Tomorrow we will have plenty to mourn; the failings that led to the Hurban nearly 2000 years ago are still with us, impeding the completion of the geula.
First, more of the financial skullduggery for which “frum” Jews (God, save us from such frumkeit) have become (in)famous. One Rabbi Ya’akov Weingarten, who lives in my neighborhood of Midwood, allegedly set up charities with solicitation material made to resemble that of real charities that collect for Magen David Adom, Zaka and similar outfits. But this operator allegedly converted most of the money to his personal use. The Attorney General of New York brought civil charges; criminal ones might follow. So now we have to be extra judicious about where our tzedaka dollars go. I have long ago stopped opening my door to the ubiquitous door-to-door schnorrers that plague my neighborhood; for all I know they could be armed robbers wearing kapotas; stranger things have happened. Now when I get letters purportedly from well-known charities I will have to make sure of the address, or locate the websites of the legitimate charities and donate online. Another tactic is to look the charity up on Charity Navigator; a four-star rating means that the charity is well-run (fund raising costs and overhead under control) and everything is on the up-and-up – what we used to take for granted if a charity was run by observant Jews. Unfortunately, Charity Navigator does not rate all faith-based charities, both because its own resources are limited and because the charities might not be required to file the usual forms with the federal government. It would also be useful if New York State would require all charities operating in the state to post their financial statements on a website maintained by the Attorney General’s office, instead of our having to request these statements by snail mail. But that will require fixing Albany, which probably won’t happen in our lifetimes.
Last week another sex abuse scandal surfaced, this time at Modern Orthodoxy’s premier institution Yeshiva University, specifically the boys’ high school that it runs. The case will be difficult to pursue, since the statute of limitations expired long ago and the plaintiffs (allegedly abused students, now in middle age) have the burden of proof. If the case ever reaches a jury, it will need more than “he-said-she-said” to find for the plaintiffs. I wish I could say that Orthodox institutions should be above such sordidness, but the yetzer hara is universal. More upsetting is the now-familiar cover-up; instead of taking measures to protect its students, Yeshiva University circled the wagons to protect its finances. The cover-up goes all the way to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the chancellor who recently retired. And there’s a deeper problem. The victims were not little kids, as in the case of Yehuda Kolko and other well-publicized pedophiles, but high school students well past puberty. The problem thus is not pedophilia (operationally defined as a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) but homosexuality. Would these students not have been victimized if their abusers had been able to be openly gay, have relationships with gay adults and remain in our community? That could be the subject not only of another post but of a whole book.
And in Israel, the haredim (aka khnyocks) are up to their old tricks. Now their target is Women of the Wall, a group of women who go to the kotel every Rosh Hodesh and daven, wearing tallitot and tefilin and reading from a Sefer Torah. Their actions appear to be within halakha, since none other than Bruriah, wife of the Tanna Rabbi Meir, and perhaps Rashi’s daughters, wore tefilin. Several contemporary halakhic authorities permit women to read from a Sefer Torah in women-only prayer groups, e.g. Women of the Wall. Nevertheless, it is difficult to defend these women; they seem less interested in enhancing their spirituality than in calling attention to themselves and scandalizing others praying at the kotel. If their intention is to scandalize and offend, the haredim consistently take the bait. Hooligans, male and female, throw objects at them, spit at them and shout epithets such as “Nazi” and “Reform Jew,” as if the latter was a curse. Calling our political opponents Nazis is an insult to Holocaust survivors and to the memory of six million dead, who were not all religiously observant despite what some haredi propaganda would have us believe. And “Reform Jew?” My thesis adviser a”h was a Reform Jew, a serious and committed one. I could have trusted him with uncounted money. I wish I could say the same about some so-called frum Jews (see above) who stoop to every low-down trick in the book as long as it gets them cash. These rascals possess the outer trappings of frumkeit but if one is not frum inside then the outer trappings are not worth a dime. They confirm all the negative stereotypes about Jews and money, echo the Jews against whom Isaiah inveighs in the haftara for Shabbat Hazon, and make me ashamed to call myself an Orthodox Jew.
So we have plenty to work on in the coming year. When people can point to an observant Jew and say, “That is how I want to live,” we will be a lot closer to Tisha B’Av being transformed into a Yom Tov in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash.