Rabbis, Jews Kidnap & Torture Husbands to Allow Divorce

orthodox jewIt just doesn’t get any stranger than rabbis and temple members kidnapping and torturing husbands to force them to file a “get” so their wives can divorce. Because of Beth Din, Jewish law, a wife cannot obtain a divorce without consent of her husband.

In a bizarre plot sounding more like a scene out of The Sopranos than the affairs of an ultra-religious community, two Orthodox rabbis and eight others were charged in New Jersey Thursday in a torture-for-hire operation involving threats of kidnapping, beatings and the use of such implements as handcuffs, knives and stun guns — all aimed at convincing recalcitrant husbands to grant their wives religious divorces…

“It’s not like a civil divorce,” said family practice attorney Janet Pennisi of Millburn. She has represented Orthodox clients who have given away a lot in property rights for the sole purpose of getting their husbands to give them a get.

“For religious people, a get is everything, and there is no real authority to get it sometimes except through back alley approaches,” Pennisi said.

In fact, without a “get,” a woman can end up in limbo for years. She becomes known as an “agunah,” a woman chained to her marriage, unable to remarry.

The average divorce in the US costs $10,000 to $20,000. The surcharge for en enforced “get” is another $60,000.

The cost of convincing was not cheap. According to the FBI, the going rate was $10,000 to pay off a rabbinical court to approve a kidnapping and then another $50,000 to $60,000 to pay for the “tough guys” who would mete out beatings and other torture until a reluctant spouse finally acquiesced.

Sounds like a good reason to not allow religious courts any jurisdiction. This situation would make a great movie, either goof ball or serious.

In child custody cases women who leave their religion have little recourse.

As the attorneys noted, and as illustrated by Feldman’s and Reich’s experiences, judges look at religion as one factor in a custody dispute and generally view stability to be in children’s best interests. They have been known to award custody to the parent who will continue to raise the children in the same religion as before the family breakup.

Where I come from — that means here in the United States, in 2012 — women fear, legitimately, that they might lose their children if they lose their religion…

For many, their situation seems especially hopeless because they, like Reich, felt pressured to allow an Orthodox Jewish court, a bet din, arbitrate their divorce. The bet dins’ binding decisions and agreements routinely include a provision that the children will be raised within Orthodox Judaism. Secular courts generally enforce those decisions and agreements, even if a mother later realizes she does not want to raise her children in a religion where men bless God every morning for not making them a non-Jew, a slave or a woman.

women-hasid2Add to that the poisonous mixture of arranged marriages and gendered authority.

In Lakewood, as in any ultra-orthodox community, there is a rabbinic hierarchy, a hierarchy committed to a radical religious doctrine that controls every aspect of life — from politics and marriage to female modesty, birth control and sex. It is this same hierarchy that condones the kidnapping of children from women who have left the fold.

It took me years to get up the courage to take off my head covering and even longer to leave my house in a pair of pants. And, when I did, my closest friends and neighbors turned against me. I was systematically shut out, ostracized and vilified. In addition, because of my decision to live a truthful, genuine life, my community set out on a witch hunt, spreading rumors, fabricating lies and portraying me as something resembling a she-devil.

There is no place for anyone who deviates from what the ultra-orthodox community believes to be the norm, the correct and the righteous. There is no room if you are irreligious, intermarried, gay, transsexual. There is no room for questions, doubts, opinions or alternatives. There is no room to question authority. And I questioned authority.

The best thing that ever happened to me was my parent’s divorce. I am so glad I was not raised in this messed up community. If their divorce had not occurred in Switzerland I might have been raised orthodox–yikes. It may be true that softer versions foster a sense of community in a time of general alienation–as Drew Barrymore noted when she converted and wed into it (having surgery to remove her tattoo’s so she could be buried religiously)–but it’s not worth it and keeps the wrong message. Even a softer version condones the older traditions and adds civil value to maintaining them.

All of it is remnant of oppression across many religions. The woman above on the right, is she Jewish, Muslim, or ? slightly westernized but still tightly controlled? Indeed the current modesty movement harkens to the belief that it is women’s fault there is public lust, abuse, and rape and if she is covered up there is then no enticement. It sounds so nice as a way of avoiding objectification and exploitation but forcing dress codes is just different exploitation and objectification.

You don’t need to oppress people and constrain them to have a sense of community. Raising the cost of membership may increase loyalty but it’s blind loyalty based on bias rather then reason and freedom. As a member or leader I would not want members to believe in my group because its expense is high and inclusion is encouraged and demonstrated by separation from the rest. It’s this very bias that allows preachers to extract immoral behavior and commit extortion from its members. Getting rid of any priest class would go a long way towards removing oppression.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Study on What makes a Jew

jim2I take this story personally. All my life I have been told that I am not formally a Jew because it is not a race, nationality, and my mother was Protestant. All my life I have also been told I am Jew and been harassed on multiple occasions for it because my dad was a Jew. If I had been in Germany in the mid-1900’s I would have been killed. If my family had stayed in Hungary they would have been killed as would I had I been alive then. If I had been raised in Fargo, North Dakota it’s unlikely I would have been accepted as local in spite of my family homesteading there. I don’t know what the hell I am. Wrong, I do, I am American of Swiss birth. My parents divorced when I was 6 months old. On the divorce papers my mother called herself an atheist–something she never revealed to me.

When I was a Technical Editor at Eaton-Kenway I was asked what religion I was at a company party and I stated my heritage but said I didn’t believe in God. The Jewish woman looked me straight in the eye after taking a hard puff of her cigarette and said you don’t have to believe in God to be a Jew. I actually found it refreshing as this was in Salt Lake City and usually my announcement yielded screams of fear and many running for the door for fear of contamination, with a sole missionary type left standing, his Book of Mormon in hand and a grin, ready to market his religion with a spiel of vending-machine philosophy. I was a golden prospect.

Much, much later I learned this was common to Jews. Identity and practice are more important than belief. A new survey supports this, and it’s happening more.

Estimating there to be a total of 5.3 million Jews in the nation, Pew found that 78 percent of them said being Jewish is part of their religion, while 22 percent said they are Jewish with no religion. But growing generational differences are wide, as just seven percent of Jews in the Greatest Generation (those born between 1914 and 1927) said they have no religion while 32 percent of Jewish Millennials (those born after 1980) said the same.


…”Many ‘Jews by religion,’ or those who said they were Jewish when asked about religion, are actually not particularly religious,” said Greg Smith, the Director of U.S. Religion Surveys at the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project. “For example, when we ask how important religion is in your life, among ‘Jews by religion,’ only 31 percent say it’s very important to them.”

Smith and other researchers found that 62 percent of Americans say being Jewish is mostly an issue of ancestry and culture. A smaller group, 15 percent, said they defined Jewishness mainly by the practice of the Jewish religion. But even among those who identified religiously as Jewish, more than half said Jewish identity was mainly related to ancestry and culture, and two-thirds said one doesn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish. At the same time, about 60 percent said a person who believes Jesus was the messiah cannot be Jewish.

Kind of odd that last question. Those who believe Christ is a Messiah are Messianic Jews. Their Jewish identity has been a question in Israel but they are allowed. More odd,

Most Jews also said that remembering the Holocaust (73 percent) and “leading an ethical life” (60 percent) were essential to their Jewishness, while just above half said supporting justice and equality was important to being Jewish. Only 19 percent said that following Jewish law was essential to Jewish identity. Meanwhile, among Orthodox Jews, 79 percent said the same of observing Jewish law.

Doesn’t everyone remember the holocaust as part of history and don’t most of us try to lead an ethical life? I guess they mean Jewish law as ethical. By the chart below you can see how unusual it was for my parents to marry in 1956. It gives some understanding to why my dad’s parents denied the marriage and why I have never met any of my Long Island, NY Jewish Newmans.


“Among the population as a whole, 56 percent say religion is very important to them, while among Christians, seven-in-ten say religion is very important to them,” said Smith, citing prior Pew surveys on American religion. Orthodox Jews are the exception, Smith added, saying they are among the most religiously committed groups in the country. But regardless of how important religion is to them, eight-in-ten Jews said simply being Jewish was very or somewhat important in their lives.


I can also better understand why my dad of Orthodox parents couldn’t resist the excommunication of family when he married outside. I Suppose I will never know anyone from the American Newmans-Papawitzs though they live but a few hours away. What kind of party would that be if I showed up? I don’t even know if my dad is alive or for sure if I have any half-siblings, cousins. This is ethical?

The question is if I went to Israel would they take me? Though I can’t imagine wanting to go in spite of today’s government shutdown.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Christianity was AntiMarriage

ivanov-magdalena-jesus-appearance.siLong ago, back in the good old days, to be Christ-like you had to deny sex, marriage, and family. While many see the portrayals of Christ as closeted gay, he was more likely celibate. Christianity was antimarriage, procelibacy. Modern Christians claiming a family position are deviating from the first several hundred years of the church as well as the bible–the old testament is where it says to be bountiful, a barren women is a curse, and the man must perform his sexual duties and not spill his seed onto the ground. Kristen Upson-Saia a scholar of early christianity writes:

The earliest Christian communities considered heterosexual marriage to be fraught with problems and was thus to be avoided. Christian leaders argued that married people were too distracted by their familial obligations to be wholly devoted to God. Rather, they argued that the ideal sexual state for Christians was celibacy. They asserted that since the angels in heaven were asexual, Christians ought to remain single in order to live on earth already “as angels.” They believed that Jesus would commend single and celibate Christians for “making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:10-12). Finally, given that God’s nature was virginal (literally “uncorrupted”), they claimed that Christian virgins shared God’s very nature and were thus best able to commune with God.

gautama-buddhaThis base of celibacy is common to many religions including Buddhism, Brahmanism, Hindu Ascetics, and Greek Cynics. By the time Christ came along, the mideast had been ravished of most of its natural resources and issues of population were common. Being antipagan meant going against the Roman law to have family.

Although the most dedicated Christians remained unmarried, heterosexual marriage and intercourse was tolerated in some cases. For those who could not control their lust, marriage absorbed their sexual impulses, keeping them from committing worse sexual sins. (Note here that marriage is defended not as a “good,” but as better than other evils.) One of the only reasons to regard marriage as inherently good was that it produced children and that Christians who participated in procreative intercourse participated in God’s creation.

Yes, that would be the backdoor to sex; you don’t have to be celibate because if you procreate you participate in god’s creation. Hmm, sounds like Rastafarianism where they believe making love to one women is like making love to all women and so they’d like to. Also, a great way to guilt and shame as control–guilt that men lust and shame to women as seductress. Asceticism and celibacy are a response to the wanton material acquisition of populations gone awry to depletion of resources and resulting hardship–at which point you either go to war or starve. As humans go we haven’t learned how to live in balance with resource.

rapeoftamarIn Samuel, Old Testament, Amnon rapes his half sister. Old order semites were more then lustful but rather embarrassingly rapacious. Ultraorthox antisexuality is another withdrawal from the world

It was not Christians, but the pagan state that labored hardest to defend marriage. The poor conditions of life in the ancient Mediterranean made for regular population crises (each woman needed to have approximately five children to maintain a stable population). Thus, the state regularly incentivized marriage and procreation. Emperor Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus), for instance, introduced three waves of legislation that rewarded married people with children (e.g., with tax incentives, expanded rights and released obligations) and penalized the unmarried (e.g., taking away rights of inheritance or rights to hold office). Similarly, small tribes within the Roman Empire also prized procreation for the perpetuity of their line. This explains why tribes like the Jews endorsed sexual arrangements that maximized procreation (such as polygamy and Levirate marriage), lamented barren women and denounced all non-procreative behavior (including same-sex coupling).

medieval womanA “History of Private Life, Revelations of the Medieval World:”

Ideally a women divided their time between prayer and various kinds of handiwork… Yet all the prayer and all the work (group activities, much as males hunted and made war in groups) did nothing to appease the men, persuaded as they were that women were by their very nature perverse and possessed with fantastic anxieties. What, men asked, do women do together when they are alone, locked up in the chamber? The answer was: nothing good.

While I could tease a lot of meaning from this, for now, the point is the development of honor and preservation of virginity precisely because of men’s paranoia that women would be promiscuous. Promotion of sex for procreation only helped keep women in place while men could philander. And both, ideally avoided joyful pursuits whether nonreligious singing or frivolous dancing. Christians have this in common with Muslims. This antiworldy, antisexual, and constant cloistering of women is historic for both Christianity and Islam.

waspAlexander Sanger writes it is American protestants (WASPs as we used to call them) that reacted to Irish Catholics arriving in the US and decided to preserve WASPdom by criminalizing abortion.

Physicians alone were not able to bring about the criminalization of abortion. At the beginning of their campaign in the 1840s and 1850s, they aligned themselves with the Know-Nothings, a fledging political party of nativists opposed the tide of Irish-Catholic immigration into America, which had begun to increase exponentially with the potato famine…

wasps-white-anglo-saxon-protestants-wasps-republican-fascist-political-poster-1269665689-220x174It did not escape Protestant notice that immigrant Catholic women had large numbers of children, while native Protestant women were having fewer. Since few new birth control methods had been introduced at this time — although there were the beginnings of condom and diaphragm manufacturing — the Know-Nothings suspected that Protestant women were using abortion as their method of birth control. Hence, the Know-Nothing men readily joined the AMA crusade to criminalize abortion. As contraceptive options increased in the course of the 19th century, those who favored the white Protestant hegemony also supported the criminalization of contraception. As one prominent physician said in 1874: “The annual destruction of fetuses has become so truly appalling among native American (Protestant) women that the Puritanic blood of ’76 will be but sparingly represented in the approaching centenary.”

catholics-vs-protestantsEver since Catholics arrived at St Mary’s on the East coast, protestants have feared their US imposition of power–the reformation and counter reformation are still held dear. The secular, religious tolerance of John F Kennedy has much to do with his running for presidency as a Catholic. Upson-Saia concludes rightly.

Given this history, those who wish to appeal to tradition to comment on same-sex marriage must recognize two things: First, Christians who cull the tradition of Christian sexual ethics cannot seize only those aspects of the tradition that support their opposition of same-sex coupling while leaving behind other aspects of the tradition that criticize their own heterosexuality. If one wants to uphold the strand of pro-procreative logic in the early Christian tradition, she must recognize that the tradition requires her also to oppose all other forms of non-procreative sex acts that are performed only for pleasure, including those of married heterosexual couples, and to endorse sexual arrangements that maximize procreation (such as polygamy and marriage at a young age). Moreover, she must also acknowledge that early Christians considered heterosexual marriage and intercourse to be far inferior to Christian celibacy and in need of its own defense.

Second, the pro-heterosexual marriage stance of the Roman state was driven by issues of demographics, not morality. And while we’ll soon see what the court understands to be the state’s interest in the allocation of marriage rights, it’s surely the case that our state faces none of the same pressures regarding under-population as did Roman backers of heterosexual marriage in antiquity.

Once again material culture relates to antiquated ideology. The material reason disappears but the ideology remains and is held fast as absolute.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Flying in a Baggie

Just when you think Fundies are stuck in the past they come up with a new and brilliant solution. Here is a photo of an Ultra Orthodox Jew (UOJ, cohen, kohen) flying in a baggie so that he can go over a cemetery–a kohen (priest by descent) staying pure. And yes that’s why the name Cohen is common like Smith.

orthodox jew

First this is a brilliant solution to the old problem of contacting dead bodies as cited in Leviticus. Before reflecting on that though I’d like to suggest that baggies are a brilliant solution to myriad flying problems.

  • The Talker: a baggie around the talker could be tightened according to the amount they talk. If they don’t stop I am sure lack of air will help slow them down.
  • The Screaming baby: a baggie with sound proofing would solve problems of poop, pee, and screaming. They have shown that lower oxygen levels help babies sleep.
  • The Stretcher: for the poor 6 ft plus man sitting behind some jerk that slams their seat back driving the big guy’s knees through his chin the baggie can be tightened to enforce a more upright position.
  • Visual Moralist: for the mother who doesn’t want their child to see the violent or sexual movie two screens up, an opaque baggie is perfect. I’m sure with flexible moivie screens, these baggies could incorporate appropriate viewing inside the baggie.
  • The Sleeper: for the person wishing the windows would be closed or the lights low, the dark baggie is perfect.
  • The Illness Phobe: this one is perfect for me as I catch airline colds whenever I fly. A baggie with sanitizer and respirator would be perfect. It could also be used for those who are sick and don’t want to spread it.
  • The Druggie: for someone who just has to imbibe or fly while flying this is a perfect way to allow them a constant source without spreading the pleasure. A custom drug atomizer would be included.

The safety issue could be addressed that when the plane depressurizes in an emergency, the baggie is automatically sealed and filled with oxygen. The baggie would serve as an air bag and has the added bonus of floating in water.

Back in 2001 El Al airlines instantiated  rule to prevent flying in baggies as a possible danger. Apparently this was better than rerouting the plane around the cemetery which they couldn’t as the cemetery is too close to the Tel Aviv approach.

A family of ultra-Orthodox kohanim from Jerusalem consulted Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv following a report in Ha’aretz last week that Swissair had modified its flight route to avoid the cemetery. Swissair agreed to make the route revision in order to allow a prominent ultra-Orthodox leader, Rabbi David Kahan, to maintain strict observance of the Jewish laws regarding ritual purity for kohanim.

Rabbi Elyashiv and two other rabbis worked out an arrangement under which the family of Jerusalem kohanim would hermetically seal themselves in plastic bags when flying over the Holon cemetery in order to avoid ritual impurity.

El Al was initially willing to allow this arrangement, in which the kohanim would board the plane in the bags and tie them closed when flying over the cemetery. But the airline subsequently decided not to permit this due to safety considerations.

In 2008, El Al had a run in with another UOJ who was angered at the in flight movies and attempted to push the screen back in.

The Haredi men, en route to Uman, Ukraine to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, said that the airline had promised not to show a film during the flight.

When the screens began to unfold in preparation for the screening, the ultra-Orthodox men began going wild. “It was a pretty frightening sight,” a passenger on the plane described the events. According to witnesses, the men began shouting and physically trying to prevent the movie screens from unfolding.

When originally posted on Reddit, many thought it was so he wouldn’t touch women but that wasn’t the case this time. Other times it has been and the practice is on the increase; probably because the ultraorthodox community is growing, engaging more with the world, and is pushing back against the growing secularism of Israel.

El Al passengers are noting a recent phenomenon involving clusters of ultra-Orthodox men approaching female passengers prior to take-off and requesting to switch seats, according to El Al customers and tour operators.

While the phenomenon of lone Haredi men approaching female passengers is not new, and has in fact gone on for years, large groups of Haredim – upwards of 15-20 people in some instances – are reportedly attempting to secure blocs of seats for themselves. Their persistence is causing consternation and friction, while setting off a host of logistical problems during the course of some flights, according to a number of sources interviewed by Haaretz.

… The uptick in Haredi requests aboard El Al flights to switch seats coincides with recent incidents involving some rigorously Orthodox Jews insisting on the separation of sexes in certain Israeli neighborhoods, on public bus routes and in public seating spaces, even at check-out counters in supermarkets and stores.

…  A spokesman for El Al – which is represented by the Israeli public relations firm of Ran Rahav Communications, Ltd. – released a statement to Haaretz maintaining that “the convenience of passengers and the delivery of uncompromising, quality service, serve as the basis of El Al’s reputation.”

The statement notes that “in-flight and ground crews are charged with addressing every problem and need related to the welfare of the passengers – including issues related to seating – with sensitivity and without a scent of discrimination on the basis of religion, creed or sex, yet with an emphasis on flight safety.”

Without a scent of discrimination? I am going to start a religion called Hagenism that is based on reason, rationality, empiricism, and science wherein we do not have contact with revelationists that desecrate clear thinking, knowing that contact corrupts. Scent, hmm, and if the religion involves abuse?

Understanding the importance of purity, if only ceremoniously, in religion I thought to further understand these restrictions that must be preserved. Leviticus 21:

1.  And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people
2. except for his relative who is close to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother,
3. and for his virgin sister who is close to him, who was not [yet] with a man for her, he shall defile himself.
4. [But] a husband shall not defile himself for [a wife who causes] his desecration, [while she is] among his people.
5. They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shall they shave the edge of their beard, nor shall they make cuts in their flesh.
6. They shall be holy to their God, and they shall not desecrate their God’s Name, for they offer up the fire offerings of the Lord, the food offering of their God, so they shall be holy.
7. They shall not marry a woman who is a prostitute or who is desecrated, and they shall not marry a woman who is divorced from her husband for he [the kohen] is holy to his God.
8. You shall sanctify him, for he offers up the food offering of your God; he shall be holy to you, for I, the Lord Who sanctifies you, am holy.
9. If a kohen’s daughter becomes desecrated through adultery she desecrates her father; she shall be burned in fire.
10. And the kohen who is elevated above his brothers, upon whose head the anointment oil has been poured or who has been inaugurated to wear the garments he shall not leave his hair unshorn or rend his garments.
11. And he shall not come upon any dead bodies; he shall not defile himself for his father or his mother.
12. He shall not leave the Sanctuary, and he will not desecrate the holy things of his God, for the crown of his God’s anointing oil is upon him. I am the Lord.
13. He shall marry a woman in her virgin state.
14. A widow, a divorcee, a woman who is desecrated or a prostitute he shall not marry [any] of these. Only a virgin of his people may he take as a wife.
15. And he shall not desecrate his offspring among his people, for I am the Lord, Who sanctifies him.
16. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
17. Speak to Aaron, saying: Any man among your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect, shall not come near to offer up his God’s food.
18. For any man who has a defect should not approach: A blind man or a lame one, or one with a sunken nose or with mismatching limbs;
19. or a man who has a broken leg or a broken arm;
20. or one with long eyebrows, or a cataract, or a commingling in his eye; dry lesions or weeping sores, or one with crushed testicles
21. Any man among Aaron the kohen’s offspring who has a defect shall not draw near to offer up the Lord’s fire offerings. There is a defect in him; he shall not draw near to offer up his God’s food.
22. His God’s food from the most holy and from the holy ones, he may eat.
23. But he shall not come to the dividing curtain, nor shall he draw near to the altar, for he has a defect, and he shall not desecrate My holy things, for I am the Lord Who sanctifies them.
24. Moses told [this to] Aaron and his sons, and to all of the children of Israel.

Considering the importance that Halakha, Jewish law, hermeneutics, draws no difference between the religious and nonreligious life I think it’s important to reflect. I wonder if contact could be interpreted as contact and distance is OK; perhaps distance could be a few hundred feet or so. Perhaps just being in the plane could serve as a barrier as that seems more solid than a baggie. Perhaps coming upon the dead means they should be buried and that’s good enough.

It’s true the desecrated shouldn’t approach the divider but just how close is close enough? Is cardboard on the back of a seat really good enough? How can the desecrated not approach it or does that just mean touching it?

My concern is paying such fastidious attention on cemeteries when there are the big issues of contact with the blind, the handicapped, the injured, people with cataracts, or any other defect. I am particularly concerned with coming in contact with someone having crushed testicles. Long eyebrows are definitely a show stopper. Perhaps the Haredi should be in a space suit at all times. I’m sure the ancients knew about germs and (non)communicable diseases. There are as always good health reasons behind these rules. The crushed testicles must have been from a disease or punishment for adultery. Long eyebrows? I want to know the ethnicity of long eyebrows they fear.

It sounds like the kohen shouldn’t leave their sanctuary, an admonition against travel, kind of like the Greek oracles where the priests and priestesses had to stay and live there. Perhaps it means they shouldn’t fly since somewhere somehow they will probably travel over a cemetery. Train, boat or car only!

I am also concerned that there are no sacrifices involving fire anymore. An offering through fire can’t mean a candle or fiery spirit. It does seem to mean food offering from a sacrificed, cooked animal that is then passed around as redistributive feasting. No, no, that’s a BBQ not a sacrifice.

Finally, I am concerned that the text doesn’t note that both the desecrated daughter and her possible unborn child be burned before she births. No delay is allowed as her child can’t survive. Time is of the essence.

We all get the importance of body hair, virginity, and pure monogamy

It is important to know that the descendants of a kohen are also considered kohen and must follow the same rules. I still think the baggie was brilliant in following the letter of a law made so clear. It is entirely symbolic of the social cell made real; bubble theology, baggie theology. Sadly, my goal is to burst that bubble.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Israel Goes More Secular, Ousts Haredi

Haredi1The ultra-orthodox Jews (Haredi) are in more trouble in Israel. Before Haredi bashed less orthodox children on the way to school in dress that is too western. They continued to prohibit women from the Wailing wall. The men refused to work or participate in the military. They do not work. Their schools excluded science and math. What they do best is prey on women’s labor, read the Torah, and argue over interpretation hoping to be the new Maimonides. All of that is changing. Yay!!!!

On Wednesday afternoon, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read out the details of his new government, prior to a lengthy debate and the eventual swearing in of its ministers, the members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party demonstrated just how bitterly they resent being left out of the coalition: They got up and walked out of the plenum.

Over the hours of ensuing debate, they returned to the chamber, and several of them — along with their colleagues from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party — took the opportunity to walk to the podium and denounce a government they variously described as un-Jewish, anti-Jewish, shameful, evil and heartless.

I had a Jewish friend come out to the farm who wanted to help butcher a deer. We cull a lot of deer here as the farm is large and heavy with crop damage. Being conciliatory, chameleon, whatever, I said Shalom to which he gave me a slightly sour look and did not reply. Typically, it means peace but of course being a Jewish term one could spend days if not weeks interpreting it. Some have used it as part of the phrase, “next year in Israel” as solidarity. But he really meant no to peace.

Having returned from Israel he was disgusted with the pacifist attitude of the ultra-orthodox whose soul means of defending themselves is to pray more fervently; though they seem quite capable of throwing stones and sticks in random street fights. Aside from the political question of Israeli occupation, he was disgusted at the utter withdrawal from society within the society, a state within a state.

They mostly live in separate neighborhoods and study in separate schools, with little interaction with a majority that has largely come to view them as a burden.

The interactions that do exist are charged, with secular Israelis often resenting what they see as attempts to impose Haredi religious mores on others. This month, for example, saw tiffs over gender segregation on some bus lines in Haredi neighborhoods, and over similar segregation at a concert in a secular area to be attended by Haredim.

Here is a clip from Religulous to give you an idea of how strongly and intimidating arguing can be when it is raised to a dysfunctional art form. It is important to get that interrupting is accepted in conversation. That winning is also who can keep talking the longest. There is no stopping someone unless you interject. They assume if you are quiet you are agreeing. I have the same damned problem; it must have become genetic.

Someone has to pay for all of that reading and arguing.

Shas and United Torah Judaism are accustomed to their places in government, and fully expected to keep them in Netanyahu’s third term. Netanyahu did his best, but his other coalition partners would not be moved. Worse, the centrist Yesh Atid and the right-wing Jewish Home parties forced him to agree — in principle, at least — to a new law that would abolish the blanket draft exemptions for yeshiva students.

Netanyahu has pledged to try to find a way, somehow, to include the Haredim in the government at a later stage. But on Monday, portraying themselves as shunned outcasts, they did not look like they planned to wait quietly for the prime minister to grace them with a phone call. In fact, they seemed to take to the art of feisty opposition politics with alacrity.

Yes, they were ousted from government. If you do  not wish to choose to participate in society then why would you be able to have representation? The ultra-orthodox breed like flies, 14 children is not uncommon, poor women, and their small fraction has increased profoundly taxing the system.

Part of the issue is the community’s poverty: About half of ultra-Orthodox adults do not work, and many men are full-time Torah students with government stipends that anger the secular majority but are nonetheless quite meager. Of the estimated 700,000 Haredim in Israel – around 9 percent of the population – just under 60 percent live below the poverty line.

Perhaps the most corrosive issue is the military draft. Israel’s early leaders agreed to support seminaries and issued several hundred draft exemptions, but over the decades, as the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews ballooned, so did the number of full-time students with exemptions. Today there are around 50,000. The law that exempts them requires them not to work, lest they lose their exemptions. The arrangement that has resulted is unique to Israel; abroad, ultra-Orthodox Jews work and their communities support themselves.

The ultra-orthodox claim they do not effect the economy and that it is the Jewish settlements that are the problem.

What most grieved him and his colleagues, said Gafni, was that they had been “boycotted” — ruled unacceptable, by the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid. And if Yesh Atid were seen as mainly secular centrists, and thus hardly empathetic to the ultra-Orthodox, the stance of Bennett and his Orthodox, pro-settlement party was harder to swallow.

Recent days have seen a number of vague threats from Haredi circles to “expose” where government money goes — the settlements — and to work to depict the settlers as the real “burden” on society because of their security needs. But Haredi MKs steered away from those threats Monday.

Translated this means they do not see the need for military protection as they are protected by god and god alone–so the rest of the country should leave and see how they fare… Many students do not join the military, some 50,000 of them. Those that do have to have many exceptions to deal with their cultural rigidity. This is a huge number for a small country that has to utilize all of its resources.

In Israel’s early days, the precursors of today’s Haredim rejected Zionism and pioneered what they called the “learning society,” which meant that all young men – and not just a small intellectual elite, as had been the case in Europe – were to devote themselves to religious study instead of work. This was meant to restore the world of Torah scholarship that had been destroyed by Nazi Germany. Over the years, many Jews who emigrated to Israel from the Arab world also have joined this camp.

Additionally, the government is insisting the yeshiva schools teach science and math. And reduce the size of the constantly contentious Israeli government.

Besides pushing for drafting the Haredim and teaching a secular “core curriculum” in state-funded Haredi schools, Yesh Atid was also taking pride in the reduced size of the coalition. While the 32nd government had 30 ministers, the new one only has 23, Netanyahu included. A smaller cabinet saves millions of shekels, party officials argued.

This is great news for secularism and rationality in Israel.

Jim Newman, bright and well


Yelling Fire In A Crowded Theater

Post by Emily Moskal


Religion is back in the news in its all-too-familiar forms of expression: inflammatory rhetoric followed by violence. Enter Mitt Romney from the safety of the campaign trail, eager to score some political points, when events were still playing out in Benghazi and in Cairo. The fires were, quite literally, still burning when he released this statement:

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

There’s a slight problem with his analysis. The people carrying guns weren’t the ones our Embassy in Cairo was reaching out to.

Diplomats don’t plead with extremists, they work with moderates to try to keep them from gaining power. Make no mistake about it, these women are risking their lives to hold this vigil. Being reasonable is dangerous when armed extremists rise up in anger. 

While there has been plenty of bipartisan head-shaking surrounding Romney’s decision to criticize the use of nuance in a climate where cartoons whipped up violent rage seven years ago, there has also been a strange reluctance to address the most glaring mistake he made in his assessment. In one sense, he was absolutely right; our deepest values affirm our freedom to ridicule religion in all public spaces. This is a fundamental principle of free speech in a secular society.  Where he went wrong (in the most diplomatically inept example of irony I’ve seen in a long time) is in his failure to recognize one simple truth; even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, freedom of speech is not without its limits.

You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, and you can’t attack a religion safely in a land where armed and intolerant radicals who follow that religion hold political power. There is something awfully surreal about Romney’s defense of the virtues of secular society while he simultaneously caters to the religious right’s attempts to tear down the wall between church and state. We need that wall, and we need it to remain high, rigid, and impenetrable so we all can remain free to say what we want without the risk of violence.

Do I think Islam is a peaceful religion? No. September 11th is a day when the entire world is acutely aware of that fact. Do I think Christianity is a peaceful religion? No. The guy who put this video out was a member of a homegrown Christian sleeper cell of people who are paranoid in the extreme about a “New World [read: Secular] Order”. They have guns at the ready to defend themselves against it. They want everyone who is frightened by Islamic extremism to rally behind the banner of Christian extremism. That sort of enemy of my enemy thinking can transform American society, and they know it.

What I sincerely hope people in this country who “don’t follow politics” might take away from the events of the past week is that religious moderates, agnostics, and atheists absolutely must pay very close attention to what is happening in our own backyards. The roots of violent hatred for “the other” that developed into what happened in Benghazi find their expression at home, too. If you have never talked with someone who defends a warped utilitarian position for bombing abortion clinics, you might dismiss it. That would be a mistake. Remember Aiken? The guy who thinks that abortion should be illegal in the case of rape and incest because he simply cannot imagine that God would allow a baby to be conceived if it was a “real rape”? He’s back to a dead heat in the Missouri senate race.

It might be difficult to imagine violent mobs of religious believers in our streets, especially if you lose sight of the fact that less than a century ago, “communist atheists” and their “sympathizers” had their lives destroyed over differences in religious and political philosophy. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those “enemies”, because he expressed sentiments like this:

If you can name a more lyrical and effective champion of the American Dream, I’m listening. The fact remains, the religious right didn’t care for him. In white middle class America, it was largely the communists, the Jews, and the atheists who were rallying loudly behind him, and many of them suffered for it. Some lost their lives.

We must never lose sight of our past. The America that exists on the horizon if politicians who maintain the absurd notion that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim out to persecute Christians gain the House, the Senate, the White House (and, in so doing, change the makeup of the Supreme Court in the hopes that they will construct an explicitly pro-Christian interpretation of the First Amendment) is a frightening one. When I vote this November, I’ll be voting like my freedom of religion and yours depends on it. I hope you’ll join me.