Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What New Square Stands For

I was following the coverage of yesterday's decision to grant Shaul Spitzer, the young man convicted of assault in the arson attempt against Aaron Rottenberg.  As I watched the coverage, I found my utterly appalled and disgusted.

What disgusted and appalled me was not the fact that Spitzer was granted youthful offender status and will likely be released very soon.  I may disagree with the decision, but it's something that I would just call a mistake.  Perhaps Spitzer conned the judge into believing that he's been reformed.  Heck, maybe he actually was reformed and will be a model citizen from here on in.  All that's really beside the point.

What really bothers me, above all else, are the morals and values that have been displayed by the New Square community throughout this entire affair from the very beginning.

This began when Rottenberg decided to help form a minyan at a nearby nursing home, to help an resident there to say kaddish.  This ran afoul of the rule in New Square that everyone had to daven at the Rebbe's shul (or someplace approved by him).  As a result, Rottenberg became an outcast in the community.  He was harassed and his property vandalized, so much to the point where he had video cameras installed around his property and had household members continually monitoring them.

All this culminated in the early morning hours of May 22, 2011 when Spitzer attempted to firebomb the Rottenberg home and was only prevented from doing so when Rottenberg himself came out and physically stopped him.  In the ensuing scuffle, Rottenberg was severely burned.  Spitzer was arrested, convicted and imprisoned.  From the start, the New Square community has rallied around Spitzer and supported him.  After yesterday's court decision, they danced victoriously in New Square, celebrating Spitzer release and return to the community.

This whole episode has underscored to me, just how immoral the community of New Square has become.  This is a community that felt that it's perfectly justified to harass and terrorize a man and his family for the "sin" of helping someone say kaddish.  This is a community that would probably throw someone out for the sin of having unfiltered internet, a television or an unapproved newspaper or book, but someone who commits arson and attempts to murder a family in their sleep is welcome back not only with open arms, but with singing, dancing and celebration.

New Square purports to be a community where they hold to the traditional values of the Torah, keep its commandments and follow the traditions of our Sages.  But that's all a lie.  There's no commandment in the Torah to harass someone for davening in a different shul.  There is no tradition from our Sages to sneak up on a family and attempt to burn them in their sleep.  There is no custom to celebrate when someone who attempts murder is released from jail.  So, no... this is not a community based on the Torah.

This is a community based on the values of control and conformity.  The entire community is beholden to the word of the Rebbe and everyone must conform to that, in speech, in language, in dress and in comportment.  No one may deviate in any respect without the approval of the Rebbe -- regardless of whether or not the Torah permits (and perhaps requires) it.  And no act, if done for the Rebbe or the community, is bad -- even if it goes against everything the Torah stands for.

The Wolf

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Glad To See Some Sanity In Lakewood

At the start of Elul, three prominent Rabbis in the Yeshiva community - Rabbis Shmuel Kaminetzky, Mattisyahu Salomon and Malkiel Kotler, distributed a letter stating that yeshivos must accept children who are unvaccinated.

The letter itself is flawed in several ways.  First, and foremost, it's flawed in that it presents the idea that not vaccinating your children against dangerous diseases is an acceptable lifestyle choice.  But even beyond that, it has other serious flaws.

Below is the letter, as presented on

In the second bullet point, they raise the point that vaccines present risk and that the United States Supreme Court stated that they are "unavoidably unsafe."  Since they are "unavoidably unsafe," no one has the halachic right to force vaccination.

Let's take a closer look at this and start with the first statement.  When something is described as "unavoidably unsafe," it sounds downright dangerous.  But, in reality, that's not the case.  In fact, it's a product that, while potentially unsafe, *should* be used due to it's great utility and that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

An "unavoidably unsafe" product is, perhaps, best defined by a comment that defines them in the Second Restatement of the Law of Torts, section 402A.

Unavoidably unsafe products. There are some products which, in the present state of human knowledge, are quite incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use. These are especially common in the field of drugs. An outstanding example is the vaccine for the Pasteur treatment of rabies, which not uncommonly leads to very serious and damaging consequences when it is injected. Since the disease itself invariably leads to a dreadful death, both the marketing and use of the vaccine are fully justified, notwithstanding the unavoidable high degree of risk which they involve. Such a product, properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directions and warning, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous. The same is true of many other drugs, vaccines, and the like, many of which for this very reason cannot legally be sold except to physicians, or under the prescription of a physician. 

The point being made here is that (as in the example) the treatment for rabies has some very serious side effects.  Nonetheless, since the disease itself otherwise leads to a near-certain horrible death, the use of such products is fully justified.  And, as the final sentence says, the same is true for other drugs and vaccines.

In other words, a product that is "unavoidably unsafe" is not a product that is in any way defective or dangerous.  On the contrary, it's a product that, due to it's importance, should be used, despite the potential for side effects.  Much like laypeople confuse the term "theory" when it comes to evolution, not realizing that it has a specific meaning when it comes to science, so too, people misunderstand "unavoidably unsafe" when it is used in law.

In addition, it must be pointed out that I find it highly interesting that these Rabbis are willing to put so much weight behind the words of the Supreme Court (as they misunderstand them).  The justices of the United States Supreme Court are experts at law.  They are not experts in medicine.  If they were to proclaim that the measles vaccine were the most dangerous thing ever invented, that would not make it so -- especially if, in the opinion of virtually the entire medical establishment, the vaccine were safe.  I find it very telling that they chose to base their decision on whether or not schools should mandate vaccines for attending children on the basis of a Supreme Court statement rather than on the basis of the medical establishment who are far more knowledgeable about vaccines.

Fortunately, there are those in Lakewood who are not taking this silently.  This week's Voice of Lakewood has a full-page advertisement (page 266) from medical professionals in the Lakewood community.

It is certainly heartening to see responsible professionals standing up and making a public statement to protect children from preventable childhood diseases.  Hopefully, people will learn to put more trust in doctors when it comes to medical issues than they do in Rabbis who do not have the training or knowledge to deal with issues such as these.

The Wolf

Monday, March 09, 2015

I Don't Like What I've Become

As I'm finishing up Shacharis, the two dollar bills, tired and worn from circulation lay on the table in front of me.

I put those bills there before davening started.  It's my daily "tzedaka fund."  When people come around during or after davening to collect, I will usually give them one of the dollars.  When they are gone, then that's all I give for that session of davening.  Sometimes there might be only a single dollar, sometimes as many as four or five.  It depends on how much financial pressure I'm feeling lately and how many bills of each denomination I have in my pocket.  Today it's two singles.

One thing that I like about this shul is that there is usually very little collecting during davening itself.  Yes, they pass around the pushka for the shul during the Repetition of the Amidah, but very few actual beggars.  They usually wait until the end of davening.

Towards the end of davening (usually right before Aleinu), one of them will be allowed to make an thirty or sixty second "elevator pitch" to the congregation before they actually go from person to person.  Some of them have supporting documentation, some don't.  Sometimes it's overwhelming medical bills.  Other times it's a plea to support orphans.  Sometimes it's just a person who is down on his luck.  To me, it doesn't matter too much -- I don't check the documentation too closely (or, often, at all).  If they're actually cheating me, it's usually only going to be a buck anyway.  I'd rather err on the side of mercy.

This morning, however, was different.  This morning's tzedaka collector made me think twice about even giving the buck.

The man made his pitch in Yiddish, which I don't fully understand.  Yet, I was able to make out enough of it to understand that he was from Israel and that he was collecting money for his daughter's wedding.  He has six daughters, he told us -- presumably this was the first and he would need more funds further down the line.

When he mentioned needing money for a wedding, I began to wonder what, exactly, he needed it for.  Did he need it for the actual expenses of the wedding (food, a dress and so on), or was it because he had to promise support to his future son in law or buy them an apartment or what not?  If the former, I would give with a full heart?  Whose heart would not melt when presented with a story of a young woman who wants to get married but lacks the funds for even a modest wedding?*  If the latter, however, well that's a different story.

Like many families, we're under a bit of a financial crunch at the moment.  Nothing so serious that we can't keep a roof over our heads or food on the table, but still, money is tight.  If one of my kids were to get married tomorrow, I would have a great deal of trouble coming up with the money for the wedding.  I certainly wouldn't be promising them a house or apartment or that I would support them in total for years on end.  And it's not because I wouldn't want to help them out where I can, but just because, at the current moment, I can't.  And if I can't do so for my own kids, why should I be contributing to someone else who is doing so for their kids?  Why should I spend my money to someone who made promises he couldn't possibly keep?

In my mind, I imagined the conversation I would have with him.  I'd ask him about the man his daughter was going to marry.  Was he a Ben Torah?  What were his plans for the future?  How much did he cost?

And, as those thoughts went through my head, I had the contradictory feeling of being both disgusted by them and justified in them.  I was disgusted that I would even think of asking such questions -- aside from the last question being incredibly crass, it's truly none of my business, even if he's asking for my money.  But yet, the objections of the previous paragraph keep coming back to my head.  Why should I be part of buying an apartment for his future son-in-law if I'm having under pressure meeting the day-to-day expenses for my own kids?

Part of the problem, I suppose, comes from my opposition to the way shidduchim are done in some Chareidi circles, where, in many cases, you have to literally buy a son-in-law for your daughter.  Yes, the dowry is an old idea, but, from a practical, everyday point of view, it's a concept that is totally alien to me.  I simply can't imagine not marrying a perfectly suitable girl simply because she can't come up with a down-payment, and, because I can't wrap my head around the concept, I have trouble empathizing with someone who is actually in that situation.

But is that the situation here?  Or is it simply the case of a poor person who needs funds for the most basic and simplest of weddings?  I don't know.  I'm certainly not going to ask.

In the end, I handed over the bills to him.  As I said, I tend to err on the side of giving rather than not giving.  But I find myself troubled -- not by the question of whether or not to give, but by my reaction to it.  I don't like that I've become suspicious of such requests and nosy about details that I have no right to inquire about.  I don't like the idea that I'm judging others as to whether or not they're worthy of my charity.  I don't like the fact that I have to even question this in my mind.  I'd rather just give with a full heart.

The Wolf

*  Yes, I know that, technically, to get married, you don't really need all that much beyond a ring and a rabbi -- but I believe that every bride deserves at least a modest wedding.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

HaMevaser Fails At Journalistic Ethics

Once again, the Chareidi news is in the news.

There has been quite a bit of discussion in the past about the deletion of women from pictures in some Chareidi publications.  The issue has come up yet again as HaMevaser, a paper published by MK Meir Porush, deleted the females from the picture of world leaders who assembled in Paris to protest the recent violence there.

Many people have decried the policy, asserting that it is tantamount to erasing women from history. They resort to calling the editors of the paper names such as "Taliban" or the like.  Personally, I think it's irresponsible overkill to compare the editing of pictures to the killing of people, but I do understand their feelings.

For me, however, there is a much more fundamental problem here.  While I disagree with the paper's policy, I also respect their right to have such a policy.  If they don't want to publish pictures of women, then that is their right.  It's also the right of the consumer to vote with their dollars (or shekels, as the case may be) and not purchase the paper and boycott its advertisers.

What really troubles me is these publications seem to have no sense of journalistic ethics.  We rely on the press to tell us what happened in a given place at a given time.  Implicit in that is a responsibility on the part of the press to tell the truth and to not fabricate the news, nor to alter it.  No self-respecting newspaper would edit a photograph in that manner.  The fact that they do so, and do so openly, tells me that the editors of the paper have no compunctions about altering the news to fit their theological worldview.  As such, I find it hard to understand how anyone can trust what they say.

Of course, there was a way for the paper to follow its policy vis-a-vis pictures of women AND maintain journalistic ethical standards.  That would have been to publish a different picture or simply not publish a picture at all.  It's a shame that they chose to take the very worst of the options available to them.

The Wolf

(Both pictures can be viewed here.)