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.