodoxy, and provided a forum for hatred of Torah (as well the liberal politics that passes in some circles for Torah). I also never realized the extent of the disdain and contempt with which the Jewish Week and its publisher are held in this corner of the Torah world.
Now that the attempt is being made to shift the story away from the lies they print to – Rosenblatt- shorthand – “he called me a Nazi” (which, obviously, I did not), I take this opportunity to correct the record, or to make the record. Some will say that I should just ignore them and their lies. But the days are long gone when I will let someone else define me, depict me falsely in the public domain, or otherwise defame me without response. That mistake I made in the 1990’s, and with this same “news” paper, among others.
I should not leave off the hook the reporter who printed the original set of lies – several, not just one. One would think that a reporter named Dreyfus would be sensitized to the dangers inherent in lodging false accusations against innocent Jews. I guess not. (What amused me was the characterization of my emotional state that led to my original decision. To the Jewish Week, I was “angered” by the RCA decision; to one cellar-dweller, I was “enraged” by their decision. What’s next? Livid? Foaming at the mouth? Needed to be restrained by a strait-jacket? Fabricating someone’s emotional state is just another insidious journalistic technique to paint the story in line with their agenda. I haven’t felt even a twinge of anger. Angry? Why would I be angry?)
For the record, and at the risk of redundancy, I did not call Gary Rosenblatt a Nazi nor did I compare his paper to Der Sturmer. He is not and it is not. I simply pointed out commonalities that do not reflect the true essence of either – i.e., exactly what he did to me by linking me to an accused voyeur. I have exactly the same amount of regret for doing so that he does for doing it to me.  I did it to point out to him the device that he used against me – and, for all I know, against others as well: linkage through innuendo, commonality as comparison.
Gary Rosenblatt is not a Nazi, nor a Communist, nor a Fascist. But until he retracts and apologizes for the lies he wrote about me, he remains a Liar.
And that is the last word. Anticipating no apology, we move on.

Gary Rosenblatt Lies. Now He Should Apologize.

(This was originally entitled “Media Lies.” As much as I hate mentioning names – it personalizes the matter when it is far better just to discuss the issues – I am responding to the Jewish Week’s latest attack on me, an obvious attempt to evade responsibility for the lies they published by cloaking themselves in the mantle of the Holocaust. If they do apologize eventually, I will be delighted to note it, and return to weightier matters. – RSP)

The Jerusalem Post earlier this week picked up the lie originally published in the NY Jewish Week – “US Rabbi Leaves Conversion Court over Women’s Role” – proving once again truth of Mark Twain’s adage that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” I never realized how literal that statement was.

The contention of the NY Jewish Week that I stepped down to protest the formation by the RCA of a mixed gender conversion committee was a lie, is a lie and will remain a lie. Even worse, it was published and retained by them as a conscious, calculated and intentional lie. They were informed immediately after they published the lie that it was a lie. Immediately. Not a day later or a week later. Immediately. The publisher then doubled down and compounded his lies with more lies.

 A number of Jewish community leaders have appealed to the publisher to retract and apologize – or at least retract – knowing, as they do, that the newspapers’ assertion is a complete lie. To date, the publisher has refused to retract, clarify, apologize or in any way mitigate the propagation of the lie that his reporter fabricated and that he disseminated. He has attempted to divert attention for his misdeeds by playing word games. Nice try at changing the topic. So much for the great ethics of the great ethicists who sit in judgment of everyone else.

You can judge for yourselves, for it is on this paragraph that the lie was based, a paragraph that I wrote last week:

The GPS system has always had its detractors, inside and outside the RCA, and those detractors are exploiting this crisis to change the system. (Those who have obsessively focused on the Rabbanut angle always missed the point, and Israel is now dealing with its own conversion crisis with issues regarding standards that are not dissimilar to ours.) Thus, the RCA has just appointed a committee “that will review its current Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.” The committee consists of six men and five women, bolstering the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical functions for women. Is there a role for women to play in “suggest[ing] safeguards against possible abuse”? Probably, although it really is self-understood. But what role can they play in “review[ing]” the GPS conversion process? That is halacha, minhag, psak – a purely rabbinical role.

     There are members of the committee who have never liked the GPS guidelines, and do not follow them. There are very few members of the committee who were part of the original committee, which entirely consisted of Rabbis. Of course, they will have to water down the standards – they’ll call it a “revision” and an “improvement” – but I fear we will not be far from the old days of quickie conversions with little true commitment. That, by the way, still happens, and a few RCA rabbis acting outside the GPS system still perform those.

I will be delighted to be proven wrong. But I don’t think I will be, and therefore it is time to get out. I do not wish to be coerced to apply standards and guidelines that, to my thinking, may not comport with the requirements of Torah, and the makeup of the committee will almost ensure that outcome, however it is presented.”

 

I noted that this was an attempt to bolster the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical roles for women. Did I suggest or even hint that the appointment of women to the committee was a reason to resign? Not in the least. I even noted that women “probably” have a role to play in suggesting safeguards against abuse – but not in formulating conversion standards or practices. It is the committee itself that troubles me – not the presence of women on the committee – an exercise more in public relations than in substance. There are men whose presence on the committee troubled me, as their hostility to the GPS system is well known. That is the “makeup” of the committee to which I referred.

Was there even an insinuation, an allusion, or a reference to the presence of women on the committee that would induce me to resign? Not in the slightest. We have women on our shul board and a woman Vice-President. I interact with professional and intelligent women all the time; I don’t live in a cave or in the 16th century (not that there’s anything wrong with the 16th century, or the modern cave). The Jewish Week is simply engaging in character assassination, trying to marginalize my voice (notwithstanding that to some, the suggestion that I resigned because of the presence of women made me a hero, not a villain). But if I am to be a hero to some, then at least let it be for some principle I espoused, value that I upheld or action that I performed that achieved some good. Not for a lie.

It was quite clear to any reader – except the willfully dishonest ones – that my reasons for resigning related to my sense that the GPS standards would change – in one form or another – and to escape the culture of negativity, suspicion and distrust with which the conversion process has been invested. It had absolutely nothing to do with women – on the committee, off the committee, or anywhere else. That was an intentional and malicious fabrication. There is simply no way that the words that I wrote could be interpreted to mean what they claimed it meant.

Indeed, insiders knew of my decision a week before I even knew a committee was being formed, and attempted to talk me out of it. One can agree or disagree with the formation of the RCA committee, its composition or its mandate – but no honest person can assert that it was the presence of women that led to my decision. It was simply not in my words or in my thought process. The attempt to make that the story is simply shameful, reprehensible and dishonorable. And the publisher still refuses to apologize or retract. This is not a misunderstanding or a few words taken out of context. This is a disgraceful lie.

Now, why would a journalist blatantly print lies and falsehoods? I hesitate to speculate. Obviously, recent events have reminded us that we never fully know what kind of demons lurk within human beings, demons that they carry with them (perhaps from childhood) and lead them into all sorts of mischief. One astute observer commented, about the publisher: The man never met a feminist, especially a so-called “orthodox” one he hasn’t tripped over his shoes running to worship. Likewise, he’s never met an orthodox rabbi, especially ones that ignore him, that he hasn’t tried to vilify.”

     The press has tremendous power. Despite its low standing with the public, and the obvious credibility issues some journalists have, people have a tendency to believe something simply because it is in print. (The Rambam mentions such a phenomenon in the Guide to the Perplexed, in reference to ancient writings.) Obviously, in this particular case, the publisher and his staff are pushing an agenda, trying to ensure that a very vocal interest group maintains its pressure on the RCA and trying – for years already – to belittle, disparage and weaken the rabbinate as an institution. They are actively engaged in trying to remake the Jewish world by weakening observance, diluting Jewish identity, and mocking true commitment. It really is the “Jewish Weak.”

It is not just the highlighting of rabbinical scandals, especially involving Orthodox rabbis. That is a legitimate role, even if it can also be abused. More troubling is the ignoring of some rabbinical scandals because they involved favored rabbis, those who toe the ideological line of the publisher or have otherwise earned his favor. Then, the “public interest” in exposing malfeasance takes a back seat to the “public interest” – as he sees it – in promoting a particular agenda. That is dishonest.

None of this is new nor should it be shocking. In the most infamous example of the last decade in just a slightly different context, Israeli journalists admitted to protecting PM Ariel Sharon “like an etrog” (their term) from the corruption and bribery scandals that engulfed him during his tenure in office so that he would be able to expel Jews from Gaza and destroy the settlements there – a goal of the Israeli left (and the American Jewish left, including the Jewish Week) since those settlements were built. Fortunately, Gaza has been quiet since the expulsion in 2005 and there have been no harmful ramifications of that expulsion…  A right-wing prime minister accused of the same crimes would have been hounded out of office, as we see the left consistently pesters PM Netanyahu over nonsense, especially things involving his wife. The same process occurred with Ehud Olmert – although it was the relentless reporting of a right-wing journalist that eventually led to his downfall, arrest, conviction and pending prison sentence, and after decades of corrupt behavior.

Sadly, the day has long passed when journalists just report the news. Now, they think they are the news, they make the news, and sometimes – as in my case – they just make up the news. And they can do that – not, of course, according to the Torah, which is grossly violated, but according to the US Supreme Court in NY Times v. Sullivan (my analysis can be heard here, http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/765992/Rabbi_Steven_Pruzansky/THE_LAW_AND_THE_LAW:_The_New_York_Times_v_Sullivan:_Libel_Law,_and_the_Torah’s_View_of_Journalism‘), which essentially permits journalists to defame public figures as long as they don’t do it with “malice.” And go prove that there is malice.

Of course, I hesitate to castigate all journalists just because of the sins of one; they are not rabbis after all, who are held to that standard… They are not all guilty of something venal just because one is. They don’t all have to be suspects just because one is. Nah, that’s just for rabbis…

Once again, I call on the Jewish Week to retract and apologize. They can then try to undo the harm that they have attempted to cause me – collect all the feathers blowing in the wind, in the famous parable – by publicizing their retraction, informing the Jerusalem Post and other outlets that unknowingly disseminated their lies. And if they don’t, they don’t. Dante placed in the Ninth Circle of Purgatory those people who were guilty of treachery born of pride, i.e., arrogance. (The Eighth Circle consists of those guilty of fraud; I wonder who decides when there are several options…) Perhaps dishonest journalists just do not want the denizens of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Purgatory to be lonely. Sweet, sensitive types, obviously.

Many good Jews do not read the NY Jewish Week, being quite familiar with the animus of some of its staff to Torah Judaism. Other good Jews who would not consider bringing treif food into their homes should really ask themselves on what grounds they justify bringing treif newspapers into their homes, do they really want to desecrate their Shabbat with such publications – and why should they patronize the advertisers who enrich the purveyors of prevarications, fomenters of falsehoods and haters of holiness?

People can agree or disagree with me. That is fine, indeed welcome. I enjoy the exchanges and it often spurs public debate in a healthy direction. But people with integrity do not fabricate assertions and use them to disparage their ideological opponents. We shall soon learn if there is even a shred of integrity at the NY Jewish Week. Gary, apologize and retract. Don’t hide behind diversions, word games or excuses.

 

     At the risk of boring the reader, and the double risk of redundancy, here’s the link to the Link, and an interview from this week:  http://jewishlinkbc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5388%3Arabbi-pruzansky-responds-why-i-stepped-down-from-the-rcbc-bet-din&catid=150%3Anews&Itemid=562.

[Update: Just a short time ago, the hapless Jewish Week sort of “regret” linking me with the DC rabbi accused of a number of crimes, claiming  that they did not intend to suggest that I was connected to his activities. Obviously, then, the reference  was just gratuitous and an attempt to further malign me, but the publisher then claimed that we were linked in an “unsuccessful challenge” to the RCA slate of officers running in 2012.

Can’t the Jewish Week get anything right? I, and a dozen or so others, ran independently as petition candidates for various RCA offices in 2012.

But I won my election, and currently serve on the Executive Committee. That is hardly what one would call an “unsuccessful challenge,” except in Jewish Week speak. This partial apology was offered in the context of changing the topic – as corrupt journalists do so well – accusing me of comparing the Jewish Week and its publisher to the infamous Der Sturmer and its publisher, Julius Streicher, what they termed an “outrageous comparison.” Heaven forfend! There is no comparison and I would never make such a comparison, any more than they were comparing me to my DC colleague. One can note what they have in common – they are both newspapers – without comparing them. There is no comparison! I certainly regret if they misconstrued my comment and anyone offended took offense, even those who do not mind routinely causing offense to others.

Now, will the Jewish Week apologize and retract for disseminating the false propaganda that I resigned from the local Bet Din in order to protest the inclusion of women on the RCA Committee, or will they continue to hide and obfuscate behind linguistic smokescreens and pitiable diversions?

-RSP

 

 

War on Intelligence

It was twenty years ago this week that the estimable Charles Krauthammer made the following observation. There are certain norms that are routinely followed in advertising. An airline – say, United – will not urge its services on passengers by asserting that another airline, say, US Air – has a terrible record of crashes. A soap company will not say another company’s soap stinks, and Coke does not claim that Pepsi rots your teeth. It is rare and extraordinary for another company to boost its product by denigrating the opposition.
The exception is politics, where the norm in political advertising is to allege that the opponent is a liar, scoundrel, thief, swindler and bum. Often, campaign ads will not even mention the candidate it favors (except in a tagline at the very end, required by regulation); the focus is on disparaging and belittling the opposition. It is as if it is more important to lambaste one’s opponent for sins real and imagined that it is to extol one’s own virtues or policies.
Why is this done? For two reasons.
It is done because, unlike the airlines, the soap and soda companies, or anyone selling a product, the politicians usually want to suppress the vote. Each politician strives to bring out his (or her) base to vote, and they know they cannot prevent the opponent’s base from voting. The hard core on each side is always mobilized. But most of the electorate is not hard core; perhaps less than half are even remotely interested. So each politician endeavors to discourage the opponent’s soft base (those who generally like his policies but are not overly enthusiastic about politics) from voting, and that is done by inducing a sentiment of “a pox on all your houses”.
The airlines are trying to get you to fly, like the soda companies want you to drink soda. If you are a customer – even of another brand – you are potentially a customer of their brand. So they do not denigrate the industry or goad the consumer in avoiding whatever product their industry sells.         Politicians are the opposite; they wish to incite disgust, fatigue, malaise and discontent in the electorate – so decent people will stay home and not vote, and then completely ignore what they do while they are in office. The negative campaigning appeals to the base and sours everyone else. Obviously, whatever they say in public, a politician would rather have you not vote than vote for the opposition. So they seek to bring out the committed voter (to them) and have the doubtful voter find something else to do on Election Day.
And it is done because it works. There is a name for a politician who, in today’s environment, runs a clean campaign and does not go negative. He is known in the trade as an “ex-politician.” He loses. And that is the fault of the American people.
The United States might be polarized, except that relatively few people are engaged in the polarization. Most don’t care. The negative tactics work so well that Obama won re-election by claiming that Romney was an ogre, more or less, a heartless capitalist, murderer of old women, stealer of cancer medication, and fomenter of wars. And Obama paid a price for that successful campaign, not that he cares: Obama is the second president in history – the first since James Madison in 1812, exactly two centuries ago! – to win a second term with a lower percentage of the vote than he won for his first term and a lower total in real numbers (about 4,000,000 votes fewer in 2012 than he recorded in 2008). The plan worked to perfection: his base came out, and people who were naturally inclined to Romney but not fervent were essentially dissuaded from voting, because who wants to drive to the polls and vote for the devil?
It does not even matter that so many of the commercials contain claims that are demonstrably false. All that is necessary is to create an impression of venality, criminality, indifference or hostility toward one or another segment of the population, and that impression lingers enough to dishearten the interested but not passionate voter. For sure, this tactic is bi-partisan, but it has been perfected by the Democrats with their tired litany of wars on…women, children, the elderly, the poor, blacks, etc.
It actually is a war on our intelligence, and quite a successful one at that.
The war on women takes two forms: the hoary myth of interference with a woman’s body by the bad Republicans, and the canard of “unequal pay for equal work” which is more slogan than reality. In one Virginia campaign, the politician who did not support free contraception (i.e., free to the recipient, but a charge to all taxpayers) was described by his opponent as “evil.” Evil? Can’t one disagree with the scope of government without being labeled “evil”? (That word is not usually found in advertising. How would the consumer respond to this? “Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend (say) Colgate. The fifth is an evil sadist.” Unthinkable, except in politics.)
No one has yet to explain to me the following: if women earn 77% of a man’s salary for doing the same work, why would anyone hire a man? As an employer or business owner, I would love to shrink my payroll by 23% without lifting a finger and getting the same value out of my employees. The answer is that, of course, the claim is absurd. There is no such thing as “equal pay” because there is no such thing as “equal work.” Such comparisons never factor in seniority, experience, hours worked, time off for family considerations, ability and production. Comparing the salaries of male lawyers to female lawyers, with no other considerations, makes as much sense as comparing the salaries of NBA players to those in the WNBA. Who do you think is paid more, and why? (The NBA players, because they generate more revenue, as if you didn’t know.)
And there is a “war” on children, because we all know that children do not need two parents in the home but they do need big government to take care of them. And what was the war on the elderly? Who remembers, but Obama’s cuts to Medicare have harshly impacted seniors, and naturally blamed on the Republicans. And the poor don’t need jobs, but handouts. And when all else fails, play the race card, as in Joe Biden, August 14, 2012, to a black audience: Romney’s policies will put “you all back in chains;” or, oppose voter ID verification because, like, no one has an ID today, they are very hard to get, and it does prevent the dead from voting once and the living from voting twice. As in Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana, claiming just the other day that she and the President are unpopular because of sex and race, respectively. Sure; there is no other reason imaginable.
Sadly, these tactics do work. These phony “wars” are successful, so successful that real wars – such as a “war on Muslim terror” – are unnecessary and do not exist in the Obama lexicon. For sure, if you have nothing else, then negative is the only option; hence the plethora of “wars” to be trotted out every election cycle. And certainly the Democrat cause is suffering; their Congressional candidates are so completely avoiding President Obama than one half-suspects he has come down with the Ebola virus.
I wish I could say that I would never vote for a candidate who runs negative advertising, but that is tantamount to saying that I will never vote. American society is not in a healthy state, right now, even recognizing that campaigns were even dirtier in the past. It is just that today, the dirt is so much more pervasive. Perhaps a reader can recall the last political campaign that was run without rancor, bitterness, meanness and malice. I don’t (not counting uncontested elections, where even there, the only candidate sometimes runs negative ads anyway).
One other point should be made. I am weary of candidates who will “fight” for me. Don’t fight anyone. Just do your job, which involves ensuring the country is safe and secure, entrepreneurs are allowed to pursue their dreams, taxes are kept to a bare minimum, a safety net is provided for the downtrodden, and government otherwise leaves me alone as much as possible.
Hey, that would make a great platform for an honest and humble politician.

Stepping Down

After seven years as head of the Bet Din L’Giyur (the conversion court) in Bergen County, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America and the Gerus Protocol and Standards (GPS) adopted by the RCA in 2007, I have decided to resign from the Bet Din. I sent this missive to my supervisors:

“After much deliberation, I have decided to resign as Rosh Bet Din of the RCBC and step down from the Bet Din itself, effective immediately.

    It has been spiritually rewarding to serve in this capacity for the last seven years. I am extremely proud of the professionalism, sensitivity, integrity and fidelity to Halacha of the RCBC Bet Din that I and my colleagues established, and that successfully brought more than 100 gerei Tzedek tachat kanfei hashechina.

     In the current climate, with changes to GPS protocols contemplated, it is an appropriate time for new leadership.

    I wish you all continued hatzlacha.”

In the current cynical climate, I must append the following. Lest anyone gets the wrong impression, and at the risk of sounding silly and self-serving, suffice it to say that I am not resigning because of any scandal. There is no scandal, there was no scandal and (I hope!) there will be no scandal. There is no voyeurism, no embezzlement, no tomfoolery, no abuse, no drug use, no illegal gun possession, no pending arrest, no past arrest, no insensitivity or meanness of spirit, no unpaid parking tickets, and nothing untoward of any kind. It shouldn’t have to be said – no one is perfect, of course – but I try to lead a respectable life.

So why resign, especially as our Bet Din has been held to be a model of professionalism, efficiency, and faithfulness to Torah and derech eretz?

Well, it was and is. We adhered scrupulously to the protocols that were established, and I even served on the committee that established the standards that were then approved by the RCA Executive Committee. We never met any candidate (male or female) alone; indeed, I never did anything alone but always with at least two other colleagues. What happened in DC is simply unthinkable in our context: none of us had a key to the mikveh, we were always there with other women when a female convert was there. It never even dawned on us to meet a convert privately, put them to work in an office, charge them money for our services, meet them outside a formal session of Bet Din, and establish a social or financial relationship with them. Unthinkable – as were the other allegations pending in DC.

We always tried to treat each convert with the utmost sensitivity, sincerity and compassion. For sure, not every candidate became a convert. It is not easy to turn someone away, but fortunately, most of those who ultimately did not convert dropped out themselves. And that is quite understandable. It takes an enormous commitment – a transformation of one’s life – to become a religious Jew. They simply saw that it was not for them, or, on some occasions when there was (or was to be) a Jewish spouse, the Jewish spouse could not commit to living a Torah life.

Most converts – especially those who wish to marry a Jew – tend to exaggerate their readiness for conversion. (Only about 15% of our candidates were non-Jews in a relationship with a Jew.) Most of the other adults were simply non-Jews turned on to Torah. Occasionally they too would try to hasten the process but once they became aware of the breadth of knowledge required by a convert, they would accede. Many said, in one form or another, “I want to get this right. I want to be ready.”

That is what made the moment of giyur so special, so inspiring and so memorable. There were not a few times when the candidate (especially a woman) came to receive her name and our blessing after the immersion, and broke down in tears. Tears of joy and thanksgiving, not tears of abuse and maltreatment. I would share only with my colleagues letters, cards (some people actually put pen to paper) and emails of gratitude from many of our converts for the process, the way they were treated, for the immense spiritual pleasure they now enjoy. Those notes would be a welcome contrast to the open season against rabbis now in full force. I would share them, even anonymously, but for their self-serving nature.

So why resign?

The GPS system that has worked so well for us is about to change. No matter that the system worked quite well, making the conversion process difficult but eminently attainable to the committed, protecting rabbis against abuse by a powerful layman (“Convert my future daughter-in-law or you’ll be out of a job!”), and standardizing the requirements for conversion. The latter is the most important consideration, because conversion is not a rabbinical contrivance to decrease the intermarriage rate or facilitate marriages but it is an entrée into the Jewish nation, G-d’s chosen people. It is not a personal, private act of the converter and the convert, but a formal and heartfelt welcome to the Jewish people. It is an act with profound consequences for our nation, and for the convert who now shares our destiny and fate.

We have our rules for citizenship like any nation does, and ours requires, first and foremost, Kabbalat hamitzvot (acceptance of the commandments). Living a full Jewish life requires study, and the policy was always that, aside from rare cases that required special consideration, the minimum period of study was one year. This immediately deflected pressure on the rabbi to perform a quickie conversion. The candidate was tested, informally but regularly, and was expected to be an observant Jew before immersion, the final stage. That always was a sticking point – in the past not every rabbi insisted on a full acceptance of mitzvot, preferring to turn a blind eye or deaf ear. Most candidates accepted the one-year period (the US requires a five-year residency requirement for citizenship!) and most understood that it was because conversion was a momentous act. One recent candidate explained that she first went to a non-Orthodox conversion school, and realized there were no expectations for her at all. Finish the class, and you’re in the club. She intuitively knew that could not be right, and came to our Bet Din.

Beyond that, candidates were always told that the pace of conversion was up to them, and it depended on two factors: knowledge and commitment. The more they grew in knowledge and the deeper in commitment, the closer they were to conversion. It was and is a reasonable approach.

On the other hand, once or twice candidates came and said that they are getting married in six weeks, and one party needed to convert. They were not observant, did not wish to be, and they were not accommodated. The serious among them, of course, postponed their weddings, waited, went through the system, and established Torah homes. Beautiful. As it should be.

The GPS system did not fail in DC; a person failed. That person allegedly breached every norm in our protocols. There is an impulse – quite common on one side of the political divide in America – that if someone breaks the law, what is needed is a restatement of the law, or another law. But if laws stopped criminals, there would be no criminals. We have plenty of laws.

The GPS system has always had its detractors, inside and outside the RCA, and those detractors are exploiting this crisis to change the system. (Those who have obsessively focused on the Rabbanut angle always missed the point, and Israel is now dealing with its own conversion crisis with issues regarding standards that are not dissimilar to ours.) Thus, the RCA has just appointed a committee “that will review its current Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.” The committee consists of six men and five women, bolstering the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical functions for women. Is there a role for women to play in “suggest[ing] safeguards against possible abuse”? Probably, although it really is self-understood. But what role can they play in “review[ing]” the GPS conversion process? That is halacha, minhag, psak – a purely rabbinical role.

There are members of the committee who have never liked the GPS guidelines, and do not follow them. There are very few members of the committee who were part of the original committee, which entirely consisted of Rabbis. Of course, they will have to water down the standards – they’ll call it a “revision” and an “improvement” – but I fear we will not be far from the old days of quickie conversions with little true commitment. That, by the way, still happens, and a few RCA rabbis acting outside the GPS system still perform those.

I will be delighted to be proven wrong. But I don’t think I will be, and therefore it is time to get out. I do not wish to be coerced to apply standards and guidelines that, to my thinking, may not comport with the requirements of Torah, and the makeup of the committee will almost ensure that outcome, however it is presented.

Much of the impetus for these changes is media-driven, as the RCA is trying to overcome the bad publicity of the DC scandal. I, for one, refused to be tarred with that brush. Let one person stand trial for his crimes. Jews have always opposed the notion of collective guilt. Why does every Bet Din in the country have to change their successful practices just because one person in one Bet Din allegedly violated every guideline in our handbook?

Additionally, it would be far better for the RCA leadership now to focus on its own potential mishandling of this matter, as the media has highlighted. I serve on the RCA’s Executive Committee but know almost nothing about the inner workings or decision-making of the RCA. Questions have been raised – in the media, especially – as to what did they know, when did they know it, whom did they inform and what did they do about it? I have implicit trust in my colleagues but those questions deserve answers.

Thus, I have no interest in serving in a system in which I have no input in the policies of that system, am not consulted on them, and might not agree with them. Why resign in a huff after the policies and changes are announced?! Be not a martyr after the fact, but a ro’eh et hanolad – anticipate what will happen. That is what I have done.

There is a second reason as well. Earlier I described the sheer majesty of the moment of conversion –the birth of a Jewish soul. For me and I’m sure my colleagues, that made all our efforts worthwhile – all the time we invested on a volunteer basis (we never earned a nickel from conversions), the nights and weekends that were devoted to helping people realize their spiritual dreams.

Now, the recent, voluminous and tendentious writings on conversion, the media testimonies of converts and the agenda of feminists would have us believe that conversion is all about sex, power and money. It is about evil men looking to dominate women and lusting after lucre. That is a vulgar distortion of reality. They have taken a sublime and pure moment and made it prurient and ugly. For sure, I blame my DC colleague for this situation, but also those who have exaggerated the problem and impute guilt and suspicion to every rabbi and Bet Din.

It needs to be said that the most uncomfortable situation I encountered in gerut was not the woman in the mikveh; she is concealed such that only the top of her head was visible. My most uncomfortable moments were when an adult male had to lie on a table with his private parts exposed so the Bet Din could witness the hatafat dam brit (a quasi-circumcision). And yet, no man – not a single one – ever complained about the process because each knew that it was a small price he had to pay (a requirement) for membership in an eternal people. A little perspective is in order. Not everything in life has to be vulgarized.

It is as if every rabbi is now a suspect, every rabbi needs a chaperone, and no rabbi can be trusted.

I have no interest in living as a suspect. I refuse to have my integrity and character impugned, nor to be defined in the public eye because of one miscreant.

Note that I have no illusions that this is some major moment in my life or anyone else’s. There is no earth-shattering news here. The heavens will not shed tears. I subscribe to de Gaulle’s adage that “the graveyards are full of indispensable men.” I too will be replaced. Don’t cry for me, Evita Peron.

But we are living in a toxic environment for rabbis (generally; not locally where I live, thank G-d). The distrust is embarrassing and unbecoming. If I cannot be trusted to behave like a normal, decent human being, then I am unworthy of serving on a Bet Din. Let someone else do it. If people wish to presume that rabbis are corrupt and suspect, so in the words of our Sages (Masechet Sanhedrin 37b), “Mah lanu v’la’tzara ha’zot?” – that is to say, why do we need this headache?

Frankly, I am hard-pressed to understand why any non-Jew would convert to a religion whose spiritual leaders are so distrusted.

There is much to do, much that needs to be done, in the world of Torah and for the Jewish people. My days are full, thank G-d. I’m lucky to be able to make a contribution in other ways, foremost in the kehilla where I am privileged to serve, and look forward to doing so.

I leave conversion to others – others that I know serve the Jewish people with great devotion, distinction and honor, and do deserve the trust of those they serve.

   (P.S. I was just sent the NY Jewish Week’s article on this matter. Typically, it got almost every fact wrong. [Even the picture is 15 years old, but I thank them for publishing that.] I don’t consider myself Modern Orthodox; I see myself as part of every camp of faithful Jews and try to learn from all of them. I didn’t step down at all from the Beth Din of America, but just from the Beit Din of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. And I didn’t step down because a committee was formed including women. This decision was made before I knew the makeup of the committee. There are any number of rabbis whose participation would be equally unsettling.

   The main reason is, as I elaborated: the negativity associated today with conversion, and the cynicism and distrust fostered by so many (including the Jewish Week) towards the rabbinate. That has nothing to do with women.

Don’t expect a clarification.)    -RSP 

Update: They clarified, and naturally made it worse. They corrected the text to read that I resigned from the RCBC Beit Din, not the Beit Din of America, but under the wonderful old picture that I am delighted they used, the error remains. Sheer incompetence.

They took out the Modern Orthodox label, and in the text called me a “high-ranking officer of the RCA.” I am not an officer at all, much less a high-ranking one. Does anyone do fact-checking there?

Chronologically they were correct that my decision “followed” the decision to include women on the committee, and my intentions were already known last week (before I knew who was on the committee), so much so that I was contacted and asked not to resign. So they still missed the gist of my argument, which I assume they stopped reading half-way through (once they found they could string together enough phrases to fit their narrative).

I haven’t talked to the NY Jewish Week in more than 15 years. And this is why. They are typical of the sordid state of journalism today. (I know, I know, never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.)

But then the “updated” version contained this doozy: “Pruzansky is still a member of the RCA’s Executive Committee, where he used to share the company of Rabbi Freundel before his arrest.” Huh!!   How is that for vicious innuendo?  “Share the company of…?  I join the meetings almost always by conference call. To that extent, every officer and every Executive Committee member “shared” the same “company.” What in the world is the point of that – except to plant the seed that somehow I am connected to the alleged malfeasance in DC? What a despicable outrageous slander!

They should retract and apologize. It is elementary decency.

And they wonder why I don’t return their phone calls. Simply despicable. And typical from one of the leading publications in the world of Orthodox-bashing and rabbi-bashing.

-RSP