The Wisdom of Kotzk

So what was a born and committed mitnaged (me) doing several weeks ago at the grave of Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the celebrated Kotzker Rebbe? Kotzk is a small village in central Poland, where the Kotzker Rebbe set up his Hasidic court in the second quarter of the 19th century, and our Heritage tour stopped there and visited the tiny Jewish cemetery where his grave is located. Indeed, the Kotzker is the Rebbe that mitnagdim can most appreciate, because he favored the primacy of Torah study above all and disdained the traditional trappings of the Hasidic court, the claims of miracles and wonders, and even the customary veneration of the Rebbe. His end also had its dark and very human side.

At his grave, I shared and explained some of his more famous aphorisms, all of which contain wisdom and insight that can benefit Jews today as well. Here are some of my particular favorites.

The middle of the road is for horses.” Human beings have to ascertain all the facts as best they can, and then decide. This is especially true of leaders, spiritual and/or political. One can choose the right side or the left side, but one must choose, at least in theory. These days, only the theory remains. So-called “leaders” are prone to nuance, obfuscation, endless debates and committees, seeing all sides and then choosing none, one compelling reason why malaise and apathy are so prevalent. Decisions are often avoided so as not to offend anyone – echoing Disraeli’s famous quip: “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” – with anarchy and ineptitude the general result.

The Kotzker had it right, as did General Patton (“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way”), but it is a hard sell in a world where “leaders” live in fear of laity, are forced to follow and then pretend they are courageously blazing new trails. (A distinguished rabbi who was with us explained the Kotzker’s statement as referring to the Rambam’s “golden mean,” which is not the midpoint between two extremes – the realm of the horses – but similar to the third vertex of a triangle that draws from the other two. That could be, but I still prefer my interpretation.)

Where is G-d to be found? Wherever you let Him in.” Jews have suffered for centuries from approaches to Torah that seek to confine G-d to comfortable places that will not impinge on our desires or that sought to conform the Torah to modern, Western values that are often antithetical to Torah but, strangely, are perceived by many people as superior to those of the Torah. Thus the ongoing efforts to legislate certain sins out of existence or re-define Jewish law and lore so that they satisfy modern sensibilities. Such endeavors are often presented as attempts to bring us closer to G-d but they are more accurately understood as feats of self-worship, with references to the Deity as a flimsy and transparent cover. G-d can be found in surrender to His Torah, in the voluntary abnegation of our desires that conflict with His stated will. And that is “letting Him in,” to our minds, hearts and deeds.

I could probably revive the dead but I prefer to revive the living.” There is no greater wonder than the resurrection of the dead – but reviving the living might be more challenging. Habit, the great strength of the committed spiritual life, is also its bane. If we do something today – pray, wear tefilin, eat kosher, etc. – simply because we did it yesterday, then our spiritual life has ossified and teeters on the brink of irrelevance. Such can lead people who are observant in their private lives or synagogue activities to lie, steal, commit other crimes and think nothing of it.

Religious man struggles first with maintaining the daily commitment but then with infusing that commitment with vitality and enthusiasm. That is a challenge, but where is it written that we are not to be challenged? In fact, the opposite is true. In a similar context, the Kotzker stated: “Just to (by rote) fulfill one’s obligations? Not at all! Either everything or nothing,” which takes us back to the middle of the road and the horses. If you’re going to do something, do it right, and do it right the first time and every time (within the limits of human frailties).

The Jewish people could use a little revivification of the living – to minimize the sense of routine and maximize the excitement of Torah life and the opportunities that have blessed our generation. One reason why that has become more difficult in recent times is this:

I am requesting that you not sin, not because it is forbidden to sin but rather because you should not have enough leisure time to sin.” Modern man has a lot of time on his hands, and we do not always fill that time in the most salubrious ways. The technological advances of the last century have eased the burdens of sustenance and alleviated the household chores that consumed much of our time and energy in the past, but they have also created different burdens and new obligations. Certainly, some of the social movements that have transformed the world in the last half century are the consequences of these advances that arose detached from any moral constraints or at least in a society where moral restrictions were perceived as archaic.

We have the opportunity and the means today to increase our Torah study, performance of mitzvot and pursuit of the good far more than did past generations, and yet many will argue – and with merit – that we are more disconnected from G-d than prior generations and less governed by His will. So, too, many will argue cogently that we have much greater means today of interacting with other people and yet many feel more, not less, disengaged from real, live human beings. Witness the number of people who walk the streets or sit at public events staring at their Smartphones, as if what is elsewhere is always more important and interesting that what or who is right in front of them.

Well, the Kotzker’s wish that man have no time to sin is the polar opposite of today’s reality, and how then we use that time defines our real values in life.

I can tell you what not to do. What to do, each person has to ask himself.” Of course, the Kotzker was not talking about the performance of the positive commandments but rather the expression of one’s personality and goals in the world at large. Our Sages state (Berachot 58a) that just as no two people look alike, no two people think alike. Every personality is different, and so every human being adds a different dimension to existence. Often, people will seek out the advice of others to find out who they are. That is a risky venture, often compromised more by the advisor’s biases or predilections than what the questioner really is or wants to be. Deep down, most people know who they are and what they want to be, even if it takes time to act upon it or to actualize it. But there is nothing that is more personally fulfilling than finding one’s role in life and carrying it out to perfection (or as close to perfection as man can come).

Finally, “You don’t love fish. If you loved the fish, you would not have killed it and cooked it on a fire.” Modern man tosses around words like “love” as if they are stray pennies found on a street in China. Often, love of “something” is just self-love projected outward. We don’t love “fish,” we love what the fish does for us, how it satisfies our appetites and pleases our palates (fish lovers, only). True love is love of the other for what the “other” is – spouse, especially – and not what that other does for us, what needs they satisfy or how they can be used. Love, as the term is commonly used, is much more utilitarian than we like to think; that is why so many marriages today are perceived as disposable, a short-term exchange of pleasures and comforts mutually agreed upon until the provision of pleasures ceases or one finds better accommodations elsewhere. Whatever that is, and however common that is today, unfortunately, one thing that it is not is “love.” Love remains a relationship of giving, not taking, and that is applicable to love of G-d and love of man.

Of course, there are many more such aphorisms of the Kotzker Rebbe, and straight Torah insights as well, even if the Kotzker himself never compiled them in a book. But wisdom is always beneficial, and the wisdom of Kotzk in so many ways still speaks directly to our generation.

If only we would heed it…

In Defense of …Shamai

One of the greatest people in our long and illustrious history, and one of the greatest Talmudic Sages ever, is frequently and unfairly dismissed and even disparaged. Who? Shamai the Elder, the contemporary of the great Hillel. Shamai is always compared unfavorably to Hillel, who was known for his kind nature, infinite patience, and big heart. Hillel, in the famous stories recorded in Masechet Shabbat (31a) indulges a variety of nudniks who ask him pointless and even preposterous questions, and is open to converts of all types and with a variety of strings attached. All this while Shamai, conversely, tries to drive them all away with a stick. And even the converts themselves concede that say the sternness and impatience of Shamai almost drove them away from the world of truth. It was the humility of Hillel that brought them closer to G-d.

Yet, Shamai is also the one who taught (Avot I:15) “greet everyone with a pleasant countenance.”  But how is it possible to greet everyone pleasantly – and at the same time be considered a “kapdan” – irascible, pedantic, and short-tempered? The two do not really go together.

Furthermore, humility is such a prized trait in Jewish life, and Hillel’s humility is prototypical. Just look at the way Hillel treated the converts in the several vignettes noted in the Gemara – converts who insisted: “convert me on condition that I accept only the Written Torah…convert me on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while standing on one foot…convert me on condition that you make me the Kohen Gadol (High Priest),” each condition an impossibility in its own way. Yet, in each case, Hillel came and converted them after Shamai forcefully drove them away. Where was Shamai’s “pleasant countenance”? Indeed, where were his good midot (character traits)?

The sainted Rav Yisrael Salanter, who knew a thing or two about midot, wrote (Or Yisrael, 28) that it is a mistake to degrade or malign Shamai. Shamai was a great and righteous person, Hillel’s equal, and our Sages indicate, Hillel’s intellectual superior (Yevamot 14a). True, Shamai was meticulous in his observance of mitzvot, hated injustice and had a passion for truth – all of which would lead people to believe he was a kapdan.. But that wasn’t it at all.

Shamai was also humble, just like Hillel. One who is not humble cannot “greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” To greet someone – anyone – means that you have no airs, you don’t perceive yourself as better than them, you don’t wait for them to speak first because you hold yourself to be above them in the social hierarchy.

Shamai’s inflexibility was rooted in something else. Both Hillel and Shamai were unassuming servants of G-d but they differed on one point: is humility always preferable in divine service, or does humility have to defer to something else – strictness, even dogmatism – when it comes to the honor of Torah?

It wasn’t that one had a congenial personality and the other was disagreeable. Character traits are inborn, even if we are obligated to ameliorate and refine the unpleasant ones. Neither Hillel nor Shamai responded to the converts from an emotional or personal perspective but rather from an ideological one. According to Shamai, when it comes to the honor of Torah, there is no room for humility or compromise. It’s not our Torah; it’s G-d’s Torah. It’s not our Jewish people; it’s G-d’s Jewish people. For a potential convert to come along and insist “convert me on condition” of this or that, that is a breach of the honor of Torah.

Hillel disagreed; humility is always preferable and humility can often erode the objections and even the cynicism of detractors. Nevertheless, the dispute between them lives on. Who is correct – when it comes to the honor of Torah, should we be malleable like Hillel or rigid like Shamai? How we answer that question resolves an issue that has been front and center in Jewish life for the better part of two centuries – what concessions to “modernity,” if any, should we make to keep Jews Jewish, to attract the discontented or the unaffiliated, or to assuage the grievances of sundry groups against the Torah?

The answer is that we need both Hillel and Shamai. When it comes to the honor of Torah, Shamai was right. We cannot compromise on the honor of Torah, on the inviolability of mitzvot, or on basic Jewish values or doctrines. If we do, then the Torah will cease to have any meaning or effect. We cannot chip away at the Torah – change this or dilute that – because then it is no longer a Torah of truth. But when it comes to showing respect for human beings, then we require the humility of Hillel – to see each person as an individual, as a precious soul, to reach out, draw near, and show our love for every Jew.

Is it possible to show honor to Torah and respect for people? Of course, that was the gift and genius of Hillel. But note well that for all his humility and his desire to accommodate the converts, Hillel did not compromise even one iota of the Torah, weaken one standard, or renounce one principle. And that was a remarkable feat and a testament to his spiritual greatness. It is an error to believe that Hillel watered down the Torah to make it more palatable to his generation. Note as well that Hillel was able to succeed with his interlocutors only because they too were humble, deferential, sincere, and willing to learn from him and submit to his authority.

Without Shamai’s firmness, the temptation would be too great to adulterate the perfect Torah in order to accommodate the desires of man. And without Hillel’s sensitivity, Jews with an attenuated commitment could never be inspired and would be lost to our people. Both were indispensable to the furtherance of the Mesorah.

On Shavuot, as we celebrate the Divine Revelation that gave the Jewish people our Torah more than 33 centuries ago, we must contemplate our relationship with the Torah itself, adding a new layer of “acceptance” to our earlier ‘acceptance.” Much of what ails us in Jewish life can be healed if we embrace the ways of Hillel and Shamai, and combine a tenacious grip on the immutable Torah with a gentle embrace of the people of Torah, on all levels.

Then, we will bring the light of Torah everywhere, rejoice in the return of G-d’s sovereignty to His world, and merit true redemption, speedily and in our days.

Chag Sameach to all!

The Crucible and the Womb

The Torah refers to the Egyptian experience in a number of ways. Some are literal – exile and house of bondage – and depict our alienation from the land of Israel and the nature of our sojourn in Egypt – and one is figurative: “I removed you from the iron crucible of Egypt” (Devarim 4:20). How was Egypt an “iron crucible”?

The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem 3) quotes the Midrash (Shocher Tov on Tehillim 116) that Chazal added another simile as well. In addition to Egypt being a crucible (“just like the goldsmith reaches in and extracts the refined gold from the furnace, so too G-d reached down and extracted Israel from Egypt”), the Maharal adds that the Exodus from Egypt was similar to a fetus still in the womb of the cow, for which the shepherd reaches in and extracts it. So too G-d delivered us from Egypt “removing one nation from another nation” (Devarim 4:34). What is the difference between these descriptions – the gold emerging from the crucible and the fetus emerging from the womb – and how do they reflect on the Exodus?

The Maharal explains that in the crucible, the gold is simply the tool of the goldsmith. The smith has all the power, control and authority. In Egypt, the Jewish people were dominated, oppressed, and defenseless, with no hope of any independent existence. The Egyptians were simply too strong, and we were too weak – so the master goldsmith took us out from the fire and created a nation.

But the second simile – the calf emerging from the womb – has a different emphasis than the first. There it is not the fearsome might of the enemy that kept us enslaved but rather the mindset, the mentality, and the dependencies of the victim. Like the calf in the womb, as long as we saw ourselves “as attached to Egypt and inferior to the Egyptians,” then we were still unworthy of any independent existence.

We were enslaved not only because of the power of Egypt, but especially because of the inherent weakness of our national body – as we were just an extension of the Egyptians, one of many foreign tribes they had enslaved.

As an “exile” or a “house of bondage,” Egypt was a punishment; as an “iron crucible” or as a womb, the Egyptian exile was not only a punishment for sin but also a necessary step in nation building. That is why the redemption was so painful, so wrenching, and so difficult for many Jews – it was like being refined in fire or passing through the birth canal. Spiritually we were adrift, sunk in the immorality of Egypt; culturally, we were assimilated into Egyptian society, having long since moved beyond Goshen; and nationally, we saw ourselves as Egyptians, so attenuated was our Jewish identity.

The redemption therefore had to account for two phenomena: the physical might of the Egyptians and the spiritual weakness of the Jews. Slowly, Moshe and Aharon, the 10 plagues, the mitzvot of Korban Pesach and the celebration of Pesach itself enervated the spirit of the Egyptians, and revitalized our national identity. The “strong hand” of G-d broke the Egyptians, and His “outstretched arm” inspired the Jews. That is why the redemption from Egypt was so momentous, and that is why it is the paradigm for the future redemption as well.

Spiritually and nationally, we are still a divided people, unable to agree even on basic issues – who is a Jew, what is a Jew, what do we represent, what do we want, and what is our destiny. Culturally, many Jews are Westernized and often unwittingly drawn to the most meretricious aspects of Western life. The enemy that surrounds us threatens the world as well, and the commitment to prevail against that enemy is tenuous at best.

Nevertheless, just like we did in ancient Egypt, we have to perceive the travails of our modern world – as painful as they are to endure – as refinement, as the crucible through which we pass in order to embrace our destiny. When a powerful and merciless enemy does not break us, we are emboldened and strengthened. And just like in Egypt, we have to perceive the troubles as the birth pangs of a nation and a new era – so we can distinguish between friends and allies, so we can detach ourselves and re-assert our own identity, and so we galvanize ourselves for the struggles ahead, so we can strengthen ourselves in Torah and Mitzvot, in love of Israel, and return in true faith to the traditions that have sustained us for millennia.

Just as in Egypt, where we looked not to others for our salvation but to G-d who revitalized us and gave us the tools and confidence to move forward, so too in the days ahead our mettle will be tested. We too will need the inner strength to follow G-d into an unsown land. We too will determine who can resist and who will succumb, who will despair and who will be resolute. We will yet see who emerges from the crucible of our era intact and emboldened.

To the faithful, Pesach is always “a night of protection” for all Jews who yearn for and anticipate redemption. And so may it be in our day as well.

 

To my brothers and sisters across the Jewish world, Chag Kasher v’sameach to all!

 

 

 

“Culture” Wars – Update

Only in the mind of the modern feminist can an orthodox Rabbi advocate for pre-marital sexual abstinence and be deemed a rape apologist. Such was the peculiar response in some precincts to my “A Novel Idea”

       Arguing over statistics and studies is a futile exercise, as the studies conflict, methodologies differ and even definitions are often imprecise. For those intellectually capable of an open mind, I urge you to read the esteemed social scientist Heather Mac Donald’s cover story in the Weekly Standard (November 2, 2015) subtitled “The Phony Campus Rape Crisis,” which will function as a devastating rebuttal to the criticism that has been directed here, and written in a much stronger manner than was my essay although our objectives were different.

To mention but two “statistics”: one blogger presumed that 23% of my congregants have “likely personally experienced sexual assault.” But “sexual assault,” as some studies, including that of the Justice Department, define it, includes even an unwanted peck on the cheek, an execrable practice still seen in some liberal Orthodox precincts but hardly synonymous with rape except to a certain subset of fanatical activists. Or, “95%” of college rapes go unreported to the police, but they are, apparently, reported to researchers. 95%? And perhaps it is 395%, or 45%?  Perhaps some of these assaults are more akin to the circumstances I explored in my essay (as have others, see George F. Will’s column on a related subject).

To those who persist in citing the “1 in 5 women on campus raped” canard, I refer you to this new Prager University video released this week (as if to come to my rescue!) that debunks this datum. If nothing else, all of the above should allow for a calmer discussion of this matter.

What did I write in my essay, whose every word I stand by? Here’s a synopsis.  The reality is that rape is an abominable crime that is an unimaginable nightmare and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. To be falsely accused of rape is also an abominable crime that is an unimaginable nightmare for which the lying complainant deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Both are life-altering events and in both cases the victims deserve our fullest support and the victimizers our unmitigated opprobrium. Obviously, instances of rape exceed false claims of rape, and as I noted, “even one is too many.”

That is the black (the former scenario) and the white (the latter scenario) of the matter. But the professional feminists see only the black. There is no white, no other side, the woman is always right, the man is always wrong. In that echo chamber, I am certain, that makes sense. In a world where truth, justice, decency and fairness matter, that contention is risible.

But I addressed both those scenarios only in passing. My focus was on the “gray” area, the “he said/she said” scenario, where the events are fueled by what I termed the culture of promiscuity and entitlement on campus, where the couple had a relationship and often a long term physical relationship, and where “feelings” – especially post facto feelings – matter more than legality or fairness. These are cases where the woman sometimes does not feel like a “victim” for weeks or months after the encounter (usually coincident with a breakup or a conversation with a feminist adviser who convinces her that she was assaulted without consent). These are cases in which there are no witnesses, no evidence, and no corroboration. They exist. They are troubling no matter who is right and who is wrong. But the feminist activists see no “gray.” The man is always guilty. Always.

Indeed, the “hookup culture” on campus has created a sense of male entitlement concomitant with some females’ pursuit of unlimited pleasure. It is in that culture that, invariably, women – who, as I noted, have a greater emotional investment in physical intimacy than do men – will over time feel used, abused, scorned and empty. And it is in that culture that, I submit, the problematic area of “he said/she said” is more likely to arise. It is for that scenario that I suggested a return to traditional moral practices, such that are already mandatory for Jews but would even benefit non-Jews. The bloggers who mock that suggestion are playing into the hands of lecherous young men and, ironically, endangering more women both physically and psychologically.

It was in this gray area that I urged a return to the virtues with which religious Jews are quite familiar – no affectionate physical contact between men and women outside the context of marriage. That won’t stop the “black” cases of rape (forcible assault) nor the “white” cases (false accusations), for the most part. But it would stop much of the “gray,” in which consent is unclear or ambiguously given, because the assumption would be, since males are an aggressive breed, that the male assaulted the virtue of the female.

But for the professional feminists, there never is a “gray” area. Men are always predators, women are always saints, and rabbis, always, deserve special calumny if they don’t toe a particular line.

What is most troubling, and quite typical of this genre, is the sheer inability of the feminist activists to tolerate another viewpoint. “On this, there can be no debate! There is only one opinion!” Feminist orthodoxy brooks no dissent (as opposed to Jewish Orthodoxy, whose every tenet, they feel, is negotiable). So their goal is to ensure that only one side of an issue is ever heard. They do this by denouncing any opposition as immoral, shrieking that any dissenter is evil, and trying to intimidate that dissenter into silence, penance and universal obloquy. This is what passes for discourse – forget civil discourse, just discourse – in that pathetic echo chamber of the young and coddled. How sad.

Typically, as they see it, for expressing views with which they disagree, I should be fired from the rabbinate, kicked out of any rabbinic organization to which I belong, tossed from any institution in which I am active, and, for Heaven’s sake, even thrown out of AAA (to which I just renewed my membership, and so will not go down without a fight).

What is even sadder is that, to these activists, men are irredeemable brutes, end of story. My objective, on the other hand, is to preserve the honor of both men and women. Their eager embrace of the “hookup culture” – as long as there is consent – exacerbates the problem, cheapens the nobility of women and undermines the sanctity of marriage.  Their contempt for women, and not just women’s virtues, is breathtaking.

The Talmud (bottom of Sanhedrin 21a) teaches us that after Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, King David’s Sanhedrin decreed that an unmarried man and woman should not be secluded together (the prohibition of yichud). That was good advice then as it is now. It doesn’t mean that they “blamed” Tamar; rather that prudence and common sense dictate not putting oneself in a situation of potential danger. No one ever “deserves” to be raped, as some hideously perverted my words. But do not walk into a field clearly labeled “Danger: Mines!”  Even if the ones who planted the mines would be guilty of causing injury, surely the minefield pedestrian also bears some responsibility for his fate. The mature person takes responsibility for his own actions, a fundamental Jewish principle that I explored in my last book, “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.”

Further irony: these critics are antagonized because they call me a “leader” who should not say these things that upset them;  yet, when I try to take the lead on this particular issue – elevating the moral level on campus so that no one, but especially our young people, is ensnared in that morass – they protest. It sounds like they want “leaders” whom they control and who just follow the script that they write. But those are not “leaders” but followers with a fancy title.

Heeding our moral laws can only benefit men, women, marriages, families and society itself. That was and is my point. The fruitless debate over statistics aside, I would hope that even the professional feminists can subscribe to that.

Minimum Wage Increases: Who Really Benefits?

    New York and California are set to raise the minimum wage from $10 to $15 per hour over the next few years, which sounds like good news for people struggling to make ends meet. What’s wrong with artificially raising wages across the board is illustrated by this priceless statement issued by California’s Governor Jerry Brown: “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense. But morally, socially, and politically they make every sense because it binds the community together to make sure parents can take care of their kids.” It was eloquently ridiculed by Dan Henninger in the WSJ but the statement bears deconstruction, if only because it illustrates the shallowness of the American electorate for whose support, if not love, Brown is appealing. Sadly, he probably means well.

Well, why does raising the minimum wage make no sense, economically? One would think that the more money a worker earns, the better for him, his family, and the commercial enterprises in which he will spend his hard-earned money. So why not raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour, or, even better, $100 or $1000 per hour? Why can’t teachers or nurses earn as much as Alex Rodriguez? Certainly many teachers and nurses will have better seasons.

The answer is because wages cannot exceed the productivity of the worker or the business will fail. This is the “no economic sense ” to which Governor Brown is referring. A worker earning $10 an hour must produce at least $10 worth of product or service. If he produces more than $10, he is either underpaid or the employer is profiting. If he is consistently underpaid, then he has the right, in a free society, to take his services elsewhere and be paid what he is worth. Usually, the employer benefits, as he is the one who is risking his capital in the business and his profit comes partly from the wage/productivity differential in his favor.

Conversely, if the worker earns, say, $15 per hour and produces value of only $10 per hour, then the worker is getting a windfall even as the employer is losing money. Since most employers are not in business to lose money, one of three things will happen: a small number of workers will lose their jobs (hence the spike in unemployment most studies show is a consequence of artificially raising the minimum wage); or, as is happening in the entry level jobs where the minimum wage is most common, the jobs are being automated (that’s why most people pump their own gas – outside of New Jersey, the only state that bizarrely prohibits drivers from servicing themselves – and even fast food restaurants are reducing staff and automating), in which case many employees will lose their jobs; or the company goes out of business, in which case everybody loses their jobs.

That is why teachers, nurses and a host of other professions (rabbis, for one) that accomplish more for society in real terms do not produce enough “economic” value to be paid what a mediocre professional athlete earns.

Obviously there is a number whereby the minimum wage can be raised and not trigger those Draconian consequences, but the number is speculative, much debated, and will probably vary from industry to industry. That is why a “one size fits all” increase is more problematic. And, certainly, one can make a cogent argument that some floor for wages is necessary to inhibit abuse but a ceiling is necessary as well. What $15 does that $17 or $13 or $10 wouldn’t is a partial mystery, although it has the advantage of being an easily calculable figure.

Each business will decide to what extent the higher wage will impair their profitability and/or viability. Buy why would ostensibly intelligent politicians impose a wage hike that they know will lead to increased unemployment among the most vulnerable elements in society, especially among the youth

for whom minimum wage jobs are often their portal into the work force?

For politicians, raising the minimum wage sounds caring in the short term but it is a very populist move, not to mention popular. Many people will earn more money in the short term, and not just those who earn the minimum wage (few do). But there are jobs whose earnings are indexed to the minimum wage (2X, 4X, etc.) and so many workers (i.e., voters) will be scheduled to benefit, although they too will be subject to the wage/productivity rule delineated above. Many of them will be casualties of this hike as well. So why would politicians support something that in due course will lead to higher unemployment among their constituents?

One reason might be that they have shielded the unemployed from the consequences of their bad decisions through unemployment insurance. Therefore, politicians have an interest in maintaining, increasing and prolonging unemployment insurance as long as possible. Part of every person’s paycheck goes to defraying this eventuality but of course most of it just comes out of the government budgets and adds to the deficit. The dislocation to the family and the psychological stresses on the unemployed are not really factored in by the political class. So raising the minimum wage sounds kind, as Brown mentioned, and it makes sense “politically” because also for a reason that I never considered until several days ago. Call it the latest government scheme.

Here’s how a letter writer (Henry Schmid of Sonoma, California) to the WSJ put it last week, and the government plan is brilliant: the tax implications of raising the minimum wage are enormous. “For a family of four with both spouses making the minimum wage, their federal tax will increase from $4106 to $7219, payroll tax will increase from zero to $379, and the $2400 food stamp credit will be lost. Of the $20,800 increase in income in going from $10 to $15 an hour, $7778 will be diverted to the government, which doesn’t include loss of other income dependent government welfare programs and added costs due to the resulting inflation. Over one-third of the wage increase will flow to the government in the form of increased taxes and reduced benefits.”

     I’m assuming his figures are correct, and if they are, the scheme is ingenious when you think about it. The minimum wage increase is just a means for the government to get more revenue from the people, once again from business. And even if there is an interest in getting people off the dole and into the workforce, do those celebrating the doggedness and sensitivity of the liberal politicians pushing the higher minimum wage realize that many, if not most, of the beneficiaries will lose money, in the form of benefit reductions? And if they lose their jobs altogether, well, now their government benefactors have more money to redistribute in the form of unemployment compensation. Indeed, one of the debilitating peculiarities of the welfare state is that it often disincentivizes employment by denying benefits to people who earn more, I suppose, than they should.

Win, win, win, lose. The politicos look good and get the votes of the beneficiaries who do not realize how they are being harmed. The politicos get more money into the government coffers to redistribute and reward their favorite groups of constituents. The workers think they are earning much more money,  and actually are earning more money, but not as much as they think and are oblivious to the real consequences of the increase. Business pays more of its earnings to government, and either lays off the unsuspecting workers or raises prices, which usually depresses consumer spending (depending on what is being sold). Business suffers, the consumer suffers, and the worker suffers. The only entity that benefits is government.

It is ingenious, but not very moral. The letter writer suggests increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, which would help the needy. There has to be a better way, linking increased wages to increased productivity, and keeping people gainfully employed for their own spiritual well-being as well as securing their path to financial stability and success. But don’t expect the politicians to find, endorse or encourage that way. For them, it is not as lucrative.

A Novel Idea

The proposition that the world has gone mad seems to be beyond debate.  The ubiquitous reality of radical Islamic terror has infiltrated every country, city and town across the globe. The will to eradicate it is increasing, albeit slowly. But it’s the culture wars that even more reflect how the world has gone topsy-turvy, and how those sweeping changes to our moral sensibilities pose an even greater to communal stability than a terrorist with a bomb, gun, or knife.

College campuses are challenged today in a variety of ways that tend to undercut the fundamental mission of colleges: education. The madness of March that has too many people preoccupied (on and off campus) with who “wins” this or that is one component, along with steady erosion in the quality of the college curricula. At one time, the objective of a university education was to ground a student in classical ideas and prepare the student for professional advancement and life in the real world. These days, education favors the faddish and the useless, and is less an effort to uncover eternal truths than it is a battle to stifle free discussion and suppress unpopular truths.

The morality on campuses has also deteriorated to a level that was unimaginable twenty or forty years ago when it already wasn’t that exalted. Relations between the sexes has, allegedly, become so strained that the liberal media speaks incessantly about a “rape culture” on campuses, wherein brutish men have their way with women in numbers approaching an epidemic. Or so it is claimed.

That the numbers don’t bear out the claim doesn’t detract at all from the repugnance of any assault on any one, but the numbers – and the logic – do not substantiate the claim. Just recently, colleges released their latest statistics and the colleges deemed the worst offenders, with the worst “cultures,” reported claims of assaults ranging from 10-20 annually on campuses with many thousands of students. Certainly, one is too many, but few of these claims involve the old-fashioned and execrable assault by a stranger in some dark alley. Some involve men taking advantage of drugged or intoxicated women (granted, some of the women drugged or intoxicated themselves of their own volition), and that too is appalling and should be prosecuted.

But most of them, judging by the media reports, involve the challenging “he said/she said,” with no eyewitnesses or corroborating evidence. Of those, the male(factor) contends, most are situations in which the couple had a romantic relationship that went sour after the intimacies in question. That is to say, the couple was dating, grew close (sometimes after a two-hour date, I suppose; people bond much more quickly these days), retired to someone’s quarters and quickly consummated their…friendship. Soon after the “friendship” ended, the woman, feeling used, as she was by the lecherous man, files a complaint for sexual assault.

There have even been occasions when the woman who later claimed she was “raped” spent the night, or several nights thereafter, with her beau, only to realize weeks later after their breakup that she had been assaulted. Yes, I am quite familiar with the literature about the psyche of the rape victim, and how it is quite possible to love, honor and cherish in the moment of passion that man who will be later accused of sexual assault. Certainly that is far, far from the common sexual assault cases I dealt with in my prior life as an attorney, in which women knew immediately they had been violated, went to the hospital /police, filed charges, picked out her assailant from a photo array, testified against him in court, etc. These types of assaults are actually quite uncommon on college campuses. That I am familiar with the literature on the campus type “assaults” detailed above doesn’t mean I buy any of it. I don’t.

If indeed there was a “rape culture” on American campuses no intelligent woman would want to attend college. The fact that more women attend college today than men itself belies the accusation. What is also true, and completely dismissed today by the elites and the sophisticates who have fabricated an entire industry, is that men and women approach intimacy much differently. Men are creatures who seek physical gratification in the first instance and who, lamentably, could find intimacy with complete strangers and be satisfied. Women attach a much stronger emotional significance to intimacy than do men, and look at love as, well, love. Many men (none that I know, but I hear things…) don’t even need to be “in like” much less “in love.” They just need to be attracted.

Whether this speaks well of men or not is not the issue. It has just been reality since the creation of the first man and is not going to change. Women simply feel a closer connection to the men with whom they are intimate than do the men with the women; hence the great, real and sincere hurt when those feelings are betrayed by the callous man who does his deed and heads out the door.

That might be despicable but it is not an assault, except on decency and values. Our Sages (see Sanhedrin 22b) were quite familiar with the more intense connection a woman feels with the man to whom she is amorous and with whom she feels complete, much more than does the man.

Naturally, this litigious society sees the solution to the campus social problem in the drafting of contracts or compacts to be signed by both parties (each accompanied by an attorney, obviously) before the commencement or display of any affection. Talk about taking the romance out of romance! This might obviate the problem of “he said/she said” litigation but not the greater problem of the psychological wound felt by the woman who is scorned by someone for whom she has feelings. Unrequited love is painful, and the feeling of being used and discarded is even more painful. No contract is going to change that but something else will.

Here’s a novel idea, one that has been tried before with great success but has fallen into desuetude, apparently, on college campuses. It will solve all these problems, the “rape culture,” the “he said/she said,” the feelings of rejection by the party who had an emotional connection with another person who just sought a physical connection. It’s called… abstinence, self-discipline, or chastity. It involves waiting until marriage to engage in intimate acts, and then in a relationship in which the couple genuinely loves each other. It is preceded by a joyous ceremony known as a wedding, which too involves contractual obligations that are grounded in mutual respect. Problem solved…

Undoubtedly, this will not please the men who take pride in their multiple “conquests” of women, nor will it endear the women (who evidently exist) who do not mind construing the sublime expression of love as something casual and cavalier. But it is something that women truly deserve and that men truly need, and can also benefit marriages. There is something special about intimacy that is reserved for one person, and one person alone, in a committed relationship sanctified by G-d and man. One who is serially promiscuous will never know that, and that is a shame. Blessing awaits those who wait.

Only a mad world rejects a solution that will work.  Of course, it won’t happen, except among those whose lives are governed by religious mandate, but this problem doesn’t exist in those precincts to any measurable degree. (There are other problems, just not this one.) But self-control and defined boundaries will surely put an end to any misunderstandings, miscommunications and gray areas. There is a problem of “culture” on college campuses, but it is the culture of promiscuity and entitlement that poses the greatest dangers.

There are also times, like now, when the world’s madness is apparent through its heavy-handed assault on society’s sensibilities. The latest such insanity is the decree that so-called “transgenders” must be allowed to use the bathrooms of whatever sex they claim to be, regardless of their biological reality. Of course, sympathy for anyone suffering from such a malady is in order, especially since many professionals still maintain (privately, of course; the backlash would destroy their careers if their thoughts became public) that this is a mental illness. Even more extreme are the bizarre parents who are “letting” their children choose their sex when they come of age, not wanting to prejudice their choices by recording it on their birth certificate.

Different jurisdictions are handling this predicament in a variety of ways, but it is a sign of the times that, in some places, the activists have rejected permission given to the transgendered teenager to use a private bathroom, this in order to cause no discomfort to anyone. This suggestion was rejected because it is allegedly unequal, discriminatory, and other such buzzwords which, used indiscriminately, give ignorance and insanity a more prominent place in our society than reason and fairness. Why would a perfectly reasonable suggestion be dismissed in favor of allowing a 15 year old biological male to dress in a locker room with 15 year girls, itself an invitation to miscreants of the most sordid type?

What is reasonable is rejected because the elitists are not interested in equal access of any individual as much as they are in transforming social norms. There was a time when reasonable accommodation sufficed, and those handicapped in one way or another were content with that. That is fair. This is not. To inconvenience one hundred people to satisfy one person’s needs, who in any event cannot be satisfied, is not justice. It is tyranny. It is bullying, bullying the overwhelming majority of people, using the weapon of new forms of victimization, in order to promote a social agenda that is distasteful to the vast majority of people.

To be reasonable and judicious would also be a novel change in public affairs. The tyranny of the elitists and their condescension has unsettled a great many people in America, which is why the upcoming presidential election features too many cranks and crooks. People are disgusted with being told the emperor is fully clothed when in fact the emperor is naked, weird and decadent.

The growing unrest in America is multi-faceted but rooted in a common denominator: the attempted renunciation of traditional morality. The acolytes of that emperor should take heed. For the rest of us, it seems pretty simple. Men and women should keep their hands off each other unless and until they are married. Boys and girls should use their own facilities.

Life is simple but mankind complicates it.

See the “Culture” Wars – Update:  here

 

In G-d’s Name

After Amalek’s sneak attack on the Jewish people soon after the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah declared eternal war against this enemy in a dramatic way: “And he (Moshe) said: ‘G-d places His hand on His throne – as if to take an oath – G-d’s war against Amalek is from generation to generation” (Sh’mot 17:16). Rashi notes that the words for throne and G-d’s name itself are spelled deficiently – kes instead of  kisei and Y-ah instead of G-d’s ineffable name of four letters – in order to teach us that G-d has sworn that neither His name is complete nor His throne is complete until the name of Amalek is completely annihilated (“Ein sh’mo shalem v’ein kis’o shalem”). What does that mean?

We can understand that G-d’s throne is “incomplete” in the sense that His kingship is not recognized by all as long as evil is extant. A king whose authority is not heeded is less of a king. As long as there is a nation or people extant whose ideology is grounded in not fearing G-d, then G-d’s throne is deficient. But what does it mean “His name is incomplete”? G-d’s name is His essence; how could it be incomplete? Said another way, G-d’s throne reflects our perception of Him – as King. But His name is not dependent on our perception. So how could His name – Y-ah instead of YKVK – ever be deficient?

A second question worthy of analysis is this: why does G-d have to wage eternal war against Amalek? G-d is G-d; He can eliminate Amalek at any time, from the inception of their history and until today? Why must G-d’s war be an eternal one?

For sure, Amalek has always existed, lurking in the shadows of history, and emerging at various points to attempt to weaken or destroy us. And Amalek exists today as well, certainly as an ideology of an implacable and baseless hatred of the Jewish people

This will not change, and there is nothing we can do to change it. We do not provoke their hatred, as much we enjoy castigating ourselves. Even if our Sages perceived the occasional sin or flaw that prompts an Amalekite attack, nothing justifies it from Amalek’s perspective. Amalek’s initial offensive against the Jewish people was a suicide mission; after all, G-d had just saved us miraculously at the Red Sea and in the process destroyed the army of the most powerful empire in the world, Egypt. It made no sense, not any more than the plethora of Muslim suicide bombers today – first against Jews and now against Jews, Christians, Europeans, Americans and other Muslims – makes any sense.

It makes no sense, just like the hatred of Jews in Europe (where so few Jews live) makes no sense, like the hatred of Israel and Jews on many college campuses makes no sense. The BDS movement that targets Israel as the only human rights offender in the world, and not just the worst, because there is no movement to boycott, divest and sanction any other nation on the globe, that cause is as inexplicable as it is evil. One would think that presumably intelligent people would occasionally ponder the hypocrisy in their own actions, their moral corruption, and the ethical decay that should be eating away at them. But they don’t.

None of it is rational; it makes no sense. It is not supposed to make sense. Consider Sartre’s classic definition of Jew hatred as a passion – not even an idea but a “criminal passion.” It’s not at all rational. Jews are often quick to find something within us to blame because that, at least affords a measure of psychological security.  Oh, that’s why they want to kill us. So if I don’t do that, then all will be good. It’s a common but horribly wrong approach.

Rav Shlomo Aviner once wrote that we should never delude ourselves into thinking that if we satisfied our enemies’ desires, if we surrendered our land to the Arabs, if we gave them whatever they wanted, they would be transformed into lovers of peace and pursuers of peace. The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, Page 236) wrote that Lavan wanted to murder everyone associated with Yaakov, even Lavan’s own daughters and grandchildren; Pharaoh of Egypt wanted to murder every Jew at the Red Sea; and so it goes. We are not like other nations who have enemies for a reason – there is territory or resources that others covet, there is an ideology that others want to uproot. “Israel has haters and enemies for no cause,” no reason, no justification, and no explanation. That is the ideology of Amalek. They hate the Jewish people because we are the Jewish people.

G-d’s war with Amalek is eternal because He has given all man free choice. Just like we are given free choice in deeds, so too we are given free choice in thought. And ever since G-d created man, or at least soon after in the generation of Enosh, man has free choice to deny G-d, to distort His name, and even worse, to perpetrate the greatest evils in His name.

What does it mean that “His name is incomplete until Amalek is destroyed”? G-d’s name is “incomplete” when it is distorted, when it is misused, when it is taken in vain, and when it is defiled by those who claim to be His followers but in fact are His enemies. The three deadliest words in the English language are “in G-d’s name,” because in G-d’s name the worst atrocities have been justified. The two deadliest words today in Arabic are “Allahu Akhbar,” i.e., “God is great.” What should be a sublime and exalted praise of G-d is too often the prelude to the torture and murder of innocents, from Yerushalayim to New York, from San Bernardino to Bali, from Paris to Brussels. G-d’s name is incomplete when evildoers can decapitate or detonate the innocent and invoke “god” at the same time. That is an incomplete name.

G-d’s name can only be complete when all creatures honor it with life not death, with integrity not corruption, with mutual respect not hatred. His name is complete only when every nation and every individual can be described as “G-d –fearing.”

In the final stage of the process of redemption, the false ideas about G-d will crumble, along with the nations that embody them. The hypocrisy, dishonesty and venality of those who oppose the G-d of Israel and therefore the people of Israel will all reach epic and unfathomable levels. This too shall pass, and the joyous holiday of Purim that reminds us of both the struggle and the triumph in the past will be a harbinger of the day when G-d’s name will again be complete, when “G-d will be One and His name will be One” (Zecharia 14:9).