The American Jewish Buffet


“Secular Orthodox.”

That’s how Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, recently characterized many Israelis.  What he meant was that, while an Israeli may not be observant of halachah, or even affirm belief in Torah miSinai, he is likely to still recognize that there is only one mesorah, one Judaism, the one that has carried Klal Yisrael from that mountain to Eretz Yisrael, through galus Bavel and countless galuyos since, and that carries it still to this day.

If only American Jews were so perceptive.  Many criticisms can be cogently aimed at the movements to which so many American Jews claim fealty (or, at least, to whose congregations they send dues).  Were there only an Orthodox option, that of Torah-faithful belief and practice, there would likely be a greater degree of Jewish observance throughout the broader Jewish community; intermarriage would probably be more rare than it sadly is; Jewish unity would certainly be more evident, and more real.

But the most damaging legacy of the heterodox movements (and I write here of those movements qua movements – their theologies, not their members, most of whom don’t understand the basics of Yahadus) is their propagation of the notion that there are different “Judaisms,” that Jews stand before some spiritual smorgasbord from which they are free to choose whatever doctrinal hors d’oeuvres they find appetizing.

I had a neighbor in the out-of-town community where I once lived, a middle-aged man who had observed some mitzvos as a youth, but who had long since lapsed and become a member of a non-Orthodox congregation.

One Shabbos, on my way to shul, I heard a disembodied “Good Shabbos” come from beneath my neighbor’s parked car.  His head then appeared from under the vehicle, followed by his hands, one of them holding a wrench.  I returned the greeting along with a forced smile, and then, with some sheepishness, my neighbor added: “I gotta say, my Shabbos is sure different now that I’m a Conservative Jew!”

In my neighbor’s mind, he had undergone a metamorphosis; he’d become a “different kind of Jew” – a perfectly observant, rabbinically-endorsed, card-carrying “Conservative Jew.”  Changing the meaning of a Jewish life had become the equivalent of what he was doing, changing his oil.

Contrast my erstwhile neighbor’s attitude (that of most American Jews, unfortunately) with the insight of Nobel laureate I. I. Rabi (1898-1988), a groundbreaking physicist. He told a biographer that “To this very day, if you ask for my religion, I say ‘Orthodox Hebrew’ – in the sense that the church [sic] I’m not attending is that one.  If I were to go to a church, that’s the one I would go to.   That’s the one I failed.  It doesn’t mean I’m something else…”

He was, and knew he was, a Jew.  Far to one side of the observance spectrum, to be sure.  But observance is a continuum on which we all live, with perfection far from most of us.  Professor Rabi was perceptive and honest enough to recognize his failure instead of choosing to just invent a new entity, a “Judaism” where he could consider himself a success.

It is a tribute to the Israeli no-nonsense mentality that so many of the country’s less- or non-observant Jews haven’t bought into the American Jewish buffet model, and recognize what Professor Rabi did. Israelis tend to think and talk dugri – straightforwardly, even bluntly.  Hence, Mr. Bar-Yosef’s seemingly, but not really, oxymoronic phrase, “secular Orthodox.”

What evoked that characterization, as it happens, was his interview by the New York Times about the recent Israeli government decision to expand an area to the south of the current Kosel Maaravi plaza, for feminist and non-Orthodox services.  The Israeli was trying to explain why the American Jewish model of Jewish identity has not taken root in his country.  American Jews, he continued, have “a desire to bring into the tent everyone who feels Jewish,” whereas Israeli Jews, even secular ones, “live in a [Jewish] state and want a unified system.”

That “unified system” – halachah –  is, unfortunately, under attack by some American Jews, not only with regard to conduct at the Kosel but in even more important areas, like marriage and geirus.  We have to hope, against all the evidence, that our less observant brothers and sisters recognize the danger – to themselves above all – of promoting a “multi-winged” model of “Judaisms,” instead of recognizing the most trenchant truth: that ke’ish echad was possible only because our ancestors were neged hahar.

© 2016 Hamodia

One dimensional globe, against black background, (digitally generated)

The Professor Stumbles


You just can’t, as they say, make this stuff up.

A performer recently made news by implying that 1) Holocaust denier David Irving deserves reconsideration, and 2) that the earth is flat.

The entertainer didn’t offer those two wise thoughts as part of a comedy routine, but in a serious, assertive manner, using the medium of “rap” – a genre that some people consider music (count me among the deniers there).

“Stalin was way worse than Hitler,” the fellow also declared.  “That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a kippah.”  POTUS, of course, in secret service-speak, means “president of the United States” and kippah means… well, you know.  If you’re looking for logic, even of the paranoid variety, you might wish to look elsewhere.

Someone else also recently made news about his own Holocaust views. That would be Professor Yair Auron, an Israeli historian several million light years removed, culturally, from the flat-earth rapper.  In a way, though, Mr. Auron is the more hazardous of the two.

The professor is upset at the Israeli educational system for teaching that the Nazis’ determination to destroy every vestige of the Jewish people is something uniquely Jewish.

He accuses Holocaust educators of repressing or minimizing the suffering of others targeted by the Nazis, and is upset that other mass murders are not placed on a plane with the Nazis’ attempted destruction of Klal Yisrael.

“It must be asked,” he said recently, “if, in Israel in 2016, instead of also shaping Holocaust commemoration through humanist and democratic values… [is] fostering racism and xenophobia… Ignoring the non-Jewish victims is perhaps the most concrete manifestation of this trend.”

No one, of course, denies that the Nazis killed thousands of Communists, mentally disabled, Gypsies, criminals and others.  Nor that mass slaughters of human beings were committed by Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Pol Pot in Cambodia, by the Turks against the Armenians and by the Hutu tribe against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.  And those outrages all deserve to be remembered.

But to contend that it’s somehow wrong to stress the singular hatred Hitler, ym”s, had for Jews, and his determination to destroy our people in toto is to reveal the deepest of delusions.  And fostering that delusion is a Holocaust revision of its own.

Determination to create a world that would be Judenrein – free of Jews – was the Nazis’ first and foremost goal.  They may have had no compunctions about killing others they felt were detrimental to the Third Reich – political opponents, the non-productive, those they deemed “asocial.”  But they didn’t seek a Gypsyrein world or a disabledrein one.  The Nazi quest was to clear the world, not just Germany, of Jews; and it was a deep and abiding obsession, a psychopathy clothed in philosophical/theological garb.

Hitler revealed as much in Mein Kampf, where he wrote: “If… the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men…”

Even as he and his companion were about to commit suicide, on April 29, 1945, at 4 a.m. the fading führer issued a statement declaring “Above all, I charge the leadership of the nation and their followers with… merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry.”

Scholar Steven I. Katz put it succinctly: “The Holocaust is phenomenologically unique by virtue of the fact that never before has a state set out, as a matter of intentional principle and actualized policy, to annihilate physically every man, woman, and child belonging to a specific group.”

Or, as the philosopher Emil Fackenheim wrote, “The extermination of the Jews had no political or economic justification. It was not a means to any end; it was an end in itself.”

And there’s something more, too, a context that makes the Nazis’ Jew-hatred singularly significant.  Here, perhaps, a non-historian may have said it best, and only last week.

Awarding a posthumous honor to Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, an American serviceman who protected Jewish captives in a German POW camp, the aforementioned POTUS recalled Mr. Edmonds’ words to the camp’s commander, who had ordered Jewish prisoners to come forward: “We are all Jews.”

“We are all Jews,” explained Mr. Obama, “because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history, and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil.”

Gut gezokt.  Hear it well, Professor Auron.

© 2016 Hamodia


Agudath Israel Reaction to the “Kotel Compromise”


Designating an area at the Kotel Maaravi for feminist and mixed-gender prayer not only profanes the holy site, it creates yet a further lamentable rift between Jews.

For more than three decades, the Western Wall has been a place – perhaps the only one in the world – where Jews of all affiliations and persuasions have regularly prayed side by side.

What has allowed for that minor miracle has been the maintenance at that holy place of a standard – that of time-honored Jewish religious tradition – that all Jews, even those who might prefer other standards or none at all, can abide.

If the current plan is in fact realized, that will be no more.

Instead, there will be two options: some Jews at the Wall will pray at a space whose atmosphere respects and reflects traditional Jewish prayer, and others at a space that doesn’t.

elephant in the room

Iranian Elephant


“Whatsa matter, you don’t like the other one?”

That was what an old-time comedian claimed his mother-in-law said when she saw him wearing one of the two neckties she gave him on his birthday.

The line comes to mind amid the lamentations over the lifting of sanctions on Iran in the wake of the country’s compliance with a main part of the deal it struck last year with the U.S. and other nations.  Iran has shipped 98 percent of its fuel to Russia, dismantled more than 12,000 centrifuges so they cannot enrich uranium, and poured cement into the core of a reactor designed to produce plutonium, the other path to a nuclear weapon.

In return, though, the U.S. and its partners agreed to lift international sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy, releasing many billions in frozen oil-sale assets.  That’s not good news for the world, to be sure.  Iran is the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world, and its religious leaders, who control the country, harbor a homicidal antagonism toward, among others, Israel.  The country was a most worthy candidate for membership in what George W. Bush named the Axis of Evil, and remains so.

Iran’s current leadership didn’t enter into the agreement out of any desire for peace or willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions.  It was brought to its economic knees by the sanctions (ridiculed as worthless when enacted), nothing more.

Still and all, seeing only the necktie not worn, the downside of the deal, isn’t right or wise.  There’s no question that the Western world’s high-stakes diplomacy with regard to Iran has made the world safer, at least for the next 10 to 15 years.

And afterward?

No one who isn’t a navi can know. But for those inclined toward informed prognostication, something to consider is the elephant in the Iranian room.

That would be the fact that the country has, in effect, two governments.  One is the elected administration of its president, Hassan Rouhani, which includes his Western-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The other is the unelected clerical and military power center, the Revolutionary Guards, controlled by Iranian “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei, who, in the end, currently rules the roost.

Mr. Rouhani is considered reformist and pragmatic.  While he toes the anti-Israel “occupier” line, he famously condemned the Nazis’ murder of Jews during the Holocaust, in pointed contrast to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Khamenei, on the other hand, although he held his nose and permitted the Iran deal to go forward, makes no bones about his antipathy (to put it mildly) toward the West, spewing anti-American and anti-Israel venom in practically all of his speeches.

And since the nuclear agreement was reached in July, his security forces have stepped up arrests of political opponents, a crackdown seen as ensuring that hardliners dominate in national elections scheduled for Feb. 26, when voters will choose a new parliament and the administrative body empowered to select the successor to the 76-year-old and ailing Khamenei.

Some observers, however, see the hard-liners’ assertiveness as evidencing panic, born of what they perceive as a confluence of internal unrest – particularly among young Iranians, who chafe under the regime’s strict religious rules, and who protested en masse against the government in 2009 – and the impact of newly opened avenues to the West.

An Iranian businessman in Tehran recently told a visiting European delegation in hushed tones that “the fear is penetration from the West through business… They want to send the message that they still count.”

Hard-liners are trying to limit the number of reformist politicians eligible to run in next month’s election.  But Iranian analysts and politicians contend that Mr. Rouhani is working with a coalition of loyalists, technocrats and moderate religious leaders, in an effort to gain control of parliament.

Mindful of Chazal’s teaching that the only semblance of nevuah these days resides in children and fools (and well aware that my childhood lies in the distant past), I will not attempt to predict whither Iran is headed – whether, by the time the Iran deal’s term expires, the country’s government will be as intractably malevolent as it is under its current high administration, or whether a new generation of Iranians, having come of age since the “Islamic Republic” was created in 1979 and unhappy with its policies and rules, will have assumed the mantle of leadership.

Will the Western world’s gamble pay off?   None of us can know.  But we can hope that it will, and be mispallel.

© 2016 Hamodia


Illogical Leadership


“Because you were convincing me,” was the woman’s straightforward reply.

Her questioner was my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, then the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore.  He had asked the lady, whom he met at some Jewish communal function, why she had suddenly stopped attending the lecture series he had been delivering to a nonreligious audience.  Rav Weinberg later said that he was struck by the stark honesty of the reply.  No excuses, no claim of scheduling conflict, only a candid confession of her reluctance to be pulled in a direction that frightened her.

The lectures were about basic Jewish belief, and the Rosh Yeshivah combined concepts from the Rambam, Rav Yehudah HaLevi and others, leavened with his own insight, eloquence, humor and creativity, to describe the compelling specialness – indeed, singularity – of the Jewish mesorah.

There was the historically unparalleled claim to a mass revelation at Har Sinai, something that no one could dare make unless it happened – and that no nation or religion has in fact ever made, before or after the event.   There was the seemingly self-defeating nature of some of the Torah’s laws, like Shemitta and Aliyah L’regel (when all able-bodied men left Eretz Yisrael’s borders unprotected, at easily predictable times).  There were the Torah’s critical descriptions of its greatest personages, in such stark contrast to the perfect “heroes” of other groups’ “holy” books.  There was the utterly irrational persistence of anti-Semitism in a broad, even contradictory, assortment of guises; and the perseverance of Klal Yisrael despite all the hatred and exiles.

And then there was the illogical leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu, detailed in the parshiyos we are reading communally in shul this time of year.

Over history, leaders – religious and political alike – tend to possess all or most of several defining characteristics.  Almost by definition, they are ambitious and opportunistic, often aggressively so.  They exude self-confidence, bordering on, if not exceeding, conceit; and they are natural orators.

Moshe Rabbeinu, Rav Weinberg would point out, had none of those characteristics.  He didn’t want the role Hashem told him to adopt, pleading that his brother Aharon be appointed instead.  He was, by the Torah’s testimony, not only modest but the most modest of all men.  And he was, by his own statement, limited in his ability to speak.

Not, by nature, leader material. Other religion-forming figures, by contrast, possessed the natural ability to convince others of their purported connection to truth – and capitalized on it vigorously.  Today, political leaders and aspirants to office, as we are witnessing most vividly during this presidential election year, are clearly saturated with self-regard, relentlessly self-promoting and accomplished in the art of speechifying.

Moshe’s lack of those traits didn’t matter, because his leadership was not the result of popular acclaim but rather of Divine direction. Indeed, his failure of the “leadership test” is evidence of that fact. No one, Rav Weinberg explained, could ever attribute the historic success of the Jewish message to the impact of charisma, self-confidence or oratorical skill.  Only to G-dly guidance.

Only defective products need talented salesmen.  Truth needs only itself.

Chazal (Berachos 58a) tell us to run to see a non-Jewish king, for if we are deemed worthy, we will be able to perceive the difference between a non-Jewish monarch and a Jewish one.  Politicians aren’t kings; there are no brachos to be made over them.  But there is certainly worth in pondering the gulf between what contemporary society calls leadership and a true, Divinely appointed, leader.

I don’t know at what point the woman who dropped out of the lecture series decided she had heard too much for comfort. It was probably before the “Moshe Rabbeinu” shiur.  But she was perceptive enough to realize that the evidence for the truth of the Jewish mesorah was becoming overwhelming, that the thicket of rationalizations necessary for rejecting the compelling facts of history was obscuring a more compelling straightforward, Occam’s Razor-respecting, conclusion: Moshe emes visoraso emes.

And she just wasn’t ready to countenance the life-changing implications of that fact.

At least at that point.  I like to imagine that, one day, she wandered into a shul somewhere this time of year, maybe even during an election campaign, and, during krias haTorah, followed along in an English translation and was struck by Moshe Rabbeinu’s “lack of qualifications” for leadership, as the word is mundanely defined.  And that maybe, at that point, what she didn’t allow herself to hear from Rav Weinberg, she heard in her own head.

© 2016 Hamodia

Obama crying

A Crying Shame


Readers of a certain age will likely recognize the name Edmund Muskie.  He was a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President back in 1972.

There were several reasons why the candidacy of the former Maine governor, senator and Secretary of State was curtailed.  Rumors were spread that he was a drug addict. The Manchester Union-Leader asserted that his wife was an alcoholic and bad-mannered, and that Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians.

It emerged later that the latter rumor was a fabrication, part of Richard Nixon’s infamous “dirty tricks” strategy to harm political enemies.  But damage had been done, and Muskie’s reaction to the negative characterizations of his wife was widely regarded as coup de grâce for his campaign.

Standing before reporters outside the newspaper’s offices on a snowy February day in 1972, he emotionally defended his wife.  And, at one point, shed tears.

He later claimed that, while he was indeed upset, the droplets on his face were merely melted snowflakes.

No one will ever know.  Mr. Muskie died in 1996 and videos of the incident are inconclusive.  One thing, though, is clear: The idea of a president capable of crying seemed shameful to the American electorate in 1972.

Contrast that with the public reaction to the current Crier-in-Chief.  Mr. Obama has not held back from weeping on several occasions, including memorial services and as he presented military awards.  And, most recently, when he announced an executive order expanding the scope of background checks on gun buyers and increasing funding for mental health treatment (actions that, amazingly, raised howls of protest from some – but that’s a different article).  In the presence of family members of gun fatalities, he choked up as he recalled the children murdered in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.

The usual suspects, of course, intent on seeing only cold, diabolical evil in Obama, immediately took to social media to share theories about how the president had managed to conjure his obviously (at least to the commenters) fake tears.  The thought that he was sincerely distraught at the memory of small schoolchildren’s bodies riddled with bullets just could not be entertained, at any cost.

Saner Americans readily accepted that the president’s tears were sincere. Some found the tears laudable, evidence of his humanity.  Others found them telling, evidencing the president’s frustration over fighting a gun lobby that insists that, unlike other fundamental rights like free speech and assembly, the Second Amendment must be unlimited. Others just found the crying unremarkable.

We’ve come a long way.

No one these days seems to see a president sincerely tearing up as scandalous.  What to make of that?  Is it evidence to the “wimping down” of America?  An emotional counterpart to the moral decline of a once-great nation?

Or, perhaps, a sign of its maturity?

In some ways, American society has indeed grown more advanced.  It is, for instance, no longer as riven with overt racism and anti-Semitism as once it was (even if individual anti-Semitic acts are far from rare even today).  The idea that parents are the best arbiters of their children’s educational environments has become enshrined in law and widely accepted (if not yet widely taken to its logical legislative conclusion). The distance traveled since Mr. Muskie’s day regarding leaders’ public emoting may be another sign of America’s positive growth.

Leaving the hidden onion-juice conspiracy theorists aside (where they belong), sincere crying is not dishonorable.  Emotions, and the tears that accompany their most intense states, are the hallmark of a developed human being. Your GPS guide doesn’t cry.  Nazis don’t cry.  Terrorists don’t cry.

By contrast, we Jews are known for our tears.  It may have been wrong for our ancestors to cry out of fear when they first stood at the cusp of entering Eretz Yisrael.  But that bechiyah shel chinam, “unwarranted crying,” is atoned for by our own tears, on Tisha B’Av, on Yom Kippur, at Tikkun Chatzos…  The Kosel Maaravi is saltily stained with the sobbing of countless Jewish generations.

Our forefather Yaakov cried.  So did Yosef, and Moshe Rabbeinu.  Rachel Imeinu cries still.  The Cohen Gadol cried, as did tanna’im.  Even Hashem, kivayachol, is described as crying (Chagigah, 5b).

So, whether or not larger society’s having come to accept that even a leader is not lesser for lachrymosity is something positive, Jewish weeping for the right reasons most certainly is.

May it lead, and soon, to the end of all crying, to the fulfillment of Yeshayahu’s nevuah (25:8) that Hashem “will wipe tears from every face.”

© 2016 Hamodia

cellphone davening

From the Mouths of Mexicans


I’ll call him Pedro; maybe it’s even his name.  He seems to be a custodian of some sort for a shul – though I have no idea where it might be.  He wears a worn tee-shirt and speaks English haltingly; it’s hard to understand all his words in the short video a friend received from someone else and shared with me. I don’t know, or much care, whether or not Pedro’s a legal immigrant. What I know is that he has something important to say.

I’ll share his words below, but first, a word from the Sdei Chemed (Maareches Beis Haknesses, 21).  Citing the Magen Avraham and the Chasam Sofer, Rav Chaim Chizkiya Medini concludes that any behavior considered disrespectful in a given society’s non-Jewish houses of worship becomes, as a result, forbidden in that society’s Jewish shuls. Even actions that are otherwise permitted by halachah in a shul, if they are regarded as disrespectful in local places of non-Jewish worship, are forbidden in a Jewish makom tefillah.

That’s something well worth pondering these days.  There may be churches where congregants “warm up” in the chapel as services get underway by loudly discussing politics, business or the stock market, or just joking around.

My guess, though, is that there aren’t many.

Klal Yisrael is blessed, baruch Hashem, with shuls where proper decorum is the norm, that mispallelim enter with reverence and use only for davening and learning Torah. But, as we all know, there are many, too, that seem less of a mikdash me’at than a shuk gadol.

I understand, I really do, that shuls are seen as “home” by many Jews.  As they should be, at least to an extent.  After all, we spend good parts of our lives within their walls.  We feel comfortable there.

But even a shul that was built – as most shuls are today – on the condition that eating and drinking will take place in it nevertheless remains a shul, and the condition made does not permit any less respectful behavior.

And when davening itself is taking place, the ante is upped considerably.  Then it is not just the place that is holy but the time.  Anyone who has learned the halachos of tefillah knows the parts of davening when mundane conversation is forbidden – and they include chazaras hashatz.  Those halachos are in the same Shulchan Aruch as the laws of taaruvos and Shabbos.  (And anyone possessed of common sense knows that even at times when talking may be permitted, if it disturbs others’ prayers, it is a violation of simple human courtesy.)

I write here about decorum, not quiet.  There is nothing wrong, and indeed everything right, about saying Pesukei d’Zimrah and Krias Shma aloud.  That’s what some of our non-Jewish neighbors refer to as “making a joyful noise” to Hashem, their translation of “hari’u l laHashem kol haaretz,” the first passuk of Tehillim 100.

But if the noise isn’t joyful, and not laHashem, then it’s just noise.

Davening demands dignity.  A stranger to many a shul would surely be impressed by what he sees.  But there are, reportedly, shuls where the stranger would be puzzled, where he would wonder at how worshippers could purposefully leave their phones on during services, allowing the devices to interrupt the proceedings with ringing and beeping and singing.  Where those gathered for prayer actually answer their phones, or tap out text messages and e-mails.

Which brings us to Pedro.  He has clearly not rehearsed his words, only observed something that bothers him.  He smiles sheepishly at times but is determined to share his message, presumably with someone to whom he complained, and who then asked him to speak on camera. I quote the custodian verbatim:

Me no understand.  When they come to the synagogue – fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, one hour, whatever – it’s for the G-d.  Not for the phone…  Oh, somebody call?  ‘Oh, wait G-d!  Somebody call me…’ 

NO! Come for the synagogue.  It’s for the G-d.  Close the phone or something or not pick up the phone.  No phone.  Me, I don’t understand.  I like them for the praying, three, four times a day. It’s good.  But no like them when they pick up the phone.  It’s no good.  For me, it’s no good…

For us, too, it should be no good.

© 2016 Hamodia

howling dog

Howling Hounds and Golden Calves


Whether or not they happen to own dogs, some politicians have an affinity for dog whistles, at least the political type.

That term plays on the fact that dogs can hear frequencies inaudible to humans, and refers to catchwords or phrases used in speeches and such to signal things, usually ugly things, to particular parts of the body politic.

When segregation became socially unacceptable, many pro-segregationists began instead calling for “states’ rights,” as a euphemism for the right of individual states to racially discriminate.  Used in a speech, it was an ultrasonic call-out to racists.  Now “states’ righters” has become a dog whistle of its own, used by some speechifying liberals to insinuate that anti-big government sorts are all racists.

In the current presidential primary race, Jeb Bush has accused Donald Trump of “dog whistling,” citing, among other things, the latter’s endless stream of insults to various groups of foreigners or non-males.  But those aren’t really dog whistles at all; they’re more like raucous tuba blasts, blown by a clown.

Some dog whistlers have long sought to call out to people not well disposed toward Jews or Israel, using well-placed phrases like “dual loyalty” or “powerful Congressional lobby.”  Back in 2012, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd upset many when she accused Republican presidential hopefuls as being guided by a “neocon puppet master,” a reference that was heard as referring to Jewish former administration officials.

A recent dog whistle sounding anti-Jewish notes was wielded by Congressional candidate Dan Castricone, a former Orange County legislator seeking the Republican nomination for New York’s 18th District congressional seat, which includes all of Orange and Putnam counties and parts of two others.

A little background:  Kiryas Joel, in case you aren’t aware, is a village and Hassidic enclave founded by the Satmar Rov, zt”l, that is part of the town of Monroe, in Orange County, New York.

A 2011 New York Times report noted that, despite the town’s very high poverty rates, “It has no slums or homeless people. No one who lives there is shabbily dressed or has to go hungry. Crime is virtually nonexistent.”

Some residents of the surrounding communities, however, view Kiryas Joel as encroaching on them, particularly because of the growth of the village and its residents’ desire to annex additional land to accommodate its growth.

In September, the Monroe Town Board approved a petition to shift 164 acres (approximately a third of what was requested) of the town into Kiryas Joel.

The concerns of those in opposition to that plan cannot be dismissed out of hand.  They prefer that the bucolic nature of their surroundings be undisturbed by new residential developments and the construction attendant to creating them.  At the same time, though, neighborhoods change, and development impinges on rural areas all the time; many a once-verdant, pastoral setting has been transformed into a vibrant residential community.  Some things in life might be bothersome, but need to be accepted all the same.

What isn’t acceptable – or shouldn’t be – is opposition to development that is wrapped in religious prejudice.

Which brings us to Mr. Castricone.

In a fundraising letter, after declaring his opposition to Kiryas Joel’s bid to expand, he announced that he will “fight until my last breath to stop it.”  All right, he’s impassioned.  No crime there.  But he also seems, unfortunately, to be something else.

In one speech, he railed that the current holder of the Congressional seat he seeks, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, “sits in Congress today only because of a certain bloc of votes [emphasis – or, at least, italics – mine] he obtained from a certain village in the center of a town called Monroe.”

Woof woof.

And if that didn’t get the hounds howling, the calculating candidate, in another address, railed against “one community” that he said has “run roughshod over the culture” of his beloved fatherland – pardon, region.  And, in case anyone might have wondered what “culture” he meant to reference, he helpfully continued by accusing Mr. Maloney of having made “a pact with the golden calf.”

Last we checked, democracy was alive and well in the United States, including upstate New York.  And members of all American communities were free to vote, individually or en masse, for whomever and whatever they believed to be in their best interest.

Mr. Castricone, no doubt, would affirm that all of that remains the case, and will wave the flag of freedom alongside all who are proud to live in this great country.  But the whistle he blows sounds a rather more sour note.

© Hamodia, 2015

chassidic boys dancing

Blame Terrorism, Not Songs


Some politicians and pundits – including several writers in Haaretz – seem misguidedly intent on extending blame for Jewish terrorism across Orthodoxy, even to the charedi community and its Torah educational system. And several have pointed to a song played at Jewish weddings as Exhibit A.

I recently shared some thoughts on the matter with the readers of Haaretz. The piece is here and here.