Category Archives: News

Empowering Ehrlichkeit

If you live in New York City and order a sliced bagel (unlike if you ordered it uncut), you owe sales tax on the item. And if you bought gasoline in New Jersey, you owe tax to New York for the purchase.

There are many arcane technical violations of law (some quite amusing, like talking to someone in an elevator in New York State, or hanging clothes on an outdoor clothesline without a license) of which most otherwise smart people are ignorant, and of which otherwise upright people are regularly guilty. And then there are laws that most of us do know about and willfully ignore, like the prohibition to exceed posted speed limits.

Then, of course, there are serious crimes that are not only prosecutable but rightly prosecuted, like identity theft, Ponzi schemes and egregious tax evasion.

There is also, however, a broad gray area of questionable actions, particularly in realms like tax deductions and participation in government programs, that may or may not be committed intentionally, and may or may not even be clear violations of the law.

Many otherwise honest Americans, including some in the Orthodox community, have fallen prey to making decisions that they may think fall on the right side of the legal/illegal line but in fact do not. And some have even convinced themselves that being on the wrong side of that line isn’t really so terrible.

It is, though, at least in our community. Not only because, if discovered (as it often is), it causes the guilty and their families and their fellow Jews a black eye (and sometimes worse), but also simply because, well, it is not ehrlich.

That Yiddish word, for the uninitiated, refers to something of a combination of “honest” and “honorable.” It is a most important Jewish concept.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt”l, the Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights for nearly four decades, famously said at an Agudath Israel “Halacha Conference for Accountants,” on January 24, 1989, that “Those who resort to… dishonesty…while they may have the outward appearance of G-d-fearing Jews, deep down… are irreligious.” Because, he explained, Hashem provides us what we are destined to have; to steal is to deny that fact. He bemoaned the fact that Hashem’s people are viewed as defrauders, and said he pined for the day “when there will be a new definition for ‘to Jew’: to be a stickler for honesty.”

Rav Avrohom Pam, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, ailing and near the end of his life, recorded a heartfelt speech on November 22, 2000. It was screened the next day at that year’s Agudath Israel convention. The anguish in his voice was born not of his illness but of the pain he felt at having to address the issue.

He characterized a good Jew as someone who is “ehrlich in his profession, in business, with… workers, with… partners…”

When one arrives in the next world, Rav Pam said, quoting the Gemara, “the very first question he is asked is ‘Did you conduct your business with emunah [in good faith]?’”

The word emunah is used there, he explained, echoing Rabbi Schwab – because acting dishonestly in order to “supplement” our income denies G-d’s ability to provide us our sustenance.

Both Gedolim also stated clearly that the same honesty with which a Jew must interact with another Jew must characterize a Jew’s dealings with non-Jews.

I am not writing these recollections or what follows with reference to any recent happening. Only a fool would deign to make assumptions about anyone accused of a crime; both in Jewish law and American law, moreover, the presumption of innocence is a given.

But it can’t be denied that, over the years, there have been confirmed cases of actions, or inactions, by members of the community that were clearly illegal. That reality is unfortunate, and defies easy explanation.

Some suggest – to try to explain the phenomenon, not excuse it – that since religious Jews feel a singularly strong connection to earlier generations, some individuals may have “inherited” a feeling that government – as was the case many years past in other lands – is inherently corrupt, and its laws unworthy of full respect. While there are certainly cases where the American justice system acts unjustly (see: Rubashkin), all know (or should) that the United States is qualitatively different from the oppressive and unethical regimes under which Jews lived for centuries. We American Jews are the most fortunate Jews over the course of our galus.

Others see lapses of honesty to have been born of desperation, itself birthed by the extraordinary pressures brought to bear on observant families, who face special and substantial expenses.  That theory too, is offered not to excuse misdeeds, but as the sociological background against which they need to be regarded.

Whatever might (or might not) explain how members of communities beholden to halachah can come to do things that are not ehrlich, it behooves us all to look inward. There is a reason our Viduy is in plural (“ashamnu…”). If anyone in Klal Yisrael is guilty of a sin, on some level it implicates us all. Kol Yisrael areivim.

One worthy pursuit we might consider is intensified education about financial rectitude. Things like Agudas Yisrael’s recent “Law of the Land” webinars and its Halacha Conferences’ business tracks are examples worth emulating. As are the “V’asisa Hayashar V’hatov” events of several years ago, which were created by R’ Chaim Gross, z”l, a Vizhnitzer chassid and (ybl”c) R’ Shmuel Dovid Spira. Knowledge in this realm is crucial, as the lines of the law are not always clear.

But it behooves us, too, as parents and mechanchim, to more often and more forcefully stress the importance of ehrlichkeit. The stories of Gedolim that we relate to our young, which enter their minds and souls at the “ground floor,” so to speak, and color their consciences over their lifetimes, should prominently include not only narratives about the hasmadah and Torah-knowledge and ahavas Yisrael of those who inspire us, but their meticulous honesty and acts of Kiddush Hashem no less. There are many such accounts; they need to be a major part of the “curriculum” and greatly emphasized.

And then there is a sociological change that so needs to be fostered.

Our society has come to regard things that are in truth luxuries as necessities. Much (though certainly not all) of the economic pressures so many of us feel derives from a perceived need for a certain kind of home or car or vacation or summer bungalow. There’s nothing wrong with a late model car or overseas trip – if one can easily afford them. But there very much is if one cannot.

Something akin to shame is felt by those of us who, nebbich (sarcasm intended), have a one-man-band at a child’s chasunah, or have run-down furniture, or old, stained carpets, or can’t afford Chol Hamoed trips or summer camps (yes, summer camps; they are wonderful, but there are other options) for our families.

But with all due concern for chasunah bands, the frum entertainment industry and camps (and florists and planners…), none of their products are necessities. The fact that many readers may be shocked by that contention is a sign of the very problem that needs addressing. Is “keeping up with the Jonessteins” a Jewish value? What begets that attitude, we need to realize, is something forbidden by one of the Aseres Hadibros.

There is dignity in being of modest means. We need to recapture it. Was the Chofetz Chaim dignified? Is, ybl”c, Rav Steinman, shlit”a? No need, one hopes, to answer.

And even for those who are financially fortunate, there is dignity in modesty. We have, laudably, toned down our simchos over the years, at our Gedolim’s request (if not always to the degree they suggested). By continuing and intensifying that trend, we do ourselves, our children, and theirs, a great service.

Why have we “upgraded” vorts to mini-chasusos, and chasunos to British coronations?  Why aren’t a Shabbos Kiddush and a pizza-and-doughnut weekday meal for his classmates a sufficient celebration for a Bar Mitzvah?

Here’s a radical suggestion, born of a recent chasunah held in a hall without a kosher kitchen. The seudah was buffet style, brought in by the caterer and kept hot with Sterno. It was a second marriage for both the chassan and the kallah, so that may not have been remarkable. Such an arrangement would surely raise eyebrows at a regular chasunah. But maybe it should raise our consciousness instead. The guests were all well-fed and the joy of the event was unhampered. I don’t know how much money was saved, but my guess is that it was substantial. Must we all have our simchos in elaborate halls, with smorgasbords and a seudah, and with our food served to us by waiters?

There are, of course, truly destitute families out there. But if those in the “middle class,” for whom the luxuries (using the definition above) are manageable, if financially straining, would choose to forgo them, they would be alleviating pressure not only on themselves but on the truly needy. It won’t pay the poor’s food and rent, to be sure, but it will help them feel a bit less “left behind.” Can you imagine the degree of zechus in that?

What, though, of the needs of those who are unable to meet even modest expectations? Klal Yisrael, being a nation of gomlei chassadim, providers of kindnesses, has among its members people of means who, individually or through various tzeddakos, help those in true need. But maybe something greater is needed, a sort of “Parnassah Superfund.”

It would entail the manhigim of each community (definition of which to be determined) appointing a person or small panel of people to administer a fund to which all the non-destitute members of the kehillah donate, say 5% of their yearly income. The fund’s overseers would discreetly distribute monies from the fund to families unable to shoulder all their financial burdens – food, shelter, tuition and modest simchos (yes, buffet-style). A sort of communal “single-payer” Jewish welfare system.

This, of course, is essentially the time-honored kehillah model. It has fallen into disuse, other than in some chassidishe groups, due to blurred community lines and the proliferation of tzeddakos that focus on particular needs.

Those tzeddakos are wonderful, but communal Parnassah Superfunds to augment them would be more wonderful still. They might even help alleviate the tuition crisis, by providing schooling funds to parents who otherwise would have to rely on mosdos’ scholarships.

Needless to say, such a project could only succeed with the participation of all the non-destitute members of a community, each according to his income. But if “community” is carefully defined, it might be a workable model.

And the Superfunds would also serve to unify each community – and all communities – in a common venture, empowering the kol Yisrael areivim factor in only a positive way.

In a Sane World…

Have you heard about the white family in Chicago that routinely vilifies the members of the black one across the street, calling them vile names, demanding that they move and hurling rocks through their windows? Where the black neighbors responded by putting up a fence at the edge of their property, to make it harder for the rocks to reach their house? And how the white folks, livid, called on all their friends and relatives, and white citizens everywhere, to mass at the black family’s house and voice their outrage over the despicable fence, and demand that it be removed?  And how the white mob turned into a violent riot?

No, you haven’t. Because (one hopes) it didn’t happen. But what you do likely know is that, after three Muslim terrorists killed two Israeli border policemen, members of the Druze community, at a gate to Har HaBayis, Israel placed metal detectors at the gates to the compound.

And that the Waqf, the site’s caretakers, along with the confederacy of brazen murderers known as Hamas, denounced the security measure as part of a “religious war” and a “defilement” of a holy place. The terrorist group called for a “day of rage” for Arab Muslims to vent their fury.

And vent they did, massing across Yerushalayim, screaming and shouting and attacking police officers. And a Palestinian knifed to death a 70-year-old man, his 46-year-old daughter and 26-year-old son during their Shabbos seudah in Halamish. (The murderer, shot by authorities, is being treated at Petah Tikva’s Rabin Medical Center.)

In a sane world, violent rage over metal detectors would barely pass as farce. In our world, though, it is reality.

The detectors, of course, are regular fixtures at airports, government buildings and myriad other places where tight security is called for. As Yerushalayim police commissioner Yoram Halevi pointed out, “When I go shopping on Friday I pass through a detector at the mall.”

But Azzam Khatib, the Waqf’s director, will have none of that. “We will never ever accept any changes in the mosque,” he declared, “and Israel has to put an end to this crisis by removing the metal detectors.”

Hamas’ official statement on the matter decried how Israel’s prevention of Muslims from practicing their faith “in complete freedom,” presumably by requiring them to walk through a metal detector, is “a dangerous escalation of the Zionists’ plans to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque and seize full control of it.”

The statement goes on to salute “the martyrs of Al Aqsa Mosque, [the] Al-Jabbarin family, who proudly sacrificed themselves.” Those would be the three murderers whose murderous actions were what required the metal detectors in the first place, and who were dispatched by Israeli police before they could wreak further mayhem.

For his part, the “moderate” Fatah’s Central Committee member Jamal Muhaisen chimed in with the unoriginal and incendiary sentiment that “What is happening in Jerusalem today is aimed at attacking al-Aksa Mosque.”  And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that he is freezing all contacts with Israel.

The Palestinians’ bellicosity isn’t surprising. The very symbols they embrace tell us who they are. Fatah’s flag includes the image of a hand grenade and is graced with some blood-red Arabic text (probably not “give peace a chance”). Hamas’ logo is a pair of swords, not likely intended to evoke the image of filleting fish.

Over the past two years Palestinians have intentionally killed 45 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks.

At this writing, Jared Kushner has reportedly met with Mr. Abbas, and was rebuffed by the Palestinian. No statement has emerged from the White House. In the previous imagined theoretical sane world, world leaders would be informing Abbas and company that metal detectors in sensitive public places is a no-insult no-brainer.

But whether the metal detectors remain or are removed [UPDATED: They have been removed], whether the Arab Muslim world will continue to howl and riot or will be brought to cheer [UPDATED: It is cheering] and put its rocks, bottles and firebombs away until it next feels affronted, its wild belligerence, tragically, will remain.

According to the police, the murderers of the Israeli Druze guards had stashed their weapons on Har HaBayis, whence they emerged and opened fire. Searching the mosques on the site afterward, police found dozens of knives, slingshots, batons, metal spikes, inciting material and ordnance.

And what, to the Palestinian mind, “defiles” a holy place? Weapons? Hateful material?

No. Metal detectors.

© 2017 Hamodia

CNN’s New Low

One needn’t be a Trumpaholic to know that certain media have a way of “reporting” that undermines truths.

Take a recent CNN headline: “Christian man prays with Jerusalem Muslims as religious tensions flare.”

The text, accompanied by a large photograph, elaborates:

“Nidal Aboud stood out as one among many. As the men around him bowed, he made the sign of the cross. As they chanted their prayers, he read the Bible to himself… He was the only Christian among thousands of Muslims at Friday prayers in the Wadi el-Joz neighbourhood, outside the Old City of Jerusalem.”  The prayers pointedly took place there because Islamic authorities forbade Muslims from entering the Temple Compound after Israel placed metal detectors at entrances to the site.

It was, CNN helps us understand, a “simple interfaith moment… a touching example of cooperation in a time of conflict.”

The conflict, of course, is the utterly deranged reaction of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Waqf to the installation of the metal detectors, after two Israeli guards were murdered by a Muslim fanatic who emerged from the Temple Compound with a gun that he, or others, had smuggled onto the site.

No, the Christian’s joining in the Muslim prayer wasn’t “a touching example” but, rather, a typical one, of how, when it comes to irrational animus toward Israel, very different kinds of people, of entirely disparate beliefs, find common cause.

Why Would American Orthodox Jews Fund a Campaign That Vilifies Them – and Israel?

A piece I wrote for Haaretz can be read here.

If you would like a PDF copy of it, just e-mail me at [email protected] with “Haaretz piece” in the subject line.

Arab Vs. Arab

Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: It’s pronounced something like “gutter,” with the stress on the first syllable and the “g” a bit harder than the one in that English word, though not as hard as the “c” in “cutter.”

When it comes to Qatar’s current geopolitical situation, though, things are more complicated.

The small country, which juts out like a sore thumb from the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, has been effectively put into cherem by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a consortium of nearby countries consisting of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely seen as the force that spearheaded that economic excommunication, making the accusation that Qatar is aiding terrorist groups.

The GCC made 13 demands on its neighbor, including ending its relations with Iran and closing down the Al-Jazeera broadcasting station, all of which conditions, as was expected, Qatar ignored. Neither side is expected to back down any time soon.

In an Arabian example of the law of unintended consequences, the boycott of Qatar has only driven it further into an economic alliance with Iran, to the benefit of the latter.

The U.S. position on the intra-Arab crisis has been somewhat less than consistent. President Trump, perhaps with visions of his festive reception in Saudi Arabia back in May still dancing in his head, quickly tweeted his backing for the Saudi-led effort: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

Well, the Departments of State and Defense did, and, surprised at not having been consulted by the Commander in Chief, seem to have explained to him that Qatar is the (relatively) good guy in the fight. The President subsequently phoned the Qatari emir to offer his help in resolving the crisis, even proposing that a summit of leaders of the blockading countries and Qatar be held at the White House. This month, in fact, culminating year-long negotiations with Qatar by the State and Defense Departments, the U.S. and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the fight against terrorism.

Qatar’s no angel, to be sure. It maintains a cozy relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite its renunciation of violence several years ago, remains a force for promoting Islamist extremism. And Qatar hosts the leadership of Hamas, implicating the country in the terror group’s murderous attacks on Israelis.

But the Saudis’ claim to be the regional bulwark against terrorism is itself something of a bad joke.

As Senator Bob Corker, who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently: “The amount of support for terrorism by Saudi Arabia dwarfs what Qatar is doing.”

While there is no evidence that the Saudis directly fund terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia is the “foremost” foreign funder of Islamist extremism in the U.K., according to a just released report from a British think tank, The Henry Jackson Society.

It estimates that the Saudi government and charities spent an estimated $4 billion exporting Saudi Arabia’s harsh interpretation of Islam, known as Wahhabism, worldwide in 2015, up from $2 billion in 2007. In 2015, there were 110 mosques in the U.K. practicing Wahhabism, compared to 68 in 2007. The money is primarily funneled through mosques and Islamic schools in Britain, according to the report.

“Influence has also been exerted through the training of British Muslim religious leaders in Saudi Arabia,” the report noted, “as well as the use of Saudi textbooks in a number of the U.K.’s independent Islamic schools.”

The Saudi embassy said that the claims made by the report were “categorically false,” which should reassure no one at all.

The Saudis, moreover, have been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey.

According to people in the know like Sir William, terrorism isn’t really a concern of the Saudis. The royal family simply fears a scenario where the Muslim Brotherhood could foment political upheaval in the kingdom. If Islamists want to blow up Western targets, well, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not what keeps the princes up at night.

And so, we have Qatar with its Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas connections; and Saudi Arabia with its global Wahhabi “outreach.”

It’s an ugly, ugly neighborhood.

But there’s some solace to be taken here, in the fact that the bellicose neighbors are being kept nice and busy fighting only among themselves.

© 2017 Hamodia

Demographics Denial

The italics in the following seven paragraphs’ phrases are mine.

Haaretz column headline, in the wake of the Israeli cabinet’s decision to not upend the status quo at the Kosel: “Netanyanu to American Jews: Drop Dead.” An article headline in the same paper: “Israel Preps Diplomats for Backlash From U.S. Jewish Community Over Kotel Crisis.”

A Guardian headline: “Jewish diaspora angry as Netanyahu scraps Western Wall mixed prayer plan.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky: “We’re fighting all efforts to weaken the Israel-Diaspora relations.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett: “The representatives of U.S. Jewry feel they were slapped in the face.”

And, speaking of slaps, Former Jewish Agency head and ambassador to the U.S. Salai Meridor: “[The Kosel decision is] a slap in the face to world Jewry.”

American Jewish Committee chief executive David Harris: [The decision is] “a setback for the essential ties that bind Israel and American Jews.”

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America: “We urge all [executives] to communicate with their local Israel consul-general and share with them the community’s disappointment… [and how] disastrous conversion legislation would be for global Jewry.”

My list is much longer, but space is limited. If you haven’t divined the italics’ intention, they are meant to call attention to the implication that phrases like “American Jews” or “Diaspora Jewry” are synonymous with members of the Reform and Conservative movements.

It’s an implication that, at least for the uninformed and simpleminded, makes some sense. After all, Orthodox Jews in the largest Diaspora community, our own, comprise only about 10% of the Jewish population.

But government officials and Jewish thinkers might be expected to be both informed and intelligent. And, thus, to know that 1) most American Jews have no interest in the Kosel (according to the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry, a mere 43% of even Reform members say being Jewish is very important to them – and that doesn’t include the 30% of American Jews who are unaffiliated with any movement); and that, 2) the great majority of Jewishly engaged American Jews, those who actually live their Judaism (not to mention, support Israel) are… the Orthodox.

Reform lays claim to being the largest Jewish religious movement in North America. Its official magazine, “Reform Judaism,” claimed a quarterly circulation of “nearly 300,000 households, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions.” But very few (maybe only me, who inherited a subscription from Rabbi Sherer, z”l) actually ever read it, and the periodical folded in 2014.

And its final issue’s cover story, tellingly, celebrated Jews who sport tattoos, an issur d’Oraisa.

Which leads to the unpleasant but undeniable truth that the non-Orthodox Jewish movements have, by effectively abandoning Jewish observance, diminished much of American Jewry’s connection to its religious heritage.

Even more tragically, by “rewriting” the halachic concept of conversion, they have effectively created a multiplicity of “Jewish Peoples” in the Diaspora. Once upon a time, an American baal teshuvah’s halachic status as a Jew could be all but assumed. Today, unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The majority of many a Reform temple’s members are simply not Jewish.

And what segment of the American Jewish community produces large circulation, well-read newspapers (like this one, the only Jewish daily in the country) and magazines? One guess.

According to sociologist Steven M. Cohen, in fact, within two generations, the Orthodox fraction of the American Jewish population has more than quintupled. More than a quarter of American Jews 17 years of age or younger, moreover, are Orthodox. Public policy experts Eric Cohen and Aylana Meisel estimate that, by 2050, the American Jewish community will be majority Orthodox.

With the growth, baruch Hashem, of the American Orthodox community has come increased communal and political standing as well. My colleague Rabbi Abba Cohen, who has headed Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Office for decades, notes that the Orthodox community has clearly moved “beyond mere ‘access’ to” public officials, “which it has had for some time,” to a point, today, where “Orthodox advocates not only find open doors but are sought out and invited into the process.”

When realities like those are delivered, however, the messengers are verbally assaulted, accused of “triumphalism.”

But it’s not “triumphalism,” it’s triumph. Not of any population but rather of Yiddishkeit, of the Jewish convictions and practices that defined the lives of all Jews’ forebears until, historically speaking, fairly recently.

It’s really time that media, politicians and the pundits faced that fact, and began to qualify their use of “American Jews” and “Diaspora Jewry” accordingly.

© 2017 Hamodia

Agudath Israel Statement on Recent Jewish Federation Stances

Leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America and local federations have spoken out loudly about their disappointment in the Israeli government’s decision to suspend the Kotel resolution and about a contentious conversion bill that was recently put on hold.

A self-described Jewish state, of course, must maintain some Jewish standard, both with regard to its holy places and its definitions of personal status.  The only reasonable standard in all such matters is that of the mutual Jewish past, the Jewish religious tradition, or halacha.

There are those, unfortunately, who agitate for different standards in Israel.  That is their prerogative as individuals.  But the historic role of Jewish federations has been to provide support and solace for disadvantaged or endangered Jews and to mobilize the community to come to Israel’s aid when it is threatened.  Taking sides in religious controversies anywhere, and certainly in Israel, egregiously breaches the boundaries of that role.

It also entirely ignores the American Orthodox community, which harbors quite different sentiments.

The most conservative estimates are that 10% of American Jewry is Orthodox.  The Orthodox community, moreover, is poised to become a much more prominent sector of American Jewry.  More than a quarter of all American Jews 17 years of age or younger are Orthodox.  And even at present, the great majority of Jewishly engaged American Jews, those whose lives are infused with Judaism (and, not to mention, who are among the most strongly involved with Israel) are the Orthodox.

Any American Jew can, again, hold and promote a personal position on any issue, including the current ones in Israel.  But federations are communal entities, not private ones.  By proclaiming positions on religious controversies and ignoring the convictions of American Orthodox Jewry, federation leaders do grave damage to the very Jewish unity they profess as a goal.

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The Terminology of Terrorism

The June 19 attack in London, in which a man plowed his van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers exiting a mosque, killing one and injuring 10, was no less heinous than attacks by Islamists on other innocent people.

The London attack was the subject of scores of news reports over ensuing days.  But that didn’t prevent National Public Radio social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam to, in the wake of the attack, reprise a March study by three Georgia State University researchers who maintain that non-Islamist terrorism is largely, and irresponsibly, downplayed by the media.

The fact that violence against Muslims and Islamic institutions are occurring more than ever is unarguable. Mere days before the recent attack on the London worshippers, in Malmö, Sweden, a man with neo-Nazi links drove his car into a group of Iraqis who were peacefully demonstrating against tightened Swedish asylum rules. Thankfully, no one was injured in that attack.

Six people, though, were killed and nearly 20 wounded in January, when a white nationalist opened fire on an Islamic cultural center in Quebec City. That same month, an Islamic Center in Austin, Texas was destroyed by a fire. Last month, a man fatally stabbed two people and injured a third, after he was confronted for shouting what were described as racist and anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls on a train in Portland, Oregon.

Mosques, moreover, have been vandalized with increasing frequency over recent years and months, both in the U.S. and across Europe.

All that said, however, the study touted by NPR, whose report was picked up by a broad assortment of other news outlets, is seriously misleading.

The study’s researchers examined news coverage from the database LexisNexis Academic and CNN for terrorist attacks – defined as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation” – in the U.S between 2011 and 2015. They found that “attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 449% more coverage than other attacks.”

Quite a shocking discovery, at least at first read. But a second read is in order.

The first chink in the armor of the researchers’ conclusion lies in the definition of “terrorist attacks.” According to the study’s characterization, terrorism encompasses not only shootings, stabbings and bombings, but arson, too – and graffiti and eggings and phone threats (“the threatened or actual use of illegal force…”).

To be sure, all those things are ugly and evil, and in many cases may be rightly classified as hate crimes. But the word terrorism, most people would likely assert, should be reserved for actual violent attacks on actual human beings.

Another less obvious but more trenchant vulnerability in the researchers’ conclusion about the ostensible under-reportage of non-Muslim-committed crimes lies in the academics’ failure to distinguish between acts born of anger and those born of ideology.

The vast majority of Muslims worldwide are concerned with things like dietary laws, fasts and praying; they do not seek to kill people. Which is why the word “Islamists” has been coined to refer to those who in fact wish to murder innocents – including innocent Muslims whom they consider to be infidels.

As odious as those who attack Muslims are, and as deserving as they are of prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, most if not all of them are motivated by raw anger and misguided notions of revenge, not by any ideology of ridding the world of those who follow Islam. Before 2001, hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. were almost unheard of.  While there are certainly haters of Muslims – and Jews and blacks – out there, there are no “Christianists” seeking out non-Christians to kill, as there are Islamists seeking to murder those who believe differently than they do.

That is a distinction with a dire difference. The Georgia State researchers aver that “U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize… terrorist attacks by Muslims – leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat”; and they lament that “it is no wonder that people are afraid of the Muslim terrorist. More representative media coverage could help to bring public perception of terrorism in line with reality.”

The reality, though, is that Islamism is a clear, present and determined danger to all civilized people, non-Muslims and Muslims alike. And the public perception of that fact is entirely justified, as is the prominent reportage of ideology-driven murder and mayhem.

The researchers’ and NPR’s desire to point out the prevalence of non-Muslim crimes is commendable. But it does no one any favor to try to minimize the singular threat to civilization today that is Islamist terror.

© 2017 Hamodia

The Kotel: A Public Space, not A Public Square

The Israeli Cabinet’s recent decision to not upend the public prayer status quo at the Kotel Maaravi, or Western Wall, was met with howls of outrage from a broad cross-section of non-Orthodox leaders and representatives.

The decision, however, viewed objectively and reasonably (rare perspectives these days, unfortunately, about most everything), was prudent and proper.

When it was liberated by Israel in 1967, the Kotel became a place of peace and Jewish devotion. Anyone who wished to worship there, traditional and nontraditional, Jew and non-Jew alike, did so. Since the great majority of those who flocked to the site over the years were, as remains the case, Orthodox Jews, a mechitza, or separation-structure, between men and women was erected; and the standards for public, vocal prayer were in accordance with Jewish religious tradition over millennia.  (The Holy Temple that stood on the Temple Mount in ancient times – the source of the Kotel’s holiness – had a mechitza as well, as the Talmud recounts. And women did not serve there as cantors, as halacha considers it a breach of modesty for men to hear women singing.)

Those standards were, even if they may not have been the personal ones of all visitors to the Kotel, respected by them for decades, and the Kotel plaza remained a place of amity – a Jewish societal oasis of sorts, probably the only place on earth where Jews of different religious beliefs prayed side-by-side.

That peace was shattered, and the holy place turned into a place of strife, by a self-described feminist group, led by firebrand Reform activist Anat Hoffman.  She has made no secret of her desire to force a change to the status quo, and to import the American model of a “multi-winged Judaism” to Israel.

As a step toward that end, she organized monthly protests in the guise of prayer services.  The response from some haredi hooligans was predictable – anger and attempts to quash the services, where women were chanting – and the feminist group seized upon that ugly reaction by having it captured by the camera crews it made sure to have in tow.  The vast majority of Orthodox Jews at the site did not act on the anguish they felt.  But feel it they did.

Anyone, of course, including Ms. Hoffman and her supporters, is entitled to his or her own views.  But there are limits, at least among civil people, to what one may do to promote one’s views.  And seeking to be “in the face” of people interested only in the introspection that is Jewish prayer crosses that line.

Those determined to “liberalize” Jewish practice are free to do what they wish in their own synagogues, and to promote their visions as much as they wish in the media and the public square.  But the Kotel, while it is a public place, is not a public square.  It is not a place for political or social or religious crusades to be waged.

Ms. Hoffman and her supporters have made clear, moreover, that the current Kotel controversy is only a part of a larger plan to bring American-style “religious pluralism” to Israel.  That goal might sound wonderful to many American Jews, but what it would in fact do is, by creating multiple standards for marriage, divorce and conversion, create a multiplicity of “Jewish peoples” in the Jewish state.  That would not be wonderful at all.

Regarding the Kotel, as it happens, in 2004, the Israeli government set aside an area along the Wall to the south for “nontraditional” prayer.  But the activists, with their “pluralism” goal firmly in mind, insist on having their vocal “egalitarian” services more prominently alongside the regular, overwhelmingly Orthodox, visitors to the Kotel, who, they know, are deeply pained by attempts to utilize the Kotel to effect social or religious change.

Rather than balkanize the Kotel so that feminist groups today – and, in the future, to be sure, other groups with their own social agendas – can promote their causes, and “pluralism” proponents can advance theirs, the Kotel should be preserved as a place of Jewish unity, as it has been for half a century.  And that means maintaining the Jewish religious standards at the root of all Jews’ histories for public prayer there.

Some can howl with outrage at that suggestion.  But, if they are caring Jews, they can choose instead to regard it as reasonable, and thereby help restore peace among all Jews at the Kotel Maaravi.