Haredi Rabbis “declare war” on the Internet (Part 1)

JONATHAN ROSENBLUM is a fine and articulate Haredi columnist for the Jerusalem Post. In one of his most recent articles, Rosenblum writes about the Haredi rabbinic decision to “declare war” on the Internet. “Declare war” you say? Ah, them’s fightin’ words!

On the surface, the Haredi Guardyoureyes looks like an organization that has some positive potential. After going to the website, the webmasters state its purpose in unambiguous terms:

Welcome to GuardYourEyes, a vibrant network and fellowship of religious Jews of all affiliations, struggling to purify themselves and break free from inappropriate behaviors stemming from Lust addiction. With the advance of technology and the ease of availability and privacy that the internet provides, it has become a daily struggle for many religious Jews to remain erlich (morally and ethically upright) even in their own homes. Jewish Leaders, Rabbis and Experts worldwide, are beginning to speak out about this serious problem more and more. Our network is comprised of a website: www.guardureyes.com, a dynamic blog-site at …

Rosenblum supports the goals of the organization and thinks that this type of self-policing is a good thing for members of the Haredi community. Many Americans in this country are also concerned about the problems and challenges posed by the Internet for their families–especially considering that the average adolescent spends more time on the Internet than watching traditional television.

In addition, Rosenblum also complains about the “various chat rooms, or erotica Web sites, or instant communications devices that make it easy to establish illicit relationships.” I know many Christian believing families in this country who would concur.

So, what’s so bad about this type of organization? Actually, the Guardureyes.com does not bother me  in the least. I think the issues of pornography addiction are a serious problem for the repressed world of the ultra-Orthodox, which has yet to teach its people how to relate to women as people and not as sex objects. For whatever the reason, the yeshiva world has done a poor job in instilling proper impulse control in their students–as evidenced by their students frequenting the erotic websites. In this respect, religious adolescents will behave like adolescents do in the secular world. This  particular website at least tries to help its followers get a better grip on their behavior. The fact that Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, M.D  is a part of this organization, speaks very well of its goals. Rav Twerski is one outstanding Haredi.

Kudos deservedly go to Guardyoureyes. Continue reading “Haredi Rabbis “declare war” on the Internet (Part 1)”

Guarding Our Humanity–Even In a Time of War

In his classical work on masculine spirituality, Iron John, Robert Bly notes how our contemporary society no longer provides the necessary rituals to help reintegrate warriors after a war. Unlike the ancient societies, which presented a series of complex rituals to help their soldiers make a transition to their former lives, today’s warriors have no means of making such a psychological transition to a normal life.[1]

In some cultures, a group of women would bare their breasts at the soldier to awaken their sense of compassion. Ritual washings in a pool of warm water often served to symbolize the renewal of the person; it helped the soldier get in touch with his essential humanity.  But for today’s soldiers, there are no parades honoring the soldiers’ return from the battlefront. Nor do beautiful maidens throw golden applies to the soldiers as they celebrate their return.

Is it any wonder, argues Bly, why so many Vietnam war veterans committed suicide after they arrived home? Is it any wonder why so many veterans became homeless? Bly’s arguments speak with a great deal of force. I have personally worked with the traumatized soldiers who return, who often complain about the inner demons they face.

When we study the rituals of war in the Torah, we also discover the purification rites that enabled individuals who became spiritually and ceremonially defiled in battle, and how they eventually became purified and spiritually renewed (cf. Num. 19 ff.). Interestingly, even before going to the battlefield, soldiers had to donate half shekel. The biblical writer notes, “When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be registered, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the LORD a forfeit for his life, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered” (Exod. 30:12).

The verse suggests that a soul needs atonement whenever one goes out to war. Every enemy soldier has a family and wears many hats other than that of a soldier. The ritual of the half shekel reminded soldiers that killing a human being is wrong unless one is doing so in self-defense. Reasons for such a rite are obvious. War brutalizes a people. Once one sees an enemy soldier as an enemy, killing becomes permitted.

But how can the act of killing not brutalize a soul–especially a sensitive soul? Even the Nazis realized that they could not command their soldiers to kill Jews as fellow human beings; but they could command them to kill the Jews “because they were not human–but were like vermin.” Continue reading “Guarding Our Humanity–Even In a Time of War”

When Numbers Become Obscene

In the beginning of Exodus 30:12-13, God commands Moses not conduct a head count of the Israelites before they go into battle against future adversaries:

“When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be registered, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the LORD a forfeit for his life, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. Everyone who enters the registered group must pay a half-shekel, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. This payment of a half-shekel is a contribution to the LORD . . . ”

Interesting passage, isn’t it? Why not conduct an actual head count? The biblical writer may also  indirectly be alluding to a census that King David carried out toward the end of his reign, which produced disastrous consequences (2 Sam 24ff.).

The answer to this question has a lot to do with the ancient’s fascination with numbers and the process of counting. Here’s the background information: Numbers play a very important part in our everyday lives. Life constantly demands that we measure and count. Numbers have always played a role in all civilizations from mathematics to astrology. Numbers also play an important symbolic role in much of the Bible, e.g.,  one, two, three, four, five, seven, twelve, forty, fifty, seventy, hundred and thousand. This is not the place to examine the significance of each of these numbers, but they often have symbolic and rhetorical significance.

The famous anthropologist Sr. James Frazer notes that certain African tribes were afraid to count children for fear that the evil spirits might hear. They also believed that cattle should not be counted because it might impede the increase of the herd. [1]  In Denmark, there was a tradition not to count hatched chickens lest some be lost. In German cultures it is believed that the more you count your money, the more likely you will decrease it. [2] Continue reading “When Numbers Become Obscene”

When “Peace at any cost” becomes a prelude to mayhem

Aaron’s construction of the Golden Calf has always perplexed me. It seems as though Aaron gets away with a free pass, while everyone else who actually worships the calf is punished. Surely tradition teaches וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל “do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person” (Lev. 19:14). What greater stumbling block could one put, than to cause another to worship idols? Yet, Aaron gets off with hardly a reprimand. Asked in another way: How could Aaron of all people cave him to popular demand? Where was his courage? Surely, as a leader and a prophet of his people, how could he build the Golden Calf?[1]

The question is hardly original. Many of our greatest commentators led by Nachmanides and Ibn Ezra, raised the same question.

These scholars claim that the calf was never intended to be an idol, but a mouthpiece, a pedestal for God to dwell–perhaps not unlike the cherubim of the Tabernacle itself. However, it was God who commanded the cherubim, not man. In the case of the Golden Calf, it is man and not God who commanded that its construction be carried out  (Judah HaLevi).

But what about Moses, the man who took them out of Egypt? Our ancestors felt convinced that Moses had died on Mt. Sinai. In psychological terms, the Israelites experienced what is called “separation anxiety.” According to psychologist John Bowlby, separation anxiety is a key and a common ingredient in psychological distress. In clinical terms, separation anxiety occurs when the  sense of care, foreboding, restlessness, or uneasiness observed in infants are removed from their primary caregiver–especially the mother. Any of us who have ever parented young children, see this quite often whenever a mother goes away even for a short time. Young children’s perception of time is radically different from adults or adolescents. From this perspective, the Israelites were like young infantile children (Maimonides makes a similar point in his Guide)

Having said that, one still feels the need to ponder: “What was Aaron thinking?” He knew it was only a matter of time before Moses would return to the camp with the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Surely Aaron knew that Moses would return, but as Rashi notes, Aaron was really stalling for time. For this reason, Aaron asks people to give up their gold to make the calf. Never did Aaron think or believe that the people would be only too willing to give up their precious gold; he expected to haggle with the folks, and buy enough time for Moses to come and save the day. Continue reading “When “Peace at any cost” becomes a prelude to mayhem”

The Haman Archetype Lives On

The joke is as old as the hills.

A Chinese man and his Jewish friend were walking along one day when the Jewish man whirled and slugged the Chinese man and knocked him down. “What was that for?” the Chinese man asked. “That was for Pearl Harbor!” the Jewish man said. “Pearl Harbor? That was the Japanese. I’m Chinese.” “Chinese, Japanese, you are all the same!” “Oh!” They continued walking and after a while the Chinese man whirled and knocked the Jewish man to the ground. “What was that for?” the Jewish man asked. “That was for the Titanic!” “The Titanic? That was an iceberg.” “Iceberg, Goldberg, you are all the same.”

Like Haman, Hitler, Hamas, and Ahmadinejad would certainly agree. It made no difference what kind of Jew they wanted to kill. Old, young, male, female, straight, gay, Haredi, Hassidic, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Humanistic, Reconstructionist, Ortho-form, Re-conservadox–you name it. Our enemies really don’t care what we call ourselves.

Whenever I read about religious politics of “Who is a Jew?” in Israel, I often think about anti-Semites impassioned hatred for all Jews–regardless whether their names are “Iceberg,” or “Goldberg.” However, today it is no longer fashionable to be “anti-Jewish,” it is much more avant garde to be “anti-Zionist.”

How quaint.

Whenever you think of the 100,000  missiles in Lebanon aimed at Israel, know that Hezbollah really wants to destroy “Zionists,” and not “Jews” who live in Israel.

Whenever you hear how Iranian mullahs want to “nuke” Israel, they really want to just get at the “Zionists,” and not hurt the Jews, right?

When a terrorist attack strikes a kindergarten in Israel, the terrorists are only trying to kill “Zionists,” and not Jews, right?

Isn’t funny that in any future Palestinian State, Jews will not be allowed to live within its borders–but only Israel practices “apartheid,” right?

Nazi-war criminals lived a celebrity style of life in Egypt, like the world’s most-wanted Nazi war criminal, concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim. He died in Cairo in 1992. Aribert_heim The report said Heim was living under a pseudonym and had converted to Islam by the time of his death from intestinal cancer.

Countless Nazi war-criminals went to the Arab countries because they were anti-Zionist, right?

As one friend of mine explained the problem:

We refuse to acknowledge the Jews as a people, and think they are only a religion. We do not have an answer to how people who do NOT practice the Jewish religion can still be regarded as Jews. But that does not mean we have anything against Jews as such. Continue reading “The Haman Archetype Lives On”

Shadow Projections & the Psychology of Scapegoating

Carl G. Jung writes a lot about the nature of “shadow projection” in his writings. Individuals will often project their shadow unto someone else they know well. Just look at any divorce trial, the tendency is to project blame unto the Other, rather than taking personal responsibility for the death of a marriage.

I am reminded of the old story where a marriage therapist was counseling a young couple that were having difficulties in their marriage. The husband says, “She is to blame for everything wrong in our marriage!” The therapist asks the husband, “Do you really believe that SHE is really to blame for EVERYTHING?”  The husband pauses, “Well, not really; her mother is to blame for at least 50% of our problems!”

What happens on the individual level occurs with the collective shadow as well. Typically, it is an ethnic or religious group that is blamed for the woes of society. Men and women often blame the opposite sex for the current state of disarray that we mentioned earlier. It becomes much more dangerous when entire populations become blamed or persecuted because of existing social ills that exist in a society.

Whenever one feels oneself or one’s group superior to another one is engaged in shadow projection. This “other” thus becomes the “scapegoat” to carry away the “sins of the Other.” But do the sins really go away once the scapegoat is destroyed? Not really. The social wrongs or inequities simply go unconscious where they breed more hatred and shadow material. It sets up a vicious cycle. Shadow projection is nothing new to the human race; it’s been practiced in rituals throughout ancient history. Continue reading “Shadow Projections & the Psychology of Scapegoating”

When “Halacha” becomes “A goodly apple rotten at the heart”

Although Shammai had his differences with Hillel with respect to how one receives perspective converts to Judaism, one thing is evident—not even Shammai ever believed that a Beit Din [rabbinical court] has the right to keep perspective converts in a state of permanent probation. As we pointed out in the earlier postings on conversion, the Halacha makes it clear that even if the newly converted candidate goes astray from his Judaism, he is still nevertheless considered to be a Jew—a  “sinful” Jew, but his status as a Jew is never something that is ontologically kept in suspension or in doubt. [1]

However, much has changed in the last few decades in Israel. This simple Talmudic truth is no longer so obvious. A spirit of Haredi revisionism is making an assault on Jewish law that is far more threatening than anything else we have observed in Jewish history.

Recently, the High Court of Justice was asked to overturn a determination of the Rabbinical High Court regarding the conversion of a Danish-Israeli involved in a divorce case. Nonchalantly, the couple had appeared earlier before a lower-ranking rabbinical court where the woman was asked if she observed Jewish law, to which she answered that she no longer did. Little did she realize the ill-treatment she was about to create for herself and her family by simply being honest with her interrogators.

A bill of divorce was nonetheless arranged, according to Jewish law, but a divorce certificate was never issued. The court ruled that, as the woman is only,” ergo,  there was no technical  need for rabbinical divorce proceedings. They also said that by the same token, the woman and her children cannot marry Jews under Jewish law. The rabbinical court of appeals refused to reverse the lower court’s decision and thus the case arrived on the docket of the High Court of Justice.

Writing for the Rabbinic High Court of Justice, attorney and Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi wrote a legal opinion for the stating that all conversions to Judaism are never “final,” but remain in a fluidic state of Halachic abeyance.  Haredi rabbis maintain that they have the right to review the halachic status of any and all conversions that have taken place in Israel or elsewhere.

Now the way the Haredim rabbinate goes about sifting the “authentic” converts from the “inauthentic” converts is almost sleight of hand. The Orthodox feminist Rivkah Lubitch explains the insidious nature of this artifice:

“According to Yaakobi, the rabbinic courts have for many years routinely examined converts at the time of their divorce regarding their religious observance. As a rule, in all divorce procedures, it is customary to be very exact when referring to the names of the parties, as well as to their fathers’ names. Since the convert has separated herself from her biological family, her father’s name is not written. Instead, it is written: “The daughter/son of Avraham our Forefather.” However, Yaakobi claims that precedents exist that hold that if a convert has reverted to her old ways, it is an insult to refer to her as “the daughter of Avraham our Forefather.” So it is become the custom to ask the convert if she obeys the commandments. If she testifies that she obeys the commandments, the rabbis will write “the daughter of Avraham our Forefather”; but if she testifies that she does not obey the commandments, the rabbis will add the accolade “convert” after her name. So far, with respect to the divorce proceeding.” Continue reading “When “Halacha” becomes “A goodly apple rotten at the heart””