Monday, April 18, 2005

Jewish Urban Myth--Punctured!!!!!

The fiasco in New Hempstead has led to some larger issues which need to be addressed. We received some pretty interesting emails from readers whom we perceive to be well-meaning and interested, but very much lacking in knowledge about what makes Orthodox Jews tick. For their benefit, and in response to their questions, we offer this week’s Jewish Idea.

First, let’s burst some Urban Myths about Orthodox Jews. Perhaps the number one urban myth concerning Orthodox Jews is that they have sex through a hole in a sheet. They do not. We don’t know where this piece of idiocy originated, but we can assure our readers that Jews have sex pretty much like everyone else. No sheets, that is. All positions are Kosher, as far as we know. Our preliminary research indicates that the myth of the hole in the sheet, along with others wild stories, were made up by Reform rabbis. These Reform rabbis wanted their congregants to believe that Reform Jews had more fun than Orthodox Jews.
Another Urban Myth, closely related to the hole-in-the-sheet hilarity, is that when an Orthodox bride and groom leave the wedding ceremony, they immediately retire to a room and have sex while everyone else is dancing and having dinner. We heard a Hadassah lady explain Jewish wedding customs to her friends. She knew as much about Jewish wedding customs as we know about life on other planets. She presented her talk as an anthropological lecture. She explained that after the couple consummates their marriage in the Yichud room, they emerge with a bloody sheet. They exhibit the sheet to the wedding guests to prove the bride’s virginity.
Anyone with common sense would know that this Urban Myth is not true. How could the groom dance so well if he just had sex???
Here’s what really happens, folks: The couple has the wedding ceremony and retires together to a private room to spend a few moments alone. They may eat a little snack, to break their fast, before joining the rest of the wedding guests. No sex. Ok, maybe he kisses her, I don’t really know. But no sex.
Another urban myth which is less asinine is that Kosher food is food that has been blessed by the rabbi. Wrong. Kosher food is not blessed by the rabbi. If a rabbi blesses a pig, it is still not kosher. Also, rabbis don't bless food. People make a blessing before eating.
What makes food kosher is a big subject, far beyond the capacity of this blog, but readers can rest assured that when the fellow on the plane next to you gets a kosher meal, he is not eating food blessed by a rabbi. He is eating food that is kosher in origination—food that either grew from the ground or on a tree, or from an animal which is kosher and was slaughtered and then prepared in accordance with Jewish law. Nothing to do with being blessed by a rabbi.

That’s it for this lesson designed to puncture some Urban Myths about Jewish life. Please feel free to direct additional comments or questions. So all you Hadassah ladies and Reform rabbis, please stop spreading ridiculous stories about Orthodox Jews. The true stories are bad enough!

Friday, April 08, 2005

True Believers of the Jewish Cults

The Tendler fiasco has now spilled beyond the confines of little New Hempstead, New York and reverberates throughout the Jewish world. It has taken on the character of a political fight, and it has gotten ugly. Major Jewish and secular publications have followed the scandal and the RCA investigation and decision to expell Rabbi Tendler. The Jewish Press and Jewish Week have contributed editorials. No doubt other media will follow. The blogspots are hopping, and people, when they feel safe, are quietly discussing the situation. This problem is not going to go away any time soon. The question is: Where do we go from here?
Certainly, any religious leader ensnared in a sex scandal will lose credibility. We can think, off the tops of our heads, of major religious leaders from the Christian world who achieved stunning success only to crash in flames when exposed as sex deviants: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and the series of Roman Catholic child molestors come immediately to mind. No doubt there have been others of lesser fame. Now, the Orthodox Jewish world, which holds itself to a higher standard, and is particularly averse to desecration of the name of G-d, struggles with its own scandal, and it is an ugly sight. The public discourse has degenerated into a knock down drag out name-calling slugfest,fought in hysterical tones, mostly on the internet, with neither side looking very pretty.
We have a group of people on one side screaming for Rabbi Tendler to step down as rabbi of his shul and move out of his town. Where he would go is not clear. The Orthdox Jewish world is small, connected, and often as overheated as the screaming blogs. Unless he clears his name, there is nowhere in the Orthodox Jewish world that Rabbi Tendler can go to escape the opprobrium that now haunts him. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish religion has no central organization or bureacracy; the Jews have no Bishop, Cardinal, or Pope to make an executive decision to remove a rabbi from a pulpit and send him to an isolated monastary somewhere, to get him out of the spotlight, to punish him and protect him and the Church at the same time. Every shul rabbi is an entrepeneur, ultimately answering to whomever he chooses, if anyone at all. No, for better or worse, Rabbi Tendler is on his own and he is in the public eye, with nowhere to run. Every Jewish scandal is duly noted and recorded by the Jews and millions of Jew-observers across the globe. A rabbi, in particular, can not hide; he has no protection other than his good reputation. In the end, the only people who can decide that Rabbi Tendler must move on from his shul are Rabbi Tendler, and the people in his shul. No one else has the right to make that decision. This is a simple, but powerful fact. As long as Rabbi Tendler believes he can hang on to a group of True Believes in his shul, he will, struggling to ride out this storm.
On the other side of the controversy, the Tendler True Believers are butressed by a well-paid professional staff of political operatives, public relations people, attorneys, and loyal family members. They are working together to suppress the negative publicity. Rabbi Tendler has consistently denied all the charges against him. There is not even a hint that perhaps he made a mistake or two along the way. He has a right to take that position, and we are not here to take sides. But we must note that the pro-Tendler forces have employed the most reprehensible tactics. They have attacked the credibility of the accusers, who consider themselves victims of manipulation and abuse. After attacking the victims as a group of unstable nitwits, the Tendler machine unleashed its energies to do whatever it could to confuse the issues. They attacked the two midwives who first advocated the rights of the victims as unsanitary "witches" and "baby-killers". The Tendler forces then attacked the RCA rabbis as unqualified "mediocre" rabbis who were on "witchhunt". Why the RCA would conduct a witchunt against Rabbi Tendler, an RCA member for many years, is never stated. The True Believers attempted to impugn the integrity of the investigation because it was conducted by non-Jewish investigators, a truly primitive argument. And, in perhaps the most absurd agrument of all, the True Believers claim that the RCA investigation and decision to expel Tendler can't be respected because it was not the result of a formal legal process, or Jewish Beis Din. All this, in spite of the fact that Rabbi Tendler agreed to these very conditions at the outset of the investigation. The pro-Tendler forces have also tried to inundate blogs with endless amounts of spam, in order to suppress public discussion.
These tactics are reprehensible. The Beis Din argument, in particular, is specious. The RCA, or any organization for that matter does not need a Beis Din to expel a member. If we follow that logic, then Orthodox Jews may disregard any decision by any rabbinical organization or rabbi if the decision is not made pursuant to a formal Beis Din. Logically, we may disregard any ruling, opinion, and even kosher certifications that are not made pursuant to a Beis Din. Pardon the colloquialism, but give us a break. If the True Believers want a Beis Din, let them summon the RCA to a Beis Din. That will never happen, because the last thing in the world the True Believers really want is a Beis Din. Their arugment in this regard is utterly hypocritical. They want to bury this scandal under ten feet of dirt, not expose it to more public scrutiny.
The bottom line is that the True Believers will accept every pro-Tendler rationalization, and ignore all the other stuff that clings to this mess like barnacles on the dark underside of an old boat. The Tendler forces have done all they can at this point to persevere in the light of an unprecedented sex scandal. And they just might succeed in sustaining their Leader. Just like the Lubavitch True Believers will believe that the Rebbe was the Moshiach, destined to rise again like Jesus, the Tendler True Believers will accept any argument, no matter how flawed, in order to support their belief system. For their Judaism depends in large part on their belief in their rabbi. Logic has no place in cult belief or worship.
We can only hope and pray that this controversy will resolve itself peacefully and to the satisfaction of all parties before it escalates into something really awful.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some Posts Removed

We have removed some posts and edited others because we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the subject matter. The situation in New Hempstead will play itself out in the coming weeks. Our commentary is superfluous. We have decided to let events play themselves out as they will. We will take no further public position on this subject, but will continue to offer commentary on other subjects which may be of interest to our readers.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Problem With Charismatic Religious Leaders

We often hear about "charismatic" religious leaders. There is nothing wrong with charisma per se, but when it is cultivated by rabbis, it is sometimes for the purpose of gaining weak-minded devotees, people ripe for manipulation and exploitation. Often a charismatic religious leader will effusively praise and flatter others in order to gain their confidence. With practice, the leader perfects his style and through trial and error learns how to better control others. Eventually, as he gains followers, the charismatic leader becomes convinced that he is a great person. He will confide to his closest followers that he is a "king", or "Messiah". The charismatic leader is smart enough to not make such statements except to his devotees. This phenomenon is not confined to Jewish leaders. David Koresh, of Waco Texas, Rev. Jim Jones, of poison kool-aid fame, and others who have led their followers into tragic situations, have all made claims of kingship. What is strking is that the same phenomenon exists in certain segments of the Orthodox Jewish community. Just like the Poison Kool Aid drinkers of Jim Jones fame, the Jewish followers crave the closeness of their leader to the point where they give up their own independent judgment and rational thought. These followers, more often than not, suffer from psychological and emotional deficits. They experience themselves as incomplete, as lacking something internally. They find wholeness by becoming close with a charismatic leader who in turn praises and flatters the follower. The charismatic leader, in turn, has a deep need to be worshipped by others. These leaders and followers exist together in a sick cocoon of symbiotic emotional leeching. Each has given up some important element of logic and rational thought. The leader becomes more and more convinced that he is above the rules that apply to lesser people. He rationalizes that he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants with other people. This usually translates into sexual and monetary immorality and exploitation of his followers, who, after all, exist in this world solely to bring pleasure to the G-d like leader. The leader is usually smart enough to confine his predations to his followers while presenting to the outside world a more "normal" image.

As dangerous as the leader may be, however, he is danger mainly to his followers. They may submit to his sexual depravities, or turn over all their money to him, or commit crimes and go to jail for their leader. In extreme cases, they may kill themselves or others if commanded by the leader. But to the outside world, it is the followers who pose the great danger. Unlike the cagey leader, the followers do not see a need to exercise restraint when dealing with the outside world. In fact, they may view outsiders as enemies who need to be taught a lesson. The followers often function as mindless goons on behalf of the leader.

Since the follower has sacrificed his independent judgment in order to more completely follow his leader, he becomes a dangerous instrumentality in the hands of a desperate leader.

Which brings us to our tragic situation in New Hempstead, New York. The situation in New Hempstead is one of a leader with a small but dedicated group of fanatic followers. These people will believe anything their Rav says to them, and will not hesitate to strike out at people designated as an enemy. They will believe the most outlandish things fed to them by their Rav. For instance, they believe that their Rav's present troubles are the result of a conspiracy to bring him down. What is unanswered and even unasked is, "Why in the world would there exist such a conspiracy and who could possibly be behind it?" Over the next few days and weeks, as the drama plays out in New Hempstead, it makes sense to avoid provoking the followers. Who knows what orders they have received and what acts they would commit to protect their close relationship with a man who has told some followers that he is a "King".

Jewish Idea Now Open for Guest Posting

The Jewish Idea Blogspot is now accepting comments from anyone who wishes to post here. You may post anonymously if you wish. The site had previously accepted posts only from registered members, but those settings have been modified to accept comments from all readers. Welcome to The Jewish Idea and stay tuned for interesting, informative and stimulating news and commentary of interest to the Jewish community.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Jewish Idea Blog Now Open!

I am pleased to commence publication of "The Jewish Idea" blog. In this space, we will examine ideas and events that shape the world, from a Jewish perspective. No subject is off-limits. No news story will be censored. We have an inherently "Orthodox" perspective here, but the blog is open to everyone.

I am starting this blog in part because many of our "frum" newspapers have unacceptable levels of censorship. Many others lack journalistic integrity. Often, local papers are owned and edited by people with purely self-serving political agendas. Typically the agenda is to flatter local politicians in the never ending quest to gain favor with them. The reason: the editor hopes that the local government official will then obtain government grant money for the editor of the paper or his supporters. So, you end up with a newspaper that is full of cynical praise for politicians, but no real news. Unfortunately, many regular "frum" people, who mean well, get it in their heads that these self serving organs of local organizations are "kosher" newspapers and rely upon them for news.

That is just one problem with local Jewish newspapers. Another problem is that some of the more "frum" papers are afraid to publish anything that a reader may decide is offensive, regardless of how insane the standard for "frumkeit" is taken.

This is an initial post. We will be posting more in the near future. In the meantime, if you have any current news, or opinions about events in the Jewish world, please post it here. More later, and welcome to "The Jewish Idea" blog.