Category Archives: Machshava/Jewish Thought

In Local News…

(This article appears in condensed form in this week’s Jewish Press.)

It is an overstatement to suggest that the Jewish community in Teaneck is embroiled in controversy, which some media outlets have been trying to promote. It is perhaps inevitable that key elements of the story involving the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s new by-law excluding from membership any rabbi who hires a woman in a clergy capacity have been misunderstood, distorted or fabricated. The decision taken was natural, proper, justified, halachic and important, and done in a way that reflected respect, collegiality and sensitivity. It was a decision that affirmed traditional Orthodox practice and the community norms that we wish to propagate and teach.

No one has been expelled from the RCBC nor is anyone being threatened with expulsion. My esteemed colleague from Netivot Shalom whose decision to hire a female clergy-in-training sparked this discussion and clarification, remains a member in good standing of the RCBC. Not only was there a full airing of all views and opinions before a vote was taken, the by-law officially goes into effect this September so as to not prejudice the woman who was retained temporarily in the clergy role. More significantly, to spare him any embarrassment or disrespect, it was agreed that the decision would not be broadcast to the public. Even the media hoopla with which the announcement of the hiring was originally made would not be countered in any public forum, out of professional respect. It is lamentable that this courtesy was not reciprocated and proponents of female clergy ran, as is their wont, to social media in order to protest this obvious articulation of the Mesorah.

No one is being expelled. If my colleague chooses not to comply by September, then he resigns from the RCBC but I sincerely hope we never reach that stage. The RCBC is a professional rabbinic organization that, like any professional organization, sets standards for admission and membership. We have other by-laws. In 2006, we passed by-laws that affirmed that no RCBC rabbi can officiate in a shul without a mechitza or at a funeral without tahara and tachrichin. None were pressing issues at the time or now, but we felt it important to establish this clarity. At the same time, we approved by-laws that required semicha from a recognized Orthodox yeshiva or Orthodox rabbi for membership, and also declared that “no RCBC member synagogue may permit women to receive aliyot to the Torah in any form or in any circumstance, whether as part of the regular davening or not, and no RCBC member Rabbi in good standing may permit such a practice in the synagogue in which he serves.” At the time, nobody even dreamt that we would one day have to spell out the inadmissibility of female clergy in our shuls, so it was not addressed.

The objective of these by-laws adopted in 2006 was “to preserve, promote and foster the cause of traditional Orthodox Judaism in line with the Mesorah of the Jewish people…and to protect the integrity of the RCBC Rabbi and further the interests of Torah Judaism.” The instant decision was taken with the same goals in mind and for the same purpose: the RCBC is obligated to establish its criteria for membership as well as demarcate for the community what is construed as the religious norms that we should and do profess.

Interestingly, I first addressed the issue of female clergy in these pages (“The Incredibly Shrinking Rabbinate, Jewish Press, August 7, 2013). Since that time, the mainstream Orthodox community has coalesced and made its position on this matter crystal clear. The mainstream Rabbinical Council of America pronounced female clergy incompatible with the Mesorah. The mainstream Orthodox Union pronounced female clergy incompatible with the Mesorah. These are the representative institutions of Modern Orthodoxy. The larger Haredi-Yeshivish world deems female clergy so beyond the pale of Orthodoxy that it almost never addresses the issue.

The pursuit of female clergy has been the objective of the Open Orthodox, whom years ago I more properly termed “neo-Conservatives” for their unfortunate attempt to repeat the mistakes of the Conservative Jewish movement of a century ago. It is important for the RCBC to conform to the standards of the mainstream Jewish world with which we identify and to underscore for our community that this is normative Orthodoxy. It is. Female clergy is not a Torah concept, and no amount of lobbying, social media posts and “unlikes” on Facebook will change that. Torah doesn’t work that way.

Certainly, this topic has been exhaustively deliberated. The discussions have been held, the papers have been written, the research is complete, the decisions have been taken, and this issue has been settled. Now the time for choosing has begun – on which side of the Mesorah do you wish to situate yourself? For almost all traditional Jews, the choice is obvious.

The small minority that tragically chooses otherwise are knowingly separating themselves from the Torah world, no different from all the movements in the past that had what they thought were grand ideas to reform, conserve, secularize or modernize Judaism. They are knowingly cutting themselves off from the life force of Torah Judaism, rejecting the almost unanimous views of halachic decisors of today. That is an enormous tragedy, and one that can still be averted. The patron of a restaurant declared treif by a hundred rabbis and kosher by one should be well aware of what he or she is eating.

For sure, this decision does not at all detract from the importance of women’s Torah study or the invaluable contributions women make to Jewish life. May both continue and bring blessing to us all. But it is important to acknowledge that every role or endeavor in Jewish life is subject to the guidelines and parameters of Halacha and Mesorah.

There seems to be an attitude among habitants of the political/religious left, especially some millennials, that if they do not get their way, it means that a full and honest discussion of the matter at hand was not conducted and that “conversations” must continue until everyone else comes around to their viewpoint. That is not only intellectually dishonest, it is actually intellectual bullying, apropos for the social media world but wholly inappropriate for Torah discourse. The redundant articles saying the same thing week after week in the futile hope of mainstreaming the idea of female clergy is a public relations stunt, not a serious argument.

And the younger generation of rabbis must learn that, occasionally, defense of and advocacy for Torah requires forcefulness and decisiveness. No one should seek conflict but nor should rabbis ever viscerally shy away from it because the critics will be loud and frequently abusive; that too is an essential part of leadership, especially when critical matters of the Mesorah are on the agenda. As the Gemara (Ketubot 105b) states, a rabbi who is universally liked by his community, it is not because of his superior qualities but rather because he doesn’t reproach them in spiritual matters. (Of course, a rabbi who is universally disliked has other problems!) Rabbis must stand for something or they will fall for anything and acquiesce to everything. An organization that does not enforce its regulations is really inconsequential, and a kashrut organization that promulgates rules it does not enforce should inspire confidence in no one.

Teaneck is unique among Jewish communities for its homogeneity. Many people are members in several shuls. We are typified by rabbis and laymen who are comfortable in the Western world, have higher education, a strong commitment to Halacha, and are religious Zionists. None of our shuls are outliers, and it stands to reason that almost everyone would be comfortable davening in any shul. The differences in our shuls are subtle, nuanced – not striking or conspicuous.

We don’t want that to change. Many Orthodox Jews would not daven in a shul that has female clergy, just like many rabbis would not want to be part of a rabbinical organization that condoned female clergy. Some voices have suggested that the RCBC decision was an act of disunity at a time when Jews need greater shows of unity. That, too, is a polemical, not a substantive, argument, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We always need unity, even as it has been an unachievable quest since Sinai. But who has acted here in a disuniting and disruptive way? It would the ones who breached the consensus, not the ones who preserve it; it would be the ones who deviated from the norms, not the ones who uphold them. The responsibility for maintaining unity cuts both ways – but especially obliges those who carve out their own path and stray from the road on which we all travel.  In a world in which the Mesorah is under attack, and Torah values are, as always, challenged by the zeitgeist, those who hold firm and clarify the ideals of the Mesorah should be applauded, not lambasted. Indeed, that has been the reaction of most of our community, strong feelings from a vocal minority aside.

No one wants a resignation of any rabbi from the RCBC and I urge my colleague and his shul to respect the will of the majority, comply with this decision and remain part of our greater community. If a colleague decided, either under pressure from his membership or because he believed in its halachic propriety, to remove the mechitza in his synagogue, few would question the automatic resignation from the RCBC such would entail. Female clergy is the “mechitza” of our generation. Obviously it is the domain of any professional organization to determine its standards for membership, but it is equally critical that we elucidate to our community – again, and in conformity with the decisions of the RCA and OU, not to mention the rest of the Torah world – that lo zu haderech. This is not the proper way. Undermining the Mesorah has never kept Jews in the fold, all good intentions to the contrary notwithstanding. And to “grandfather in” something that is in its infancy is, frankly, bizarre; it is just playing a game that is designed to avoid a serious, mature discussion of the issue, and a lucid, unequivocal resolution as well.

Much has been made of this alleged encroachment on rabbinic autonomy, particularly in a rabbi’s own shul. I certainly subscribe to that, but there are limits to that principle as well. If shuls in one community together ostracized a recalcitrant husband for refusing to give his wife a Get – depriving him of synagogue honors and stripping him of membership – it is unlikely that today’s promoters of “rabbinic autonomy” would salute the rabbi who violates the consensus and grants privileges to that ignoble man, whatever good reasons he can adduce. No one lives on an island, and as the Midrash (Vayikra Raba 4:6) notes, no one can drill a hole under his seat in a boat and claim that only he is affected by it. There is strength in community and this decision aimed to reinforce that ideal. But if the decision is somehow weakened or vitiated, then the Mesorah community will be undermined and respect for rabbis, always a challenge in the Modern Orthodox world, will disappear. And rightly so.

We are a big tent but every tent has flaps and must be secured to the ground so that each gust of wind doesn’t blow it away. That ground is the Mesorah, and fealty towards it helps to produce God-fearing men and women who are the cornerstone of Jewish life and the foundation of the Jewish future. We want all Jews to be in that tent, and together hasten the day when all Jews will see and embrace the beauty of Torah without grievance and are faithful servants to the Divine will.

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The Oldest Hatred

There are persistent and credible reports that the oldest hatred – hatred of Jews – is back, with a vengeance, and is escalating throughout the world. For sure, some of the statistics are inflated by organizations that are in the business of monitoring Jew-hatred. And there are overt instances of Jew hatred that are ignored by these same organizations for partisan, political reasons, as they try to curry favor with their ideological siblings at the expense of distorting their mission and business model. (I still hate using the expression “anti-Semitism,” as I have yet to meet a Jew who defines himself as a “Semite.” The term itself is an obvious attempt to minimize this hatred.)

Is it true that Jew hatred has returned? Or is it more possible that it never left?

I tend to believe the latter. After all, the Sages were quite clear that Jew hatred has been our fate since we left Egypt (if not before), and certainly since we received the Torah at Sinai. Sinai was so named, the Talmud (Masechet Shabbat 89b) because from there, hatred (sin’ah) of the nations towards us descended to the world. We are different, have always been different, and maintain a set of divinely-ordained values that sets us apart from the world, and that the world – in whole or in part – has always struggled to adopt. It is no surprise that Jew-hatred endures.

It is likely true that the communication revolution of the past twenty years brought much Jew-hatred out of the shadows. The aftermath of the Holocaust drove many Jew-haters under cover. It became decidedly unpopular to openly stigmatize and denounce Jews. But the internet has allowed the most fringe parties on the planet to disseminate their odious ideas in many regards, and Jew hatred is no different. The ranting of otherwise obscure people is given undeserved prominence and thus, like many poisonous weeds, grows and grows.

Nevertheless, Jew hatred today is not generally typified by assaults on certain aspects of Torah and not even on the occasionally misdeeds of Jewish miscreants. It is located and (in many cases) shielded by masquerading as hatred of Israel.

So here’s the time to pull the mask off this new incarnation of the oldest hatred. How often do we hear that to be anti-Israel is not to be conflated with being anti-Jewish, that not every criticism of Israel is necessarily reflective of (all right, I’ll say it for effect) anti-Semitism? Too often, because the reality is that Jew hatred today is most often disguised as hatred of Israel.  And yes, to hate Israel is to hate Jews, and to be anti-Israel is to be a Jew-hater of the traditional, historical sort. Complaints about the nation state of the Jewish people have succeeded complaints about the Jewish people. Make no mistake about it, and the next time you read this disclaimer – “just because I am against Israel doesn’t mean I am a Jew hater” – answer promptly: “Yes, it does.”

How do we know and how can ascertain when this new Jew-hatred presents itself? Clearly, there are people who criticize Israel out of love – they want it to be more Jewish, more assertive, more protective of Jewish life, and less accommodating to its enemies. That is not hatred of Jews but love of Jews. But here are a few helpful hints that expose modern Jew hatred in its guise of just being anti-Zionist.

People who maintain that the State of Israel has no right to exist are Jew haters, period. Besides rejecting the Bible, they are promoting the notion that only Jews – of all peoples on the face of the earth – have no right to a national homeland.

People who support the BDS movement to encourage (and in some cases, to actively legislate) the boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning of Israel – and only Israel, of all the nations on the globe – they are Jew-haters, period. They are positing, without any evidence supporting their proposition and with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the State of Israel is the greatest threat to world peace today, undermines world stability, and is a source of great harm to other nations. This is not just preposterous and anti-Zionist; it is rank Jew-hatred that has accompanied us throughout our history. Any person or group that is uninterested in the cruelty and viciousness of any of the world’s dictatorships, and sees absolutely no need to BDS any other country in the world except for Israel is a Jew-hater, pure and simple.

People who complain about Israeli checkpoints that inconvenience Arabs entering Israel and apprehend terrorists are Jew haters, not just anti-Israel partisans. That is because they are maintaining that Israel, alone among the nations on the earth, has no right to physical borders, to control its borders, to exercise sovereignty over its land or to deter Arab terrorists from murdering innocent civilians. The mere assertion that Israel is not allowed to act as other sovereign nations act is Jew-hatred; the elementary rights that all other nations exercise simply do not pertain to the Jewish state. That is Jew hatred.

People who demand that Israel, alone among the nations on earth, has no right to retain the territory in its homeland that it captured in a defensive war but must surrender it in order to create another  hostile Arab state in the region are Jew-haters. They are applying to Israel standards that they do not apply to any other nation on earth, all of which captured its territory at one time in defensive (and sometimes offensive) wars. The proffering of rules that apply only to Israel is an explicit indicator of Jew hatred, and must be exposed as such.

Finally, people who claim that they cannot be Jew-haters because they are Jewish themselves, and think they can thus condemn Israel with immunity from the charge of Jew-hatred, are Jew-haters in one of the worst but too common manifestations of the oldest hatred: the self-hating Jew. The self-hating Jew hates himself or herself but also hates other Jews as well. This, sadly, is a well known phenomenon in Jewish history. Being Jewish doesn’t inoculate a person from possessing the scourge of Jew-hatred. Some of the worst Jew haters in history were Jews, descended from Jews, or had Jewish blood in them – and fought madly and violently to erase their Jewish identity.

Perhaps in one of the most whimsical expressions of this dynamic, there are Jew haters today – several American politicians stand out – who are quick to claim Jewish ancestry from Conversos or others in a lame attempt to distract from their Jew-hating policies and pronouncements. If only they realized that some Jew-haters are Jews, and some are even Jews who wear the garb of pious people and observe some of the mitzvot, they would spare us their resort to this tripe, a defense that convicts rather than exonerates its advocates.

I suppose it’s a good thing that Jew-haters try to conceal their Jew-hatred under the façade of just being anti-Israel; that means that it is still considered disreputable in most circles to be construed a Jew-hater. And yet too many Jews have adopted this hackneyed cliché of “being anti-Israel is not at all being anti-Jewish” in order to shelter their home team politicians. It is undeniable that the Democrat Party has become home to some of America’s most prominent Jew haters, and most Jews – confirmed Democrat partisans to their core (for some it is their primary identity) deny it, defend it, trot out the cliché, or reproach Israel for eliciting this Jew-hatred.

Note that the Republican Party has ostracized Rep. Steve King for remarks he made that were probably more out stupidity than venality.  When he asked rhetorically, in an interview, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” he was roundly and unanimously condemned by all Republicans, stripped of his committee assignments, and urged to find another line of work. (For the record, if his question had only mentioned “Western civilization,” it would have been fair and unremarkable. But “white nationalist and white supremacist” have been offensive terms, I think, since…forever.)

Yet, Democrats have been cozying up to the rabid, blatant Jew hater Louis Farrakhan for several decades. He is feted at their gatherings, featured in pictures with a host of Dem politicians (including Barack Obama), sought after for advice and (tacit) endorsements. And seldom is heard a discouraging word – from any Democrat politician, and certainly no Democrat legislator is sanctioned, Steve King style, by the Dem leaders.

It is the Democrat Party that is today the home of Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and others –all openly, shamelessly and fearlessly anti-Israel and hence anti-Jewish. They are supporters of BDS, in some form deniers of Israel’s right to exist, and essentially reject the lawful sovereignty of the State of Israel over its homeland. And rather than repudiate such representatives as Omar, Steve King style, she was rewarded with a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, notwithstanding her anti-Israel and thus anti-Jewish animus, and even her advocacy for leniency for members of ISIS who hailed from Minnesota.

This is not your grandfather’s Democrat Party, but too many Jews are stuck in the past, and too many Democrat supporters of Israel, some Jews themselves, have been cowed into silence. They give a pass and turn a blind eye to obvious anti-Israel expressions and policies if they originate with someone who has a (D) after his or her last name. That does not bode well for the future.

Some organizations – the ADL stands out – are fixated on the Jew-hatred of the white supremacists while whitewashing the Jew-hatred found on the radical left, in part of the black and Muslim communities and their favorite political party. Honesty in their approach would be a welcome change. Others struggled mightily to camouflage the overt Jew-hatred found in the radical feminist movement and their marches. Some, to their credit, prioritized their Jewish identity and walked away – but others did not, the “cause” being greater than their pride and dignity as Jews.

One way to overcome their inhibitions, and speak truth to the new power base in the party, is to decry this new manifestation of Jew hatred, to say unabashedly that, yes, hatred of Israel is hatred of Jews, without vacillation, hesitation, and weaselly obfuscations.

Indeed, that might help maintain support for Israel as a bi-partisan value – and help confront and eradicate this newest incarnation of the oldest hatred. Jew-hatred must be called out – whether it emanates from the left or the right, Democrats or Republicans, Jews or non-Jews.  It will be challenging, but as Rav Avraham Kook famously stated: “The purely righteous do not just complain about evil but increase justice.” The diminution of Jew-hatred (elimination is a fantasy) will go a long way in creating a society and a world with justice for all. It begins with eradicating the contrived distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

It is one and the same.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)

The Wages of Sin

The Second Lady of these not entirely United States, Karen Pence, is being lambasted by the “enlightened” media for her decision to teach again in a Christian school that unabashedly professes biblical values. The school’s main crime seems to be its endorsement of marriage as the uniting of “one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union.” This has aroused the ire not of advocates for polygamy but those for same sex marriage, apparently still unaware that the Bible repudiates those relationships. The reaction should send a chill down the spine of every faithful Jew. Karen Pence has committed the modern sin (one of the only sins still on the books) of embracing traditional concepts of sin; alas, the abolition of all forms of biblical sin is now deemed by the purveyors of today’s culture as sophisticated, liberating, avant-garde, and trendy.

She might be today’s target – but religious Jews are in their gun sights as well.

Most American Jews today are, sadly, unaware of the Torah’s morality, conflate it with secular progressivism at its worst, or reject it in whole or in part. Advocates for the new morality clamored for several years to have their seat at the table; having gained it, they now seek to drive traditionalists out of the house entirely. Increasingly, people of religious faith find their views mocked and scorned in the public domain, and accused of being haters by real haters of G-d, tradition, morality and common sense. All this was predictable. The quest for legitimacy was not simply about rights for some but about eradicating from society all traditional norms and public expressions thereof. Will it be long before religious schools are threatened by the government with revocation of their charters and denial of any government funds (even for religiously neutral activities) if they continue to teach certain biblical passages that reflect the moral mandates by which mankind lived and civilization prospered for thousands of years? It will happen, sooner rather than later.

This poses a particular dilemma for Jews. This will not be the first exile in our history in which the primary assault was on Jewish values. The so-called “Greek” exile, in which Jews in Israel were threatened by Hellenistic dominance, culminated in the rebellion whose victory is celebrated on Chanuka. That threat was almost entirely spiritual. Jews were allowed to live in the land of Israel with a functioning polity and Temple – as long as Hellenism was embraced. Greek culture was pluralistic in that sense. G-d could take His place among the pantheon of other gods, G-d forbid. To pious, faithful Jews, that was unbearable, and worth a war.

Its successor Roman culture similarly challenged Jewish values, even as Rome conquered the land of Israel, destroyed the Temple, exiled most Jews, and sought to suppress the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot. These cultural assaults on Jews were almost non-existent during the Christian and Muslim exiles, as both embraced biblical morality in some form but were antagonized by the Jews’ persistence in clinging to the Torah and not converting to their updated versions of the Torah. The hostility was physical, personal and religious, even as we shared similar values, more or less.

The 20th century saw again the rise of cultural challenges to Judaism, where the ethos of the Torah itself came under assault. While America was mostly accommodating, Europe collapsed under the weight of Nazism and Communism. The Nazi hatred for Judaism and Torah paralleled its barbarous hatred for Jews. But before and after the Holocaust, it was the Soviet Union that concentrated the brutal organs of its dictatorship on waging war against the Torah and those Jews who studied it and followed its precepts. The attempt to eliminate all traces of religion – and of the Torah as the source of all morality – was pervasive and relentless. The banning of the Jewish calendar, the teaching of Torah and even the Hebrew language, the prohibition on the performance of mitzvot and even the acknowledgment of fidelity to G-d greatly offended the state authorities who, as good atheists usually do, worshiped themselves and the works of their hands.

The Nazi system was destroyed seventy- five years ago and the Soviet Union imploded thirty years ago, but hatred of G-d and His morality has surfaced again, as it always must somewhere, in the form of new morality that has made personal freedom and individual autonomy the highest of all values. That notion is barely tolerable – but what has made it intolerable is the demand by these advocates of freedom that their freedom takes precedence over the freedom of others. Their insistence on living as they choose to live –marrying whomever they want, flaunting their lifestyles however they want – pales before their demand that everyone else accept it, embrace it, love it, promote it and utter nary a dissenting word.

And those who still dissent, nonetheless, will be shamed and victimized, pilloried and persecuted – from the bakers, florists and photographers who have had their personal autonomy trampled to the religious Jews and Christians whose expressions of faith and commitment to traditional morality mark them, in the thinking of the new Torquemadas, as haters and bigots.

All they lack is the official machinery of state power to enforce their doctrines at the point of a bayonet or under threat of riots and mobs that will harass every school, student, storekeeper or servant of G-d who resists and doesn’t comply. That is what they lack. So far.

George Washington said that “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” The United States was founded, and became a haven for Jews and others, because of its firm commitment to the freedoms of speech, worship, religion, press, assembly and association. Those freedoms are being endangered by the progressive mob – and by the silence of those who have been intimidated by that mob. Undoubtedly, this clash of cultures is at the core of the polarization and discontent that is roiling America. The positive outcome of this clash is that leaders of various faith communities, whatever our other differences, have bonded together to confront this threat to universal morality and these attacks on religious faith. Again, to quote George Washington, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

It is not unforeseeable that the culture and values of modern America may become so antithetical to Jewish life as to negate any benefits this exile provided in the past. It might make living a complete Torah life so difficult that many more Jews will be swept away by this torrent and divine service driven underground – as has happened to us before. Ironic, indeed, if this exile ends not because of a wave of physical persecution and limits to our freedom but by the excesses that freedom without responsibility, unmoored from its biblical origins, engendered, proliferated, inundated and  overwhelmed this land, from sea to shining sea.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)

Democracy in Decline

It is not a happy season for democracies. The American President and the Israeli Prime Minister are under constant, endless investigations, with no end in sight. The British Prime Minister and the French President are besieged, incapable of implementing their preferred policies, whatever the merits might be. Riots abound in both places, and in Germany, where the long-serving Chancellor has lost support, power and is nearing the end of her tenure. Italy and Greece are as unstable as ever.

In each case, the media and hostile special interest groups are obsessed with opposition, resistance, tearing down societal structures and fomenting instability. And by comparison, Russia and China are authoritarian islands of stability, notwithstanding the internal problems of each. But it seems as if each democracy is intent on cannibalizing itself, and many “free” countries have enormously high rates of dissatisfaction with life, government and society. People are always agitated about something. Almost every government leader in democracies across the world is the target of some sustained personal, legal or political attack, without respite. It is the era of permanent investigation and relentless criticism. What was once democracy’s strength – the people’s power to change governments – has now become the symbol of its stagnation and weakness.

It is no wonder that after almost forty years of growth, promoted by the Reagan Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy is now on the decline. The Democracy Index, a somewhat tendentious but annual barometer (last measured in 2017) of the state of democracies across the world, finds that there are only 19 full democracies in the world today, compared to 52 dictatorships (authoritarian regimes, as they are politely called). Both the United States and Israel rate as “flawed” democracies, the latter partly for its religious ethos that irritates the secularists who measure these things, but both because of the dysfunctional governments that rule their respective countries. Israel rates well on the level of political participation of its citizens; the United States rates relatively poorly in that regard, tied with Mexico and Bulgaria.

President Trump, no conventional steward of governance by any means, riles up the opposition simply by proposing something. Policies that were once supported by Democrats (e.g., border wall over a decade ago) are now opposed simply because of their proponent. Kicking the can down the road and obsessing over elections (and not the actual tasks of elected officials) are the norms of political life. Money and power (which gives access to even more money) are the coin of the realm. The only area in which politicians excel is in spending money they don’t have.

Israel’s government is in such disarray. The Prime Minister is under threat of multiple indictments and his wife currently under indictment and awaiting trial. Binyamin Netanyahu today serves as the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Foreign Minister (and Health Minister, and possibly several other ministries). That is not a successful formula for good governance, effective leadership, astute problem-solving or crisis management. The new elections on the horizon will shuffle the deck but except for the customary one or two new faces who will shine brightly and then flame out, all the cards are still the same.

We are experiencing the veracity of Winston Churchill’s adage that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

Why is there such discontent?  A number of points need to be made. The authoritarian countries do present greater stability, less crime, less opportunity, often a keener adherence to traditional values but at the cost of less individual liberty. Lest one think that the benefits outweigh the detriments, there are very few people immigrating to Russia and China, nor for that matter are people from across the world flocking to the most highly-rated democracies – Norway, Iceland and Sweden. European countries have been undermined by waves of Middle Eastern migrants, most of whom have not sought acculturation and still others who have transported such alien values to their new homes that violence and crime have rendered parts of Germany, Belgium, France and Britain off limits to citizens – and to the police. Riots and dissatisfaction abound. Many governments flit from party to party in successive elections, with the voters always voting for change, then either not liking the change or not seeing enough of it. The British and American governments are world leaders in stagnation and paralysis. Most voters resent politicians’ failing to keep their campaign promises, except in America where many people are outraged when the President tries to keep his.

There is such a state of perpetual ferment, unrest and turbulence that the happiest people tune out of public affairs, and only wake up (too late) when some unfortunate policy affects them deleteriously. Democracy has been so frangible that some newer democracies have drifted towards authoritarianism in recent years.

What is going on? The Torah certainly doesn’t incline towards democracy (it favors a benign monarchy) although it certainly doesn’t oppose it. But the era of discontent has been fueled by internal, personal struggles that only play out on the public stage of the politics of the moment.

The inherent and ongoing problem has been the secularization of society that has fostered a loss of meaning in life that causes both the obsession with politics and the disgruntlement with government. With freedom comes responsibility, and the freedoms of democracy have been abused to nurture a climate of irresponsibility that has produced aimlessness, the breakdown of the traditional family, rampant out-of-wedlock births and a steep deterioration in the numbers and state of marriage. Moral commitment has been so enervated that (1) people shy away from discussing traditional morality in public forums, (2) seemingly intelligent people are re-visiting (with straight faces) the definitions of male and female, and (3) the rock of society since time immemorial – the Biblical moral norms that set the standard for human interactions and aspirations – has been eroded and marginalized.

Lost in meaninglessness, some have made a religion of the environment and climate change. The priests of this movement, who warn, threaten and predict doomsday ahead, and, in their initial policy foray tried to raise fuel taxes in France to reduce dependency on oil, received their comeuppance in the form of riots that forced the elitists to back down. Call it the French Reformation, spearheaded by the common folk tired of paying indulgences to the Davos set.

Others think they will find meaning and happiness in the triumphs of their favored candidates or party – only to be disappointed when they win and horrified and apoplectic when they lose. The win brings a momentary high – which of course does not endure because it is utterly insignificant in the course of things. Still others – especially, and surprisingly, young people – are embracing restrictive speech codes to spare themselves from having to suffer from hearing contrary views or words they consider harsh, not realizing that these official encroachments on personal liberty will come back to haunt them. The intrusions of Facebook and other social media outlets into people’s private lives rival that of any dictatorship – except for their inability to erase your real existence (they can erase your artificial one) – and the persecution and silencing of conservative or traditional viewpoints do not bode well for democracies either.

One would think that there would be some satisfaction in voting for the government of your choice – but almost 40% of the American electorate never votes. President Trump won in 2016 with 63M votes, in a country of 330M people; neither candidate garnered even 20% of the population. That is a small percentage, which is not to say that it is Trump’s fault. Turnout was less than 56% – and that exceeded the turnout in 2012.

It has occurred to me over the years that the wrong politicians can make life dramatically worse but the best politicians can only make life marginally better. Meaning has to be pursued in the areas that make life meaningful – our relationship with G-d, our commitment to the greater good, our love of family and friends, our pursuit of good deeds and always seeking the good in other people. Those have always been and always will be the key factors in the contented life: faith, family, community, tradition, values and good deeds. Almost everything else is fluff or distractions.

The disappearance of G-d from public and private life – and the creation of new gods to take His place – has spawned restlessness and despair across what used to be called the free world. It has led to the revival of socialism – the idea that the state and its organs (i.e., others) are responsible for me and my needs because I choose to desist from self-help and productivity. It has led to the robust movement to legalize marijuana across the democracies, although rarely in the autocracies; that too is very telling. It has led to the collapse of traditional morality that was one of the linchpins of a world that seemed more normal and more stable, because it was.

The god of dictatorship was slaughtered in the wake of the evil excesses of fascism and Communism; it seems that the gods of democracy are being slaughtered today, with the leaders in all the well known democracies scurrying about for solutions or even viable approaches moving forward. None are obvious or forthcoming; temporary balms are all that are on the horizon. Churchill was right, and Jews and the rest of the world have always fared better under democracies than under dictatorships. But history has taught us that states are more fragile entities than we think, and many things seem unbreakable until they break.

We certainly pray for the welfare of government, as our Sages taught, but we must seek stability, purpose, and true satisfaction in the private and communal areas of life – not in the public arena.

When all forms of human government fail abjectly, what then is our recourse? Perhaps that, too, is one vital role of Moshiach – to redeem society from its waywardness and relieve it of its bitterness and recriminations. That will be true freedom for all and the triumph of G-d’s kingdom on earth, may it come soon and in our days.

 

(You can buy Rabbi Pruzansky’s new book, Volume Two of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility,” now in fine stores, at Amazon.com or at Gefen Publishing,)

Scalia Speaks – to Jews

The late, great Justice Antonin Scalia not only led the so-called conservative wing of the Supreme Court for several decades but was also a legal thinker whose opinions, even his dissents, shaped this generation’s jurisprudence, and probably that of the next several as well. He was quite literate, forceful and colorful in his dissents, and was also a sought-after speaker, and some of those speeches have been collected in a book entitled “Scalia Speaks.” So what does this pious Catholic have to teach Jews? A lot.

On a mundane level, he noted in one talk that when he was young and rambunctious, whenever he wanted to go to a place of which he knew his parents disapproved, he would argue his case by pointing out that everybody else was going. (How often do parents hear that?) To which their invariable response was: “You’re not everybody else.”

Jewish parents can certainly take that message to heart. One of the challenges of modern life, and in particular warding off the harmful effects of much of modern culture that is as vacuous as it is tawdry, is to teach our children that they are not like everybody else. We are part of a nation that was set aside by the Creator to embody and promulgate His moral code, a code that most of the rest of the world rejects or ignores. So, yes, we cannot just immerse ourselves in the totality of Western culture and kasher it by giving it a Jewish flavor. We are called upon to be different, to set an example for others, and to revel in what Scalia called the “apartness” that he felt as a young Catholic. That “apartness” meant that activities that were perfectly permissible for others were not to him – and in our context, for us.

The bulk of the book, though, focuses repeatedly on the revolution that Scalia effected in Supreme Court jurisprudence, an odd sort of revolution in that he sought nothing more that to restore the theory of law that had governed the Court since its inception until, say, the early 1960’s. It is what legal thinkers call “originalism,” essentially calling for faithfulness to the original text of the US Constitution. Obviously, he was not completely successful, but the problem itself is one of the primary reasons for much of the polarization and dysfunction in American politics today.

Scalia noted repeatedly that he did not perceive “originalism” as trying to ascertain the original “intent” of the Framers of the Constitution (a somewhat esoteric if not mystical process) but rather the original “meaning” that they ascribed to those words and clauses. For example, the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” could not have meant capital punishment because such was permissible and routinely executed when the Constitution was enacted. There can be no constitutional right to an abortion because such was illegal in colonial times when the Constitution was adopted. Military chaplains cannot be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because such existed in Washington’s army and when the republic was established.

All these and other changes have come about, and engendered tremendous unrest in society, because of the theory of the “living Constitution,” the notion that the Constitution must reflect, to quote one of Scalia’s nemeses (Chief Justice Earl Warren), “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” (In the most extreme iteration of this idea, former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak held that Israel’s High Court must decide its cases “according to the views of the enlightened community in Israel,” enshrining a judicial tyranny in which the Court has the last word on every aspect of political and social life in Israel that it wishes to address, and I mean every, while willfully ignoring the views of religious Jews whom he considered to be unenlightened.)

There are several problems with this approach. For one, “evolving standards of decency” or “the views of the enlightened community” are both subjective and undemocratic. They essentially take a judge’s personal predilections and carve them into law – without public support or legal authority. They make the judges into the law itself, rather than have judges interpret the law.

Secondly, as Scalia points out with typical sarcasm, this attitude towards the superiority of modern mores suggests that “societies always mature; they never rot. This despite the twentieth century’s evidence of concentration camps and gas ovens in one of the most advanced and civilized nations of the world.” So beware those who wave their personal opinions on a banner and proclaim them to be the views of “enlightened” people, and woe to those who do not share those opinions.

Thirdly, the Bill of Rights was enacted to protect minority rights from majority tyranny, and the resort to the subjectivity of the “living Constitution” undermines that very notion, as we have seen. The Supreme Court (in Kelo, in which Scalia dissented) grossly interfered with private property rights simply because the government decided it had more lucrative ways as to how that property could be used. Or, note how the Court’s narrow decision discovering a constitutional right to same-sex marriage very quickly – and predictably – resulted in attempts to suppress the rights to freedom of religion and expression to traditionalists, whether bakers, florists or others.

Even worse, when one generation’s liberal judges wrap themselves in the mantle of “enlightenment” or “progress,” they unwittingly prompt another generation’s illiberal judges to grant similar substance (and infallibility) to their own decisions, and that is harmful to democracy.

The US Constitution, in an inspired way, has a mechanism to deal with injustices, and even with “evolving standards of decency.” It is called the amendment process, and it is inherently democratic, if a bit slow. But unresolved moral issues from the founding – slavery, for example – were dealt with first through war, of course, but then through passage of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Note as well that the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 granted women the right to vote – through a reasonable democratic process – but it would not have dawned on the Supreme Court to “find” the right to vote in the Equal Protection Clause.

A more reasonable and judicious approach to modern controversies – abortion, same-sex marriage and the like – would be similarly to subject them to the democratic process, state by state, or when appropriate, through Congress. Having the Supreme Court issue decrees from on high as if these matters are now settled has distorted the democratic process, incensed about half the population, and transformed the nominations process for Supreme Court justices into a political circus, and understandably so. Justices are no longer interpreting the existing law but are supposed to make the law, shape the law, create the law and bring about the social changes that the “enlightened public” desires. In effect, they too have become politicians, and that also undermines the integrity of the Court.

We need not leap too far to perceive how the same dynamic has torn apart the Jewish world and left us factionalized and divided. The non-Orthodox movements have long interpreted the Torah based on what they deem to be the “evolving standards” of secular society. In roughly less than two centuries, these “enlightened” folk abolished the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, transformed the synagogue by removing the mechitza, imposed female clergy on the Jewish public, and adopted a steady list of liberal social causes as if they were mandated by Torah and even though most are proscribed by the Torah.

But while the Constitution is man-made and fairly subject to human amendment, the Torah is of divine origin. Its mitzvot are “adjusted” at our peril. These heresies have naturally inspired massive assimilation among their adherents, as the Torah has become so malleable as to be meaningless except as a source of platitudes. Even more troubling than the decline of non-Orthodoxy is the enormous rise in the number of unaffiliated Jews, today a plurality in American life. Why remain connected to a Judaism that just mimics and reinforces one’s political conclusions? Instead, they “have abandoned the source of the living waters to dig for themselves broken cisterns that cannot contain any water” (Yirmiyahu 2:13).

Justice Scalia speaks to us as well. It is uncanny, but perhaps not surprising, how the deformation of American jurisprudence has paralleled that of Jewish jurisprudence (or vice versa) and with very similar consequences. One hopes that the recent additions to Supreme Court (opposed in apocalyptic terms by so many Jews!) will restore the constitutional balance and the supremacy of democracy, and that Congress should get back to the business of legislating. But we must hope, pray and do everything in our power to reach out to our fellow Jews, disappearing one by one into the mists of assimilation, the fog of intermarriage and the haze of Jewish ignorance, to reclaim their heritage, bolster our people and hold on to their eternal destiny.

Lies to Power

Rav David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, was our guest this past Shabbat, and his Friday night talk made abundantly clear his passionate love for every Jew regardless of station in life or level of observance. Of course, one would have naturally thought the opposite based on the tendentious, fanatical and demonstrably false story peddled by the media in the wake of the massacre of the Pittsburgh Jews HY”D, since retracted but for which no apology has yet to be offered. It is an object lesson in the current low state of the fourth estate. (i.e., the press).

The lie emerged from a misreading of an interview in Makor Rishon, utterly distorted by a writer for Haaretz known for her rabid anti-Orthodox and anti-Torah biases, and peddled by a gullible media conglomerate in America all-too-willing to besmirch rabbis.

The headline – “Rav Lau refuses to call Pittsburgh synagogue a Bet Knesset” – was simply false. As Makor Rishon reported, when its reporter tried to induce negative comments about Conservative Judaism in the wake of this horror (and how absolutely inappropriate was that?), Rav Lau responded, seemingly in shock, “Mah zeh meshaneh b’aizeh Bet Knesset oh nusach haim mitpallelim?!” – What does it matter what synagogue or text they were praying? There it was, the words “Bet Knesset,” hiding in plain sight, one might say.

The reporter persisted, trying then to extract another headline, “so you’re saying it is a Bet Knesset?” To which the follow-up question would have been: “so why doesn’t the State recognize them? Why aren’t they recognized as legitimate according to the halacha?”

This was an appalling attempt not to solicit Rav Lau’s thoughts and feelings on the murder of Jews but to focus the inquiry on the nature of the religious observance of the victims. The line of questioning was so inappropriate that Rav Lau protested – and pointed out its rudeness and irrelevance, reiterating that these people were Jews, in a publicly-identifiable Jewish place, engaging in all the formalities of prayer and seeking “closeness with G-d.” His answer was right on key to media questions that, in context, were so discordant and tasteless: taking a moment that symbolized Jewish unity and our common fate and trying to exploit it to stoke the flames of controversy and division.

But how can it be that a heartfelt identification with the murdered Jews of Pittsburgh became a dismissal of this synagogue as a synagogue and supposedly an insult to the victims?

There was a time when the primary role of journalists was to report the news. They attempted, often at great hardship, to ascertain the facts and provide those facts in a cogent narrative to the reader. That ended almost fifty years ago. Today, most journalists see their role not as reporting the news but as shaping the news. There is no objectivity; there is only an agenda that they seek to promote. They are not reporters but advocates, and the causes they advocate are so dear to them (in the Jewish world they include radical feminism, hatred of Torah, hatred of Israel, etc.) that reporting falsehoods that advance their agenda is seen as simply  a means to serve the greater good, as they perceive it.

There was a time when journalists prided themselves on their courage in speaking truth to power. Now, too many pride themselves on speaking lies to power if their personal political or religious preferences are thereby served. This is causing untold harm to society for several reasons.

People tend to believe what they see in print even if experience – especially recent experience – should have taught us otherwise. The internet is an intellectual jungle and a moral swamp. The lies that are promulgated with astonishing frequency – here is one: “the Tree of Life Congregation that Shabbat was hosting a brit milah of the offspring of two men,” a lie that caused several fringe rabbinic figures to declaim sheer foolishness – are used as click bait, to grab the eyes but also leave a deleterious imprint on the mind and soul.

A reader has to be even more skeptical about what a journalist writes than the journalist is supposed to be when interviewing a politician or public figure. Or a better idea: simply stop reading outlets or individuals who traffic in falsehoods as a matter of course.

It is as if the laws of lashon hara (evil talk) have been repealed. Classically, lashon hara is defined as information (even true) that tends to disparage another person or will cause his or her reputation to be diminished in your eyes. The public’s “right to know” is not a Torah concept or value. There are a tiny number of general exceptions to this rule –allowances for averting danger or to alerting people to potential harm in shidduchim or business – but most modern journalism is an ethical free-for-all that sees ruining people as a sport and acceptable for the cause.

Indeed, two of the complainants against Brett Kavanaugh have in recent weeks recanted and admitted that they concocted lurid accusations in order to derail his nomination and gain attention for themselves. That is bad enough, and they should be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned (which will never happen); what is worse is how the media breathlessly reported these allegations that smeared an individual only because it suited their agenda. That is a gross corruption of the freedom of the press; it is possible to have a press that is too free.

Today, it is agenda that governs, not news or facts. And the pursuit of an agenda has now induced several Knesset members to demand that the Israeli government formally recognize the non-Orthodox movements, elevate their stature, and deem them legitimate expressions of Judaism because of the events in Pittsburgh. Talk about striking while the iron is hot! But the grievous attack on our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh, one that has shaken all Jews to the core, does not change the truth of Torah one iota. There were intermarried Jews who were murdered by Nazis during the Holocaust; we do not then permit intermarriage in their memory. There were Jews who (rightly) saved their lives during the Holocaust by eating non-kosher food; that doesn’t mean we commemorate them by eating treif. It is an intellectual non sequitur but the agenda matters more than logic or the eternal truths of Torah.

The contention of these Knesset members is as farcical and publicity-driven as it is insincere. They supported recognition of the heterodox movements the day before the massacre just as much as they did the day after the massacre. So spare us the false piety, as if the murderer compels us to destroy the Torah even as he destroyed the lives of eleven Jews.

Is it possible that the halcyon days of journalism never existed? It could be that facts were always filtered through the reporter, and what was transmitted or omitted was always prejudiced by the reporter’s personal predilections. Maybe – but at least they tried to hide it and pretend they were objective. Perhaps a reporter’s byline should contain his or her top three favorite causes and voting preferences so their writings can be evaluated accordingly.

It is true, as the left often claims, that not every criticism of a leader is Fake News, but there are many criticisms that are clearly Fake News. The mere fact that the term Fake News resonates with the public reflects both its pertinence and its accuracy and underscores the problem of modern journalism.

There is a reason why many journalists (although I’m sure not all) are held in such low esteem today – lower than the President or even Congress. Most of us are still inclined to afford some credence to something that is in print (or on the screen) right in front of our eyes. But having experienced these lies myself, and having been present at events and then read media accounts that had little to do with the event I just witnessed with my own eyes and ears, I know that our initial instinct should be to doubt, disbelieve and then reject much of what we read or hear.

It will change when journalists just report the news and not try to interpret it for us. It will change when there is full disclosure of the journalists’ biases and pet causes. It will change when people stop reading, listening to or watching agenda journalism. It will change when people protest the shaming of good people and the propagation of lies, half-truths and distortions about them.

That is to say, it will not change anytime soon.  So caveat lectorum. Reader beware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ark of History

The two great individuals of ancient times – Noach and Avraham – had different personalities, were treated differently by G-d and their contemporaries suffered wholly different fates. Noach’s world was destroyed – the generation of the flood – while Avraham’s – the generation of the dispersion – was saved but scattered. Some explain the difference by highlighting one particular facet: Noach’s contemporaries were evil towards G-d but absolutely hideous towards each other, whereas the generation of the dispersion got along well with each other even though they rebelled against G-d. A society that is corrupt, immoral, depraved, angry, bitter, acrimonious and hostile towards anyone who is slightly different cannot long endure and cannot be saved.

Traditionally, we understand the difference between Noach and Avraham, and the implicit criticism of Noach, in that Noach made no effort to reach out to his generation. He was content to save himself, and did, while Avraham lived among his contemporaries, interacted with them, gained their respect over time, and influenced multitudes – he was the “father of a multitude of nations.”  But there is more to it than that

Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rav of Har Bracha, dealt recently with the following question: there are many moral and halachic challenges in the Israeli army today, some of them quite intentional as the remnants of the secular, progressive Israeli world attempt to impose Western culture and values on young draftees, especially religious ones. Given that, the questioner asked, aren’t the Haredim justified in trying to avoid those problems that carry with them a real risk of diluting one’s level of religious commitment if not eradicating it entirely?

To be sure, the Haredi world has changed substantially, and several thousand young Haredim now enlist every year, but the question focused not on numbers but on attitude. How should we deal with the spiritual dangers implicit in exposing impressionable young Jews to potentially heretical ideas and decadent environment?

Rav Melamed answered that the primary goal of haredim, and of exile Jews in general, was always hisardut, survival. Survival was everything – both physical survival and spiritual survival. To survive in the exile requires walls, and even occasionally, an ark, some secure, impregnable facility (or lifestyle) that removes us from the mainstream of society that is always beckoning, always enticing, and too often successful in luring us away from the world of Torah.

But such an attitude has no place in Israel. There the goal is not mere survival but rather living the complete Torah life, and that requires Torah study, observance of mitzvot, a state, an army, a government, industry and commerce and agriculture and much else. It requires living a complete life according to the Torah, and through that, the model Torah society is built.

I think Rav Melamed is both wise and correct – but what about Jews in the exile today? What ensures, or facilitates, our survival, with G-d’s grace? There are two possible models that we can follow, one follows Noach’s lead and the other the path of Avraham.

The first is to build an ark, to segregate ourselves, interact with others as minimally as possible, and wall ourselves off in the hopes of surviving the onslaught of spiritual allures and dangers that lurk around us. That was Noach’s approach.

The other model is Avraham, who lived in Elon Moreh, and Egypt, and Hevron, and had to go to war, and befriended Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, and tried to understand and help the evildoers of Sodom, and who had to deal with Pharaoh and Avimelech and the other debauched creatures of his day. Avraham shepherded his flock with them, made treaties with them, tried to educate them about the true G-d, and saw himself as part of his society, not aloof or estranged or above it all. And they recognized that as well, as the children of Het later said to him, “you are a prince of G-d among us.”

We could certainly stop here and say that the lesson is to be an Avraham rather than a Noach, and it is probably true and good advice, but even that is not dispositive. There is a danger in being an Avraham as there is in being a Noach. Neither was completely successful – Noach was certainly unsuccessful as his whole world was destroyed, he became a hermit and recluse after the flood and his descendants did not always adhere to his values. But even Avraham, our forefather and hero, he too had his share of frustrations and setbacks. There is a price to be paid in mingling with Sodom and the Philistines and the other degenerates who were his neighbors. His own son Yishmael was a casualty, as was Esav his grandson.

In truth, we live in a more open world today, and the Haredim live in a more closed world, but we each have our share of successes and failures. We all walk a fine line, even dangling on a precipice. It seems that the Haredi world loses some of its youth because of failed segregation; sometimes the highest wall is not enough, especially in a world in which there are incessant intrusions on our lives every minute and wherever we are. But we lose some of our youth because of failed integration: when we do not convey well enough the need for a wall of some height, for some barriers and moral limits; when we fail to teach our youth that we are not all the same and that we need to carve out for ourselves a special, spiritual place; when we fail to inculcate the notions of obligations and responsibility rather than privileges and feel-good spirituality.

Too much segregation doesn’t work, like too much integration doesn’t work. What is too much integration? One secular Jewish paper recently headlined that “Jewish” groups are upset about Justice Kavanaugh’s stance on Jewish issues and fear for the future. So what are their “Jewish” issues? Not Jewish education and tuition tax credits, and certainly not assimilation or intermarriage, of course not Israel, and not even his position on religious liberty matters. No – these left-wing Jewish groups are worried that Justice Kavanaugh is “wrong” on these four “Jewish” issues: abortion, immigration, sanctuary cities and affirmative action.

But I cannot quite determine what makes those Jewish interests; they are secular, political controversies that are roiling American society. We can certainly have opinions on them, and not just the one opinion mandated by the left-wing elites. They are not Jewish interests per se – but I do understand why those who think that way are rapidly disappearing from the Jewish world with a tenuous connection maintained only by a fluid definition of what it is to be a Jew.

So if neither segregation nor integration fully works, then what are we to do? And the answer is: both! We have to know when to segregate and when to integrate, when to get involved and when to step back. And above all, we must follow the sagacious guidance of Isaiah the prophet who said long ago (54:2): “Broaden the place of your tent and stretch out the curtains of your dwelling place; do not hesitate.”  We have to reach and not completely wall ourselves off. But also: “lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.” We have to make sure that our tent is in order, firmly attached to the ground, before expanding outwardly. A tent that is not rooted is blown away by the first stormy wind that drifts over us.

The more rooted we are and the deeper our commitment, the more we can expand. First we plant roots, and then we spread out, and we will thus merit the realization of the eternal covenant and the promise of complete redemption, speedily and in our days.