Home » Alex Kats, Recent Posts, Religion and Jewish Thought

The Creeping Normalcy of Religious Fanaticism

July 17, 2012 – 9:06 pm160 Comments

Are you machmir enough to wear this chumra hat?

By Alex Kats
Recently, a friend of mine who went to an all-girls Jewish day school, told me about an incident that happened to her whilst she was in upper high school. Ever since hearing about it I have been enraged and frustrated and wanting to do something about it.

It happened one morning when on the way to school she walked by a boy from a neighbouring Jewish school and nodded to him to acknowledge his presence, and he nodded back in return. They did not stop or speak, though they were not just friends, but rather they were distantly related through marriage. Not wanting to cause a scene on the street, however, they simply and courteously acknowledged each other and continued on to their respective schools a few paces away.

Later that morning, my friend was summoned to the principal’s office, an address within the school that she was acutely familiar with. On the way to the office she wondered what it could be this time, not even remembering that she had seen her family friend earlier in the day. Once in the familiar setting of the principal’s domain, she was told that a senior teacher had seen her that morning talking to a boy, an apparently serious offence at this single gender religious institution. She tried to reason with the principal, a not entirely inconsiderate individual, but realised it would be fruitless. In the end, she was given a minor punishment, but an admonishment nonetheless.

What baffled her then, and what baffles her still, quite a number of years later, is the fact that this is a supposedly religious school, yet none of the conduct relating to this incident was in any way pious. It may be the case that the school – for whatever reason – has a rule about not mingling with the opposite gender. Yet the boys school is just around the corner and it is inevitable that boys and girls will see each other on the way to or from school. Heck, some might even come to school together, and in many cases, with large families living close to each other and within walking distance of the two schools, there is probably no way of avoiding inter-gender contact. Apart from that, in this case all that happened was a nod of the head, not even a chat or a ‘hello’. Surely it would be more discourteous to not acknowledge a friend or a relative at all. I know I learned about courtesy at school and I would have thought that courtesy is a manifestation of piety, but what do I know?

Even aside from all that, my friend was reported to the principal and was reprimanded seemingly based solely on hearsay. A senior teacher apparently saw her transgress a rule. This is the same school that teaches about the horrors of loshon hora and expects students to not spread gossip, yet innuendo stemming from a teacher is apparently welcomed.

Of course this is a minor story that happened some years ago and undoubtedly the school has changed and things are different now. But this incident is a precursor to a larger issue that is definitely still relevant and is currently on the rampage. And that is the issue of religious fanaticism cloaked as mainstream Orthodox Judaism. Too often, minor inane scenarios occur in our community and too often we accept them without challenging the issues or the authorities. And when someone thick-skinned, knowledgeable, intelligent, and brave does stand up against the authorities, he is shouted down by a chorus of rabbis and community leaders, yet many of their congregants and colleagues accept his rulings surreptitiously anyway. Whether it be kashrut, tzniut, kol isha, conversion, synagogue acceptance, or any range of issues, the mainstream Orthodox community seems to be moving more and more to the extreme.

In the Torah itself, there are stories of women reading from the Torah and singing in front of men.  In Europe 150 years ago, Orthodox rabbis allowed people to convert who were clearly doing so for ulterior motives in contradiction of halacha, but based on specific circumstances; whilst even in Australia, just 50 years ago, Orthodox synagogues had choirs with female members and services were often conducted with piano accompaniment on Shabbat. However, if any of these things or similar are even discussed these days, they instantly draw the ire of the Orthodox community. I recently heard an Orthodox man tell me that I should not even talk about such things as they are blasphemous, let alone consider doing them. And this is the case not just in Australia but all over the world. In the UK for instance, if a convert decides to be less religious than they were when they first converted, then the London Beit Din – which is the strictest in the world – apparently deems it appropriate to revoke a conversion. How absolutely ridiculous!

In line with this, a few weeks ago, a former Israeli army General was in Melbourne. He is a religious fellow and talked about some of the incidents that he experienced in the army as a religious soldier and later as a General. Some of the incidents, particularly about religious ignorance or intolerance, left him frustrated; so together with a religious academic friend, he developed an educational course that is now compulsory for all Israeli soldiers. Its purpose is to teach Judaism to the IDF so that the soldiers know what they are defending and why. In the process, he and his partner also developed a conversion course for the many former Soviet and other immigrants who have questionable Jewish status when they arrive in Israel. Inevitably his course is regularly criticised and only has fringe support from the all-powerful Israeli rabbinate (though just enough support to be considered vaguely legitimate).

When questioned about this and about the broader issue of religious extremism, he said that it all stems from the proliferation of Yeshivot and synagogues, and the apparent need for Charedi and so many baal teshuva men in particular, to become rabbis. Yeshiva study is a good thing, and synagogue attendance and rabbinic ordinations are equally good things, he said, but when people abandon their lives and secular pursuits for the sake of the Yeshiva, or when a new synagogue opens up every time there is a minor dispute, then in his view, this is a step too far and partly explains why Judaism all over the world is tending towards fanaticism.

He also said that with the constant availability of the internet, it is possible for people to become ‘experts’ without actually knowing about the practical details of a situation. People might have peripheral knowledge that they gained online, but do not really know enough to mount a decisive argument, so they therefore tend towards the extreme view to legitimise and cover up their lack of real understanding.

So when people like him start their courses, when a hechsher is given to a religiously supervised vegetarian restaurant, when a product is made not in the usual way, or when a synagogue starts that is not like every other Orthodox institution, these things are seen as being marginal rather than standard despite being within the strict confines of halacha.

And all of this is exemplified even more by ridiculous incidents like the one that happened to my friend during her schooling, that I’m sure was not a one-off at that school or within our community. Obviously private schools can set their own rules, but surely school rules should be reflective of the law and community values. If even a non-verbal acknowledgement of a student of the opposite sex is a transgression, and if the alleged reporting of such an ‘incident’ warrants punishment, then that says a lot about the views of such a school and the community within which it sits.

All of this in recent years has made me question my own religious commitment, and I have been inclined in some elements to move slightly away from Orthodoxy, albeit reluctantly, but without much opposition, because I am not comfortable with the direction that much of the Orthodox community is moving in. Religious fanaticism has become the bane of many communities around the world and is permeating our Jewish community as well. I hope one day that stories like the one my friend experienced become a thing of the past, and that the mainstream reclaims its status as being moderate, accepting and anything but the extreme.

 

Print Friendly

160 Comments »

  • letters in the age says:

    Well done Alex

    i have seen similar occurences but within a different context

    Social protocols need time to change

    i remember reading a great article in The Weekend Australian about the Elsternwick diaspora who were given a balanced story on their community

    They are great for tourism and i respect their decision to stay in their traditional orthodox ways

    They seemed like a warm and close knit group of people with family values and in touch with the real world

    Thats the great aspect of Melbourne that they are allowed to be themselves!!

    Its also great that this blog has a diverse range of ideas and makes it unique!!
    ;)

  • Chaya says:

    Great job Alex! This written brilliantly and you’ve put into words experiences that are unfortunately all too common in certain communities.

    Lots of appreciation for your bravery and honesty in this article :)

  • I don’t think “mainstream Orthodoxy” is shifting that much, but certainly what some people call ultra-Orthodox (or “more Orthodox than me”) is becoming more and more “ultra”, and more and more isolationist. There seems to be a global competition among Rabbis to find new chumras, and to prove themselves frummer than the next. Is this making people more observant or more pious? Not likely. If anything, making them less tolerant and more likely to blindly follow without understanding. And as you say, it alienates the broader Jewish community.

    With the segregation between sexes becoming stricter, we have generations of young people being brought up with no social skills. They are then expected to marry (often at a relatively young age), get on with someone from the opposite sex, and build a family. How exactly?? It’s quite inane!

    I don’t agree with your former IDF general’s assessment; it’s more about self-perpetuation and isolationism than the need for more Rabbis.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    There are a lot of normal people in the Orthodox world. You may not have lived deep enough inside it to find them. They are there, well hidden. Those who stand out may not even be representative of all orthodoxy and I am sure they are not.
    What an article about a storm in a tea cup. There is segregation and I went to two segregated schools. The second one went down hill when we started to have lessons with the boys when I was in year 11. Being painfully shy at the time, (not any more) I had an awful couple of years. Frankly being around the opposite sex is a great distraction and especially with hormonal teenagers. If you want to achieve great things, be focussed and single or have a partner who is willing to sacrifice their ambitions to support you in yours. Except if you are Picasso and you peceive members of the opposite sex as necessary accessories to your art masterpieces with a bit of hanky panky on the side of course. Few of us have that detached narcissistic approach to others, THANK G-D. People do not need to associate with members of the opposite sex to learn ‘social skills’. You can be a good and moral person with good social skills if you have a good and functional family setting to develop in.

  • Levi says:

    “Orthodox synagogues had choirs with female members and services were often conducted with piano accompaniment..” you also spoke about people with limited knowledge of Torah taking on very extreme views. Your piece is accompanied with a photo of a hat with a slogan reading “I’m more machmir on staff you have never heard of.”

    Well in addition to orthodox synagogues having a piano or organ accompaniment on Shabbos, from now on there will also be bacon sandwiches served in the middle of the Yom Kippur services. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a religious fanatic who bases their knowledge on peripheral information and hearsay derived from the Internet. Speaking of hearsay, to drive your point home re the threat and horros of rising Jewish fundamentalism you centered this around a story you heard from a friend that apparently took place well over a decade ago. A traumatic story that will surly keep me up at night.

    I know I’m going to soud like a fundamentalist, but If you want to hear a piano on shabbos you can certainly try a reform temple…I think that’s one of the fundemental differences between the reform and orthodox movements. no one will stop you. You won’t need body guards, police protection or even look over your shoulder like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Salman Rashdie. The reason why I think calling this article ‘brave’ -like one poster did – is ridiculous and hyperbole at best.

  • Alex says:

    Levi. Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, the photo was added by the publishers of Galus, not by me. And the word ‘brave’ was not a term I used; it was posted in the comments. My point was that I want to follow orthodoxy but not the fundamentalist orthodoxy that is becoming mainstream…

  • Levi says:

    I got that from the outset, Alex.

    Nevertheless, the fact that one cannot hear a piano accompaniement on shabbos is truly a worrying development. That coupled with your friends ‘story’ over a decade ago, really exposes the rise of jewish fundamentalism that is taking over the community.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “They are there, well hidden.”

    “storm in a tea cup”

    Interesting juxtaposition, Ilana…

  • Marky says:

    If for you piano in shul on Shabbos is religious fanaticism, then you were not orthodox to begin with

  • Harry Joachim says:

    While I commend Alex for his insightful article, the following claims he makes are simply incorrect:

    1. “In the Torah itself, there are stories of women reading from the Torah and singing in front of men.”

    In the Torah? Really? There is certainly no reference to such practices in the Chumash – unless of course you are referring to Shiras HaYam with Miriam (in which the women sang by themselves). Nor is there any reference in the Mishnah or Gemora to women having read from the Torah or participating in singing in front of men.

    2. “in Australia, just 50 years ago, Orthodox synagogues had choirs with female members and services were often conducted with piano accompaniment on Shabbat.”

    You are indeed correct about the mixed choirs – a practice that was abandoned at the Great Synagogue in Sydney in the early 1970s owing to halachic concerns (mirroring the abandonment of such choirs in the UK during the same period). There was a mixed choir in the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation in the 1990s where the women and man sang from their respective galleries. However, the choir was disbanded following the departure of the particular rabbi that had instigated it.

    However, there were NO orthodox synagogues in Australia that used either a piano or organ during Shabbat or chagim. Ever. Whoever told you otherwise Alex is simply not correct.

    There was at least one shul that allowed the use of a microphone in the pulpit in the 1940s, I believe (St Kilda HC).

  • Yossi says:

    David -” With the segregation between sexes becoming stricter, we have generations of young people being brought up with no social skills. They are then expected to marry (often at a relatively young age), get on with someone from the opposite sex, and build a family. How exactly?? It’s quite inane!”
    You ask “how exactly ?” and the answer is their upbringing and education .
    “inane” – perhaps, but their level of divorce and domestic violence is lower than the rest of the community.

  • Ari says:

    I once remember a sorry of a Rabbi who arrived at an Orthodox synagogue a hundred years ago and was served oyster soup at his first wedding he attended. Also that when Rabbi Gutnick first arrived in Australia he couldn’t find a complete Mishnah Torah in the country. Maybe the doing away with mixed quoirs and a like has more to do with more Rabbis actually knowing what they’re talking about than the opposite.
    Just a note on organs on Shabbat. Whilst such a practice has become a symbol of reform Judaism with certain orthodox institutions back in the day revoking the semicha of students serving in such communities there is an argument to be made to allow for non-Jews to play organs on shabbat in shuls – perhaps in the same way we allow clapping. Extreme or not however, such a suggestion being considered remotely normative halacha is absurd. In the same way that women receiving aliyot cannot be called normative.

  • JohnyGipps says:

    “Also that when Rabbi Gutnick first arrived in Australia he couldn’t find a complete Mishnah Torah in the country.”

    Rubbish. Rabbi Gurewicz was an immense gadol and arrived in Melbourne in the 1930s. It is inconceivable that he did not have access to a Mishneh Torah.

  • Ari says:

    I was not criticizing the Rabbis – especially since their learning was from the yeshivas of Europe. I was highlighting the state of Jewry. A state which drastically improved with Rabbis such as Gutnick who ensured that after the thirties one could find a Rambam in Australia; and ensured the presence of people who could actually understand it.

  • TheSadducee says:

    No anti-religious trend at Galus. Absolutely not. Nothing to see here, move along folks…

  • frosh says:

    Sadducee,
    Jews debating appropriate interpretation of the law is part of the very fabric of the religious Jewish tradition.

    That you would claim that this is part of an anti-religious agenda suggests that you have practically no familiarity with this tradition.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Although a poorly written comment piece (i.e. some of the claims are dubious and/or incorrect cf. Harry’s response above) there is a real underlying issue which deserves examination i.e. increasing extremism in the religious community.

    A few thoughts and I would appreciate some considered responses:

    i. Perhaps the extremism is a reaction to the increasing secularisation of society? The religious people feel that their identity is threatened by these changes and adopt increasingly stringent forms of behaviour and community control to reinforce their identity? This explains isolationism and other fundamentalist behaviours i.e. rejection of modernity, rejection of interaction with other Jewish groups etc.

    ii. Modern Orthodoxy is struggling with its own position in the Orthodox world vis a vis its relationship with Hassidic/Haredi forms of Orthodoxy. How many champions of modern Orthodoxy (or even just non-Hassidic/Haredi forms of Orthodoxy?) do you see in Jewish communities in Australia?

    As other commentators here have confirmed, Chabad have to a large extent taken over much of the vital Jewish infrastructure in the communities – for a number of reasons which includes the fact that they have the manpower and are willing to step into the gaps.

    iii. The Orthodox communities have let their communities develop in certain ways which have led to “creeping” extremism. Basically, “normal” Orthodox Jews have either abandoned the “hard” bits of the faith and have left, or say one thing publicly and do another privately. This has allowed those with agendas to form the positions adopted/suggested to the other members, especially
    if they are prepared to fight it out publicly.

  • TheSadducee says:

    frosh

    Poorly written articles chiding the religious community for extremism with little to no evidence other than anecdotes is hardly part of the glorious intellectual tradition of Jewry.

    But hey, maybe the article should have been titled the:

    “The Creeping Normalcy of 3rd Rate Internet Pieces on Galus”?

    And besides, I’ve addressed the piece seriously above.

  • letters in the age says:

    Why dont the authors invite other contributors like Dr Leslie Cannold to write a piece??

    She provides well researched pieces and an alternative but engaging viewpoint on various issues.

    cheers

  • frosh says:

    I think it’s a very well written piece, and it raises important issues.

    What’s more, it’s by an author who makes a significant contribution to Jewish life, not only locally, but in far flung places around the world, and actually lives an observant life and wrestles with what that means. Can you say the same about yourself?

    Perhaps you could send us all a link to where you have written a better article? Oh that’s right, you don’t have the courage. Much easier to make immature criticisms from the safety of a pseudonym.

  • Yoram Symons says:

    Alex,

    Great piece. Well done. As I am sure you can imagine, I have a bunch to say on the issue, but u’ve already said it quite nicely. Humans will use any excuse they can to remain ignorant and religious devotion has been one of the classical ones. But the tightening of the grip of religion around thought seems to indicate a fundamental weakness of the system. So don’t worry – towers built to reach up until the heavens have a mysterious way of crashing down. :)

  • TheSadducee says:

    frosh

    I’ll list all of the weaknesses and you tell me that my criticism of them is immature again…

    *Claims Without Evidence:

    i. In the Torah itself, there are stories of women reading from the Torah and singing in front of men.

    ii. In Europe 150 years ago, Orthodox rabbis allowed people to convert who were clearly doing so for ulterior motives in contradiction of halacha, but based on specific circumstances.

    iii. even in Australia, just 50 years ago, Orthodox synagogues had choirs with female members and services were often conducted with piano accompaniment on Shabbat.

    iv. In the UK for instance, if a convert decides to be less religious than they were when they first converted, then the London Beit Din – which is the strictest in the world – apparently deems it appropriate to revoke a conversion.

    *Unverifiable Anecdotes used to make points:

    i. The story about his unnamed friend and her school incident.

    ii. The story about the anonymous Orthodox gentleman chiding him for blasphemy.

    iii. The comments of an unnamed Israeli General.

    These are all serious inadequacies in the piece and wouldn’t be considered well written if it was discussing just about any other important issue affecting the community.

    As I noted above – the author does raise an important issue that needs addressing and discussing but that doesn’t justify the claims etc with no evidence to make their point.

  • TheSadducee says:

    frosh

    And – as an editor you should really keep an impartial response to comments made on your site.

    Attacking your readers personally for views you don’t agree with isn’t really either the mark of a good editor or a gentleman.

    As to my own observance/behaviour/anonymity – is their some criteria that I have to meet to have a legitimate opinion in your view? Sort of sounds eerily fundamentalist to me…

  • Alex Fein says:

    TheSadducee,

    Your prolific commentary sends a confusing message.

    You contend that Galus is anti-religious and prosecutes its position unfairly; however, your continued and considerable participation represents tacit support for this site.

    ***

    Generally,

    With only one exception, everyone I know who reads Galus is Orthodox and religious. Some even tend black hat.

    Many – if not the majority – of articles on Galus are written by observant Jews.

    Galus is a place for robust debate about Jewish matters. Rachel and Frosh devote a great number of unpaid hours to maintaining the only forum in Australia in which Jews of varying backgrounds can engage in meaningful public discussion about religion and community.

    The discussion is not always going to suit everyone’s tastes. But then, no one is compelled to read or comment here.

    The incessant whinging from a couple of disgruntled readers is as silly as it is grating: if the content here so pains them, I can not understand why they insist on returning.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Frosh wrote:
    “What’s more, it’s by an author who makes a significant contribution to Jewish life, not only locally, but in far flung places around the world, and actually lives an observant life and wrestles with what that means.”

    I’d like to second Frosh’s comment regarding the considerable and valuable work Alex Kats performs for the community.

    There are very few of us here who can claim to do a fraction of what he does.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Alex

    I was brought up to avoid a public conflict with a lady and so I will defer any argument with you over this matter.

    I get what you are saying and hence will make this post my swan song so to speak.

    Good luck and farewell to anyone who is interested – may Hashem smile on you and yours and G-d willing we meet in happier circumstances.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “I was brought up to avoid a public conflict with a lady”

    You were brought up to be a misogynist who gets off on patronising women?

    Makes sense.

  • letters in the age says:

    Thanks Alex for your reply and recognising who the demographic of the audience and contributors to the blog are is refreshing

    Orthodox people with an interest in academia should also fit into that audience

    ;)

  • Alex Kats says:

    Alex and Frosh, thanks. Wow!

  • Levi says:

    There is no question that Frosh is committed to impartiality here. It’s those people from that “sub-group” who suggest otherwise that keep him up @ night and give him grey hairs.

    While not relying on pure hearsay, I can give first hound accounts that would suggest the opposite of the view stated in this article- far from becoming fanatical over the past few years many members of the orthodox community have traded in their religious idealism (note idealism doesn’t necessarily mean fanaticism) for the trappings of the modern world.

    Matisyahu (the Regge singer) is a very extreme example (he still claims to be orthodox). There are many others in the orthodox community who while not shaving their beards and taking off their yarmulkers, have become heavily influenced by secular culture. I’ve had acquaintances and friends who 6 years ago were very idealistic about their faith. Now they are more concerned about what designer clothes they are going to wear (while still living a orthodox life style). I have personally coined this the “Chassidic-dandy” syndrome.

    When I first became involved with Chabad Lubavitch 8 years ago, wearing a trendy pink shirt was unheard of. Now its not uncommon to find a bearded Lubavitch guy in shul wearing one.

    5-10 years ago, if any Lubavitch teenager rebelled it was common for parents to kick their children out of home. Now parents have become more open and excepting of the choices that their kids have made and many of these kids (or young adults) still live at home.

    I have spent a number of years living in the ultra orthodox Crown heights neighbourhood and there it’s not uncommon to find teenagers coming home from a night out in Manhattan to sleep @ their parents house. Neither is it uncommon to find guys and girls hanging out with each other in the centre of the neighbourhood. Or for young married lubavitch couples going to a trendy bar or night club. Pot smoking & heavy drug abuse has become very common. 5 or more years ago this was all unheard of. Ironically, I can think of many bearded orthodox people whose life style is far more liberal than many of the secular and non Jewish people that I know.

    The religious fanaticism of the type that seen at Mea Sharim (where passing cars are hit by rocks on shabbos)is truly repulsive. But the other extreme – assimilating into mainstream secular culture – isn’t good either and is even detrimental to the Jewish community as a whole. Especially drug abuse (amongst many other things).

  • Alex Kats says:

    Levi. There are plenty of orthodox Jews who have ‘fried out’ or have embraced pink shirts and the trappings of modernity. I think many of them – surely many that I know – do so because of the fanaticism within orthodoxy and they feel trapped. Putting on a colourful shirt or cutting off a beard is their way of rebelling.
    That however is very different to the overriding trend of the mainstream Jewish community tending towards the extreme, and it is also different from fanatic orthodoxy cloaked as normative Judaism. I still think those are issues to be concerned with and that was the point of the article..

  • Levi says:

    That being said, the fact that this piece is based on pure hearsay and many factual inaccuracies (none of which are addressed) & then praised by many contributors and readers here (including the editor) is truly disturbing.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “5-10 years ago, if any Lubavitch teenager rebelled it was common for parents to kick their children out of home. Now parents have become more open and excepting of the choices that their kids have made and many of these kids (or young adults) still live at home.”

    You lament the fact that parents are no longer kicking kids out of their houses?

    W-O-W

  • Yossi,

    The young ultra-Orthodox people are *not* getting the education they need to form social relationships with their spouses, and instead are being thrown in the deep end. That they succeed is because their marriages are based on common shared values ahead of lust and physical attraction.

    That said, the stigma of divorce holds many unhappy couples together, and domestic violence is grossly under-reported (for similar reasons) and therefore much higher than perceived.

  • Levi says:

    “Putting on a colourful shirt or cutting off a beard is their way of rebelling.”

    Alex, it’s probably fair to say that I have had more exposure to the orthodox community then you have (I’ve never seen you in Kollel or yeshiva)and can gaurentee that what I’ve mentioned is becoming part of mainstream Lubavitch culture both here and overseas. I’m not relying on a decade old ‘story’ I head from a ‘friend’ but rather on first hand experience. But then again, if you think that not being able to hear a piano on shabbos is religious fundamentalism, then please forgive me.

  • Levi says:

    “You lament the fact that parents are no longer kicking kids out of their houses?”

    Please read – “Now parents have become more open and excepting of the choices that their kids have”

    “open” & “excepting…” does that sound like lamenting to you?

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Given your contention at the end that an alternative lifestyle is bad, yes, you’re quite obviously lamenting it.

  • Further to mine and Sadducee’s comment, I think that the author has not clearly understood the difference between varieties of Orthodoxy, nor has he appreciated the spectrum of observance. While it’s reasonable to say that “mainstream” Orthodoxy (e.g. Mizrachi & Caulfield shul) is shifting to the right, this shift is slow and gentle, and does not display elements of fanaticism.

    Ultra-Orthodoxy (which in Melbourne is best described by the Adass community) is pushing back hard and retains all the fanaticism and shtetl mentality of the last 100 years, and then some.

    It would be incorrect to categorize Chabad as ultra-Orthodox. Some people have done this in other contexts, and it’s plain wrong. On the spectrum, it’s far closer to mainstream that ultra, but still clearly to the right of mainstream.

  • Levi says:

    A hedonistic culture based on druge abuse is pretty bad.

  • Steven says:

    Wow, how terrible of those rebellious Chabadniks to wear pink shirts. And if they were a very light pink, would that be OK?

  • Levi says:

    I’m not suggesting that its terrible. merely trying to point out that rather than becoming more “fanatical” the exact opposite is actually occurring in many orthodox communities. departing from the standard black & white uniform & the “orthodox-dandy” phenmenon is one out of many examples.

  • Steven – you laugh and ridicule, but in some Orthodox communities, externals like shirt colour, kippa colour, shape, size and fabric, are very important indicators of conformance and membership. It’s no different to other uniforms.

    Imagine if someone from the Richmond cheer squad showed up to a game in a blue shirt? And you think wearing a non-white shirt around Adass might be rebellious??

  • Yvonne says:

    Kol ha Kavod to Alex for his mild-mannered, well-written, thoughtful article. I see that it has been up for a while, but I only just tuned in. I happen to agree with the points he makes and find his anecdotes absorbing and the stuff of which good writing consists if it is to keep its readers engaged. What I find profoundly discomfiting is the tendency of respondents to ‘play the man, not the ball.’ I do not see how the argument – or the love of Judaism, for that matter – is furthered by such personal attacks. And while the Sadducee, for example, may have been ‘brought up to avoid public conflict with a lady,’ and therefore might not engage in rational argument with anyone of the female persuasion, I must, as an avowed feminist, make 2 comments here. Does this mean the Sadducee will engage in PRIVATE conflict with a lady? And is his reluctance to engage the result of thinking women are too fragile to take the pressure? Or something else, entirely? Racking my brains here, trying to understand the rationale. It’s an odd notion, to be sure, especially in 2012. Faux gallantry belongs on the Jacobean stage, the Shakespearean or the Victorian. And even then, it was generally the stuff of comedy.
    But I digress… Alex, love your work. Keep thinking. Keep writing.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Yvonne

    My post will no doubt cause some groans of frustration (i.e. grrr, I thought he got the hint and left!) but I felt compelled to respond.

    I have posted comments before on Alex’s website when she was running SJ and many times on here. You can ask her or others whether they think I merit the title misogynist, bigot etc or not.

    I will clearly state that I have a great level of respect and admiration for Alex’s intellect and abilities and have engaged in several personally beneficial and valuable conversations with her over the years. We have had differences of opinion and yet have retained a reasonable level of discourse in spite of them. This was an issue where we were not going to see eye to eye and I saw no good thing coming from contending with her over them.

    I prefer to avoid public (and private) conflict, especially with ladies whom I hold in high personal regard because it is not befitting my own personal conduct – call me old fashioned if you like but I like to treat women as we should our Matriarchs, and especially as I prefer to remain relatively anonymous (although Alex does know who I am btw) which does not permit a response on fair terms in the public forum.

    If it was seen as patronising, then my sincere apologies.

    If it was considered insincere (faux even!), then perhaps that is a testament to modern society and our poor standard of interaction? Or perhaps a reflection of a critic’s own personal concerns?

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSad, you are a R.E.A.L. gentleman.

    And by that I mean you are a Relic Experiencing Ancient Lifetimes from centuries past where women were thought of as frail and inferior. You’ve now admitted you think as such. You feel that women are too “fair” to have to hack your vicious barbs (you’re thinking too much of yourself).

    “Call me old-fashioned” – Sure! You are old-fashioned in the same sense that people who still think black people are inferior to white people are “old-fashioned”. You’re a joke. Enjoy your misogyny.

  • TheSadducee says:

    “Personal insults, particularly when unrelated to substantive comment, will also be removed.”

    – I’ll leave it to the editors and readers to determine for themselves if Mr Levy’s last comment to myself is entirely reasonable.

  • Levi says:

    Don’t worry the all impartial Frosh is going to be all over this one…

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSad,

    Over all our little quarrels, this is the first time you’ve dispensed with your dignity and run crying to the editors. Did I strike a nerve? :)

    If you don’t like being called a misogynist, then don’t be one.

  • Levi says:

    “Many – if not the majority – of articles on Galus are written by observant Jews.”

    Many? The majority? who are these many people who compromise the majority?

    “Galus is a place for robust debate about Jewish matters. Rachel and Frosh devote a great number of unpaid hours to maintaining the only forum in Australia in which Jews of varying backgrounds can engage in meaningful public discussion about religion and community.”

    meaningful discussion? I wouldn’t call writing a factually incorrect article based on pure hearsay meaningful or constructive for that matter. As a matter of fact, most of the articles on this forum are far from constructive or meaningful and sow division within our community.

    It’s sets a scary precedent – one can write a piece on any other community – be they aborigional, Islamic, Christian – base it on pure hearsay, and nothing tangible and then claim thats it’s a constructive and meaningful discussion.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Levi, what is the reason behind your continued participation on this site? Why contribute to a forum that you feel misrepresents your sector?

    You wrote a few comments back: “Alex, it’s probably fair to say that I have had more exposure to the orthodox community then you have (I’ve never seen you in Kollel or yeshiva)”

    It might be useful to keep in mind that you are not personally acquainted with every observant Jew in Australia.

    For example, you may never have met Mr Kats. This does not, however, represent an halachic failure on Mr Kats’s part.

    This may also go some way to explain why you do not know who the many religious contributors to this site are.

  • Levi says:

    I have actually met Mr Kats…but not at any shul – be it mizrachi, yeshiva, addas etc.

    Why contribute? I guess out of a right to reply to address any inaccuracies and falsehoods presented as “factual” and “constructive.”

    I remember when I did Middle eastern politics as an elective. The lecturers claimed to be impartial and gave us reading material representing “both sides” of the Arab-Israeli divide. On one side we were presented with material from Arab intellectuals – thus gaining the Arab perspective. Then we were given material from the Israeli side…the authors of this material were Illan pappe, and Avi Shlaim, etc. Very impartial indeed.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Levi, you wrote:
    “I have actually met Mr Kats…but not at any shul – be it mizrachi, yeshiva, addas etc.”

    So only people you’ve met in shul are Orthodox/religious.

    There are 25,000 observant Jews in Australia. Have you met the 24,998 other religious Jews in shul?

    Why not just admit that your original statement was silly and leave it at that?

    “Why contribute? I guess out of a right to reply to address any inaccuracies and falsehoods presented as “factual” and “constructive.””

    But don’t you get bored, Levi? How many ways are there of accusing Frosh of bias? Don’t you find it incredibly tedious?

    I suppose your continued contribution here is acknowledgement that this site is important and worthy of your time.

  • Yaron says:

    It seems some of the comments here have disputed a couple of facts while willfully ignoring the point of the article.

    The fact is that the general direction of the religious community is towards greater stringency.

    One of the reasons (not the only one) is the movement away from tradition, in favour of the written word. The written word is absolute and we miss the common sense subtleties that navigated our ancestors’ day to day actions.

    Here are only a few of the many things that are part of the explosion of stringency:
    1. The ever increasing list of kitniyot
    2. The perceived necessity for physical dividers between milk and meat in domestic kitchens
    3. The sudden presence of a mechitza at the cemeteries where previously the sexes would naturally separate without a mechitza
    4. The concept of kosher dish washing liquid and toxic chemicals

    These are all stringencies that have been added to existing religious requirements with sometimes no basis in halachic reality.

    Alex Kats is definitely not alone in pointing out this tendency.

    David (and others),

    With regards to Chabad, they are ultra-Orthodox, even if they do not wish to portray themselves as such. They have a set of extra-halachic rules that are placed on a pedestal along with all the remainder of halacha.

    The dope smoking, sex addicts who wear coloured shirts could probably best be described as ‘non-practicing Chabad’. These are not the people who set the direction for the future of the movement.

  • 123 says:

    I thought galus wanted to represent all sectors of the community. If that be correct, then it’s not good enough to say “if you don’t like it, then go away”. You have to make sure that articles are fair and accurate, and that offensive posts are removed.

    This article was not accurate.

    It is inaccurate to state that that there are examples of women reading from the Torah in the Torah.

    It is inaccurate to state that orthodox shuls previously had organs on Shabbat.

    It is inaccurate to state that the London Bet Din revokes conversion when the convert is “less religious than they would like”.

    Botei Din, including London and Melbourne do convert people today who are clearly only doing so for marriage.

    The article does not give sources to confirm that “when a hechsher is given to a religiously supervised vegetarian restaurant, when a product is made not in the usual way, or when a synagogue starts that is not like every other Orthodox institution, these things are . . . being within the strict confines of halacha”. I don’t know Mr Kats, but if he is claiming the halachic expertise necessary to make such comments, he should substantiate it.

    He complains about people becoming “experts” just be seeing something on the internet. Again, I don’t know Mr Kats, but that describes many people who make comments like the one above.

    And the lengthy anecdote at the start on which this whole philosophy is based? A second-hand historical tale of a single event (although Mr Kats is “sure” that it happened other times as well) in one school?

    And the people who write on Galus are supposed to be so intellectual and rational!

    Finally, if Mr Kats wants to become less orthodx – if he has either reached a new understanding of what God wants from him, or simply is less bothered – that’s entirely his choice. But in what way could that be the result of a school principal telling off a student in another place and another age?

    This is why people are saying increasingly that Galus is anti-religious. Because irrational, unsourced, diatribes against religious people or the principles that they hold dear are posted with considerable frequency. And that’s apart from the offensive but pathetic insults that are so often levelled at religious people.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Levi,
    There’s no reason why Frosh (or I) cannot express our opinions about articles in the comments section, and these opinions are going to be partial. As an editor, it is important to accept contributions from a variety of viewpoints, which we do and if you look through the articles published and comments on them there are articles with which one or the other of us have disagreed. In selecting articles, impartiality (we would call it pluralism) is important. In providing opinion, everyone is partial.

    Saduccee,
    In your comments on the previous article (written by a Lubavitch woman), you judged the (allegedly anti-religious) tenor of the website on the basis of the comment section. This article (written by a Modern Orthodox man) has attracted criticism from some “frum” commenters, but you again allege that the website is anti-religious; this time it isn’t on the basis of the critical comments but on the basis of your perceptions of anti-religious bias in the article itself. This is somewhat ironic because the author is religious himself, but also demonstrates that you shift the goalposts.

    123,
    Galus Australis is pluralistic in that we publish articles from a variety of viewpoints. This doesn’t imply that everyone will agree with every article. To the contrary, we aim to publish articles that challenge all sectors of the community.

    Regarding the alleged inaccuracies, I think that inaccuracies is probably the wrong word for most of these. Alex had one paragraph with a number of examples that weren’t fleshed out in detail. Let’s take the case of women reading from the Torah in the Torah. I’m assuming this is referring to Miriam’s song, which is indeed in the Torah. I wouldn’t use the same words as Alex to describe this act because I think it’s a bit anachronistic to call this reading from the Torah. However, I doubt this is the problem that most of you have with Alex’s description. Even if it is, then it’s still not an inaccuracy so much as imperfect phrasing and something that could easily be clarified through polite discussion rather than visceral accusations.

  • Yaron,

    The spectrum of Orthodoxy is much like the ATP tennis rankings – the higher up your go, the wider the gaps between the rankings.

    A Chabadnik looks at someone from Adass and characterises them as ultra-Orthodox, but someone less Orthodox may see both of them as equally “ultra”. Chabad certainly isn’t ultra-Orthodox because you say it is, and to my knowledge there is no objective ranking system.

    Rachel,

    While yourself and Frosh may like to express personal opinions through comments, you will always be perceived as having an editorial perspective. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    GA certainly does publish from a variety of perspective, and I think this is to be applauded. However, the comments lately seem to strike a new low in their vitriol and personal attacks. The nasty jibes and bullying are pushing people away and stifling what could be meaningful debate.

  • Alex Fein says:

    123 (and Levi), there’s a difference between setting the record straight and incessantly whinging about bias.

    You both may feel the need to respond to what you perceive are inaccuracies. No one has a problem with that.

    But constantly bleating about the editors’ being partial whenever an opinion is expressed that you do not like, is profoundly tedious.

    I am certain neither of you have had comments deleted just because the editors disagree with you.

    The editors of this site choose to allow a variety of opinions – including critical ones – to be posted. They don’t have to. But they do.

    To expect Galus to cater exclusively to your religious and ideological orientation is quite ridiculous.

  • Levi says:

    I find it incredibly ironic that a person who claims to advocate and promote debate and openess in the Jewish Community, would question another person’s right of reply.

    “So only people you’ve met in shul are Orthodox/religious.”

    If you’re the ventriloquist and I’m the puppet, then yes I apparently did say that…Indeed…

    “There are 25,000 observant Jews in Australia. Have you met the 24,998 other religious Jews in shul”

    Your making a lot of assumptions. I know Alex well enough to know that his insight into the orthodox community isn’t as good as my own. The fact that he based his argument largely on hearsay and many factual inaccuracies didn’t really help all that much either…and only serves my point. I can also make up a story/argument based on something that I heard from someone on an event that happened 10 or 20 years ago.

  • Levi says:

    “You both may feel the need to respond to what you perceive are inaccuracies. ”

    Perceived inaccuracies? Funnily enough you, nor anyone else for that matter have resolved to address any of these ‘perceived’ inaccuracies clearly listed by 123 and others. Things lie Hearsay, historical inaccuracies, lack of sources, citation etc…. instead you have resolved to dismiss this as ‘whining.’

    “No one has a problem with that.” you do and have expressed that quite clearly.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Alex, I think you have touched on an important issue (increasing fanaticism within CERTAIN sectors of the Orthodox community) but I don’t think the story you gave is a great illustration of this issue.

    The story raises a few questions, but rising fanaticism is not the primary one. In any case, using one brief isolated incident to cast aspersions on a community’s value system is questionable practice.

    Let me tell you about another brief isolated incident that occurred to me this morning. After dropping my son off at Yeshivah kinder, I was walking back through the campus with my youngest in the pusher. I was heading along the path in front of the shul and quite a way ahead of me was a young Chabad guy on his bike, also on his way out the gate. He could have kept going, but instead he stopped, waited and held the gate open for me until I’d passed through. I have no idea who this guy is but I was touched by his consideration.
    (Is he the same young Chabad guy who, a couple of months ago, automatically bent down and helped me carry my pusher up the stairs rather than walking blindly by? And whose consideration I also appreciated? No idea!)

    I doubt that either of us is qualified to comment on which story – mine or yours – is more typical of the charedi community. But I can say that my story is at least as worthy of recognition as yours is, and that sweeping generalisations about courtesy towards the opposite sex should not be based on one isolated incident.

  • Alex Kats says:

    Hello everyone,
    I didn’t realise my article would engender such passionate comments and even vitriol. For the sake of everyone let me say that I could have simply made my point that orthodoxy is tending to the extreme. But I wanted to make the article interesting so I added a few provocative stories, comments and personal opinions. Yes, some of them were added to embellish and maybe in another context I would have phrased them differently. None of that however takes away from the central point of the article, which most comments seem to have missed.
    For those who are curious, I am a regular shule-goer, I observe Shabbat and have always tended towards orthodoxy so I feel that I have some credibility when it comes to making comment on what I observe in the orthodox community and in the broader Jewish community. Even apart from that though, Galus gives me and many other people an opportunity to express an opinion (which I am grateful for) and that is all I intended to do here. Agree or disagree, but for everyone’s sake, please do so with decency and appreciation for the opportunity.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Yaron writes: “Here are only a few of the many things that are part of the explosion of stringency: 1. The ever increasing list of kitniyot”

    The “increasing list of kitniyot” has been increasing for hundreds of years as new food items became available. It is therefore no surprise that recent discussion has focussed on the permissibility of quinoa, which only made an appearance in the western world a few decades ago. What other items can you name that have suddenly made it into the kitniyos list that weren’t there a few decades ago?! There have always been minhagim among certain groups to avoid specific goods – mushrooms, garlic, etc. – but these were never accepted by the mainstream froom world.

    “3. The sudden presence of a mechitza at the cemeteries where previously the sexes would naturally separate without a mechitza”

    I have never seen a mechitza at a cemetery, certainly not in my home town of Sydney, nor here in Eretz Yisrael. Are you in fact referring to the funeral parlour?

    “With regards to Chabad, they are ultra-Orthodox, even if they do not wish to portray themselves as such. They have a set of extra-halachic rules that are placed on a pedestal along with all the remainder of halacha.”

    It all depends on how you define the term “ultra-orthodox”. Your suggestion that “extra-halachic rules” is a means for defining those within the charedi world is an interesting one, but I am not sure that it is entirely correct. The layperson would probably point to the charedi tendency to disengage from the secular world as the basis for differentiation. Unlike the modern orthodox, most charedim do not adopt conventional dress styles, they do not attend places of secular entertainment, and they see the Torah as the sole source for wisdom (while acknowledging certain secular professions as a means for livelihood only).

    Following this definition, Chabad is certainly on the fringes of the Charedi world. They are, for example, far more open to the world (and to other Jews) than the vast majority of Chasidic groups, eagerly embracing technology and engage in kiruv. (The only other large Chasidic sect that does so is Breslov.)

  • Harry Joachim says:

    And one last point Yaron. You write: “The fact is that the general direction of the religious community is towards greater stringency.”

    In and of itself, adopting a stronger adherence to one’s traditions is not a bad thing. It only becomes problematic when this stronger adherence causes one to lose sight of the meaning behind the halachos and the equally important dinim of adam l’chavro.

    EG of a harmless chumra: If someone wants to avoid particular foods on Pesach that are acceptable to the majority of the Jewish world, why should you care? How does it impact on you?

    EG of a bad chumra: If a group decides to adopt standards that infringe the rights of others, then it becomes problematic, eg the standards of tznius imposed by certain groups in Ramat Bet Shemesh.

    This is an important distinction to make Yaron. Otherwise you are tarring all chumras with the same brush

  • Ari says:

    Harry
    Although there is something to your arguments about different stringencies I’m not sure one can always separate between them. A culture tends to develop in terms of stringencies leading to infringement of rights and also of other halachic values – often times too late to reverse because of the culture.

  • 123 says:

    Alex (both of them), and several others, have responded to the pointing out by me and others of the inaccuracies in his original piece , by saying that these were “percieved inacuracies” or “embellishments” (aka “lies”), but that we were “wilfully ignoring the main point”.

    Shouldn’t an argument, especially one so critical of other people, be backed by facts? And if the facts are wrong, then does that not undermine the argument? Without facts, isn’t all that remains prejudice and, dare I say, bias?

    I’ll give you my own example of a new humra. L’shon Hara. Although always part of “halachic reality”, it was rarely talked about, let alone studied and elevated as a subject until the Hafetz Hayim made it his crusade in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The laws of l’shon hara are still widely ignored, in all sectors of the community, but nevertheless this definitely counts as a “new humra”. Is this good or bad?

  • Levi says:

    ” But I wanted to make the article interesting so I added a few provocative stories, comments and personal opinions. ”

    that sums up the problem – this blog thrives on “provocative” stories and controversy. And this only sows discord and division amongst people here.

    But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good arguement, 123.

    “For the sake of everyone let me say that I could have simply made my point that orthodoxy is tending to the extreme.”

    No more qinoua for you!

  • Yaron says:

    David,
    My argument has nothing to do with the adherence to halacha, rather I am focusing on the extra-halachic positions of the group.

    Chabad add their own rules that are beyond the scope of halacha. Therefore I would define them as chareidi.

    Harry has provided another objective definition of chareidi (that still includes Chabad).

    If you have another objective definition that excludes Chabad please let us know.

    Harry,
    1. Kitniyot – I presume that if things can be added they can be removed when no longer relevant? Have you ever heard of anything being removed? If not why not?

    2. Yes I was talking about the chapel, and you are nitpicking.

    3. Chumra is a bad thing in many harmless instances for a number of reasons:

    a) The social pressures it places on families that cannot afford to carry them out (extra housework, higher expenditure on foods etc). These are not harmless and people cannot opt out without impacting on their standing in their community.

    b) There is a confusion of outcome and process.

    For example: Chalav Yisrael. The outcome is to have milk without pig milk mixed in. Many years ago the only process possible was Jews watching the milking. Today there is another process to achieve the same outcome (government regulation), but the process has been enshrined in law. It’s basically elevating a practice and calling it holy when it’s not. That can’t be right.

    What is important is to pick between what is halacha and what is not.

    c) The essence of halacha is lost. For example:

    Today Shabbat is about not using electricity, in spite of its questionable forbidden status (it is likely to be at best rabbinically forbidden).

    Many people do many things that are forbidden on Shabbat from the Torah without thinking but would never use electricity.

    Here we have a clear situation where the essence of a law has been completely changed to something that was never intended.

    (For the record I am not advocating permitting electricity on Shabbat, merely noting that it is not as forbidden as as numerous other acts that are regularly performed by the very frum on Shabbat).

  • letters in the age says:

    Dennis

    What relevance does that article have to this thread and topic??

    ;)

    [Eds: Hi Letters, We think Dennis’ comment was spam that wasn’t picked up by the spam detector. We’ve removed it.]

  • 123 says:

    I don’t comment on medical blogs because I have no expertise in medicine. Ditto for law, architecture, etc.

    What is astonishing is how many people think they are experts in halacha and make pronouncements that are simply wrong.

    So another “perceived inaccuracy” is Yaron’s comment about supervised milk.

    The rabbis of the Mishanic / Period decreed that Jews must supervise the milking process for the milk to be “kosher”. Rav Moshe Feinstein, said in the middle of the lanst century, that government supervision (in America, incidently) of milking obviated that need. What was remarkable about that ruling was that there is virtually no precedent for declaring a rabbinic decree obviated when the situation changes. We simply don’t do that in any other case.

    That is one of the reasons why so many other leading authorities did not accept Rav Moshe’s view. It’s possibly the reason that Rav Moshe himself wrote that a “bal nefesh” (I won’t translate that because I’m not sure how to) should not rely on this leniency, and possibly the reason that Rav Moshe did not rely on it himself, nor did his yeshiva (for which he had to raise money, some of which was needed to pay for the extra cost of supervised milk!).

    Other authorities say that we don’t know the reason for the original rabbinic decree and therefore we have no basis on which to overrule it. Still others say that the prohibition of unsupervised milk is for kabbalistic reasons.

    Rav Moshe’s view is certainly worth relying on. One who drinks unsupervised milk is certainly doing nothing wrong. But please don’t be so dismissive of the practice of preferring supervised milk and those who choose to do so.

    I write this at length in order to illustrate one of the major problems with this site – ignorant people (even those who have the title “rabbi” when they’re not embarrassed to use it) making statements about religious (or other) matters which are simply wrong.

    (I could make similar comments about the validity of Yaron’s other points, and about Alex’s original points, but I don’t think that’s going to be helpful).

    As I said earlier, arguments are worth discussing when they are based on facts. When they are based on falsehoods they are at best a waste of all our time, and at worst, destructive. And to say something like this is nitpicking, that I should just listen to the argument when the facts on which it is based are wrong, is just foolish.

  • Yaron,

    So any Jewish group that has customs that are additional to what you define as halachic is “ultra-Orthodox”? (core vs non-core??) That’s a very broad definition – many Jewish groups have taken on chumras or extended halacha in certain ways. My own definition of ultra-Orthodoxy is an uncompromising observance of halacha as well as a rejection of modernity and isolationism.

    Re chalav yisrael, you are incorrect. The reliance on government regulation to prove that milk only comes from kosher animals is a kula that has become broadly accepted. It is not a chumra to only drink milk that has been supervised by someone Jewish.

    Rabbi Channen had some very good insights into the nature of chumras at a JBD lecture we hosted http://www.jbd.org.au/events/chumras-beyond-the-letter-of-the-law-with-rabbi-daniel-channen and spoke about chalav yisrael specifically and other issues. For someone very well-versed in halacha (he runs a global halacha institution), his attitudes were very pragmatic and refreshing.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Rachel

    Do you think Daniel Levy’s comments about me being a misogynist and also suggesting that I am akin to a racist in my thought/personal code of conduct are acceptable for your site?

    If I was not anonymous that would be clearly defamatory – it also contradicts your own editorial policy on comments.

    The fact that neither editor has addressed the issue publicly shows who moves goal posts when its convenient here.

  • Levi says:

    Alex Fein – the same person (ironically) who has tried to promote vigorous debate in the community(a debate perhaps on her terms only) – is absolutely correct. It’s certainly time to disengage. She is write to point out that any time spent here is unproductive and a complete waste.

    This blog is as beneficial to the Jewish community as a British tabloid is to its respective community – thriving on all kinds of controversy & division that is dressed up as constructive & informative. The people who run this blog get a real kick out of that and the “sub-groups” who respond (usually pointing out any factual inaccuracies (or should I say complete lack of facts).

  • TheSadducee says:

    Incidentally, in terms of concerns about bias – I’ll list the following and let readers decide for themselves what they think:

    i. Orthodox Rabbis Confuse themselves with Evangelical Christians
    ii. Melbourne Beit Din – Please G-d you will Never Need Them
    iii. Melbourne Beit Din – This Problem is Fixable
    iv. Shavuot Scorecard – where are the Women?
    v. Accepting the Unnacceptable
    vi. Are we biased against your sub-group?
    vii. The Creeping Normalcy of Religious Fanaticism
    viii. The comments to anything David Werdiger writes here (incidentally usually in response to something written here btw)
    ix. The comments relating to anything to do with Chabad here

    Now I appreciate diversity of views and vigorous disagreement which is productive and I think there is a place for all of these articles.

    My problem however is mainly that I feel bias exists here in that it manifests itself by permitting articles and/or contributing comments which are usually sub-standard and/or hostile in relation to religious matters.

    I’m not overtly religious, nor do I think that I have to be to make any comment on religion (I don’t buy the argument that “I’m observant so my opinion is credible” used so often here and to so little value).

    I do think people need to back up their points of view with either evidence or reasoned argument though which is often lacking and does both the author and site a discredit.

    I’ll also note that not a single commentator addressed my one significant post musing on the causes of the extremism – rather I was personally attacked and criticised by a variety of folks for issues nothing to do with the article – very telling.

  • The Sadducee,
    My rule of thumb when assessing whether a comment should be removed because it constitutes a personal insult is whether it critiques the content of a comment or rather is simply a comment on the person writing the comment. This is expressed quite clearly in the editorial policy page as is our tendency toward a ‘hands off’ policy. In this case, Daniel Levy is responding the content of your previous comment on this thread, which he and others found sexist. If you would like to discuss this further you can email the editors (editorial AT galusaustralis.com). In general, as we have said in this section many times, we do not read every comment as a matter of course and certainly don’t assess all comments for moderation. If you would like us to assess a particular comment for moderation, please contact us by email. This ensures that the comment is brought to our attention and also prevents the discussion from being side-tracked by discussions on moderation.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Rachel

    His comment came AFTER I explained my position more clearly – is it sexist to treat a woman with the same respect as you would our Matriarchs of the faith?

    Wow – talk about Accepting the Unnacceptable eh?

  • Yaron says:

    123 and David,

    Without getting into a lengthy technical discussion, there is precedent for common sense changing halacha (as was the case with Rav Moshe). It is about understanding what the outcome should be and how to achieve it.

    Was Chalav Yisrael required in the Talmud? Yes, since there was no other process to achieve the goal, hence when reality changed Rav Moshe permitted the milk le’chatchilla (read the response carefully and you will see that it is not a kula, but the basic law).

    The process is now happening with CCTV cameras and kashrut (even though it is not universal).

    When you descend into the ‘just because’ and ‘because they were smarter than us and we do not understand their reasoning’ you erode a part of the religion.

    David,
    If you choose to define yourself out of the Chareidi world that is fine, but under the definitions that both Harry and myself have given, Chabad would be defined as Chareidi, and there are many that would agree with us.

  • letters in the age says:

    Ok

    cool Galus

    ;)

  • 123 says:

    Yaron,

    Things get difficult when you don’t quote what I said, but what you thought I said, or perhaps assumed I said.

    We agree that, based on the Rav Moshe p’sak, drinking unsupervised milk is permitted as “the basic law”. My point was that many other authorities have good grounds for disagreeing, and that Rav Moshe himself recommended for a “bal nefesh” to be machmir, as he himself was.

    Therefore for you to say “The outcome is to have milk without pig milk mixed in . . . It’s basically elevating a practice and calling it holy when it’s not. That can’t be right.”

    is simply incorrect.

    The question of what’s “normative halacha”, what’s a kula, what’s a humra, what’s nonsense, requires a lot more complexity than just a summary of one teshuva.

    And I did not say “they were smarter than us and we don’t understand their reasoning”. I said that it is exceptionally rare for a rabbinic gezira to be overruled, even when circumstances change. _That’s_ part of the religion.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSad,

    “Rachel

    His comment came AFTER I explained my position more clearly”

    Your ‘explanation’ (it was more of a pathetic dithering dance around the issue, really, where you were trying to find as many sugarcoated words to call women inferior without appearing to call them inferior) was what I found so hilarious. And that is what I was responding to when I mocked you for being a relic of a bygone era.

    :)

  • Yaron,

    The halachic status of “chalav yisrael” and “chalav stam” is a complex one (just google it to see some of the debate and shiurim on the issue), and you’ve chosen to gloss over important details. It doesn’t necessarily qualify as an area where Orthodoxy has shifted significantly.

    You’ve ignored my critique of your criteria for “ultra-Orthodoxy”, and Harry in his definition also acknowledges the relative nature of labelling groups of Jews.

  • Yaron says:

    123,
    1. For the sake of brevity I answered you and David in one response. Some of it was not relevant to your arguments, and I apologise for any implication that I made about your statements.

    2. You are correct that the arguments are too complex for a statement on a blog. For that reason I gave only 1 example. I could give further examples but this is not the correct forum for it.

    David,
    1. Any concept can be made to be complex by bringing pages of sources, but Rav Moshe’s reasoning is not complex, it is others who have complicated it.

    2. I have not ignored your critique, I disagree with it. There have been three definitions of charedi in this thread. Two of them would make Chabad a charedi movement while yours does not.

    The question is why are you so afraid of Chabad being classified charedi?

  • Melbournian says:

    Ah, the old days, before those machmir fanatics took over!

    I remember when we could enjoy a smoke at the restaurant, and then drink before we drove home. I remember when we didn’t have to worry about pollution from our cars or re-cycling our plastic. When children played in the street until after dark, playing with whatever bits of old rust they could find.

    And now those police, politicians, lawyers and especially those health and safety extreme fanatics have taken over!

    Some try to claim that we are better off with these new strictures, but we know better!

  • Just a friendly reminder that, as per our guidelines, although you may use a pseudonym when commenting, please do not use more than one pseudonym to comment on a single article as it is misleading and creates a false impression of consensus.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Galus Australis

    Considering that you only hold to your own guidelines when it suits you I don’t think you really have too much credibility to be insisting others comply with them.

    Irony indeed!

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSad,

    When you return here behind a proxy IP after your ‘exit’ from a few comments back, can I suggest ‘TheSourgrapes’ as your next pseudonym?

  • Yaron,

    “afraid”?? That’s an example of the sort of baseless taunt that has become too common here on GA.

    I’ve already said that labels for groups of Jews are not good in general, and are relative to the observer.

    My definition of ultra-Orthodox features isolationism as a key element, and ultra-Orthodox communities are receiving a deserved bad rap everywhere because of their antiquated attitudes toward cases of abuse, and their reluctance to report and air dirty laundry. Present-day Chabad is far more integrated with broader society, and in most communities have contemporary approaches to dealing with abuse. So I don’t think it’s correct to tar Chabad with that same brush.

    Would you like people to make incorrect labels or associations about your own Jewish subgroup?

  • Yossi says:

    David – well said, and it’s a great pity that the Melbourne community could not be included in what you refer to as a contemporary approach to abuse.

  • Yaron says:

    David,

    You can choose to define my religious observance however you choose, I am comfortable with who I am regardless of how others choose to define me.

    I am not taunting you or attacking you. I am merely giving a definition of charedi. You are the one fighting my definition, to ensure that you are not included as a charedi under anyone’s definition.

    The question must therefore be asked why do you care so much?

    It would seem that your answer to the above question is because you do not want to be associated with a group that has “antiquated attitudes toward cases of abuse, and their reluctance to report and air dirty laundry”, and Chabad would never have these attitudes.

  • I have a strong affiliation to Chabad, so I care about how it is perceived and misperceived by people who don’t share the same affiliation or don’t have the benefit of inside knowledge when forming views about Chabad. So I seek both to correct public perceptions AND be critical where necessary.

    The same behaviour is displayed by people with a close affiliation to most any social group – Jews, Zionists, Greens, footy supporters.

    If someone didn’t have a particularly strong affiliation, then they are less likely to care as to how others define them or their group.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I can second David’s point there – I had a bad experience with Chabad and adopted a malformed and ignorant view which I expressed publicly here – and offended many people because I attacked something important to them i.e. a part of their identity.

    Fortunately (and unusually for this site), instead of being ridiculed and attacked, I was engaged by several people involved with Chabad who presented an alternative and informative perspective on the group – thereby correcting my ignorance.

    Although not sympathetic to them generally speaking, I retain an appreciation for the point that many of the critics really don’t have an informed and/or knowledgeable position of Chabad and thereby make statements that are often deliberately or inadvertantly offensive.

  • David,

    Actually you and others on this thread *have* written things about other denominations that could certainly be offensive to some, and clearly contradict the way that others would self-define. E.g., when you wrote about going ‘higher’ up in Orthodoxy, that is not how people who you are defining as lower would define themselves. When Levi says he’s never seen Alex at Adass, Yeshiva or Misrachi and therefore Alex can’t have insight into ‘the’ Orthodox community, I don’t think that members of all of the other Orthodox synagogues in Melbourne would call themselves outsiders.

  • Rachel,

    Are you offended by the semantic subtleties in my ATP tennis ranking analogy? Or are you just suggesting that some people might be? If anyone is offended by it, then I suggest they speak up – I’m happy to have a genuine discussion with anyone about the limitations or implied prejudices in the analogy and to either clarify/refine it, or decide it’s a load of nonsense.

    It takes an insider to know the difference between an insider and an outsider. It’s probably best to let Alex himself say whether he considers himself speaking as an Orthodox insider or not. That would be an appropriate qualifier to place on an article like this one.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Rachel

    That is not what Levi said – he said it would be fair to suggest that he has a better insight into the orthodox world than Alex.

    He also said he hadn’t seen him at a synagogue but it was in a different statement and context and wasn’t used to support what you are asserting.

    Talk about shifting the goalposts…

  • Yaron says:

    David,

    1. Most people outside of Chabad do not see them as behaving properly with regard to abuse. This includes the magistrate.

    2. You are defining charedi in order to leave your sub-group out of the definition. This is not intellectually honest.

    Let us look at the definitions of charedi that have been provided here:

    a) A set of extra-halachic rules that are placed on a pedestal.
    b) A tendency to disengage from the secular world (I presume Harry meant pubs and concerts along with the movies).
    c) Not adopting conventional dress styles.
    d) Not attending places of secular entertainment.
    e) Seeing the Torah as the sole source for wisdom (while acknowledging certain secular professions as a means for livelihood only).
    f) An uncompromising observance of halacha as well as isolationism and a rejection of modernity.
    g) An antiquated attitude toward cases of abuse, and the reluctance to report.

    Definitions a,c,e,g would include Chabad
    Definitions b,d would include many of the core of Chabad include the majority of their leadership
    Definition f (your definition) would exclude Chabad.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Yaron

    Definition b would mean that all Orthodox people could be classified as haredim.

  • Alex Fein says:

    I’m gob-smacked by the lack of self awareness among some of the commenters. I’m also shocked by their glass jaws.

    They have no compunction in mounting personal attacks or impugning others’ religious observance; however, they can not tolerate any discussion about the people and institutions they revere.

    They denigrate this site (and its editors), yet seem utterly obsessed by it.

    They can not distinguish between discussion of institutions (and those who hold positions of power in them) and denigration of the religion.

    They can not conceive of their own personal experience not being the experience of everybody. This is the element that strikes me as most bizarre.

    To paraphrase:

    “I did not see you at a particular shul, therefore you can not be religious.”

    “I had a positive personal experience with Chabad, therefore any criticism of Chabad is unacceptable.”

    “I do not feel Chabad covers up abuse, therefore it doesn’t.”

    That a subset of people can not even tolerate discussion of institutional imperfections without throwing almighty tantrums is not just unedifying: it’s embarrassing.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Alex

    Your comments have become embarassing as well because they are unedifying to your own abilities as they are simply wrong.

    Your paraphrases for instance:

    i. Levi did not say or suggest what you are asserting that he did re the synagogue attendance. Go back and read it again.

    ii. Noone suggested that any criticism of Chabad is unnacceptable because of a positive experience with them. Rather I suggested that uninformed criticism could be hurtful to people because their involvement is part of their identity.

    As someone else pointed out here – it is exceptionally bizarre and tedious that someone who made their name talking about the lack of inclusion and openness in the community would continually question the involvement of dissenting opinions in a community forum.

    Also – obsession is a daft word. Considering that it is touted that this is the only Jewish forum in Australia that covers a plurality of opinions where would you suggest that dissenting opinions go? Its hardly obsessive to be involved in the only forum available to you…

  • Alex Fein says:

    TheSadducee,
    You are being disingenuous.

    Nowhere have I suggested that people not engage in debate. It is the tantrums and inpugning of religious sincerity that I’ve objected to.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Alex

    Nowhere have I suggested that you did this. Perhaps the fact that you characterised my comment in that way betrays a guilty conscience?

    And in terms of impugning people’s sincerity – didn’t you repeatedly ask Mr Burd when he served in the IDF as a demonstration of his sincerity?

    Glass jaws – lol – perhaps you shouldn’t throw stones around in your glass house.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSourgrapes,

    “Considering that it is touted that this is the only Jewish forum in Australia that covers a plurality of opinions where would you suggest that dissenting opinions go? Its hardly obsessive to be involved in the only forum available to you…”

    1) http://www.godaddy.com
    2) register a domain and buy some hosting
    3) set up a competitor, if you think you can do it so much better, then do it

    It’s really not hard. I did the same thing when there was an online education community I didn’t like (in fact, the community I so detested was the one that made the headlines of the AJN for its anti-semitism), and I now run one of the largest student education organisations in Australia.

    I’m sure that somebody like you, who so obviously thinks they are far more capable than the galus editors are, and certainly more so than I am, could do a MUCH better job :)

    Now off you go, do something meaningful about it!

  • Alex Kats says:

    For the sake of Levi, Sad, Rachel, David and everyone else, let me say that I have been going to orthodox shules ever since I started going to shule 20 years ago, and even the shule my family goes to twice a year is an orthodox one – they have been going to Elwood (where I had my Bar Mitzvah) since I was 5 years old. There are two or three shules that I go to regularly, though I have been many, many times to almost every orthodox shule in Melbourne including many times to Mizrachi and Yeshiva, but only once or twice to Adass. I have also been to many (at least 20) different Chabad institutions around the world during my travels, as well as many other orthodox and other Jewish institutions across Australia and around the world. Levi – I don’t know who you are, but if you haven’t seen me, doesn’t mean I don’t go there…
    I think I have some insight into orthodoxy which is why I wrote the article in the first place. Yet all of this is still irrelevant to the premise of my article. The thread has become much more personal, vitriolic and passionate even than the article that triggered it. It’s great to see such passion, but maybe it should be directed to the topic and then something can actually be achieved…

  • TheSadducee says:

    Alex

    Levi (and others) never directly doubted your insight into Orthodoxy (which is what Rachel, Alex etc keep claiming in spite of the actual comments) – all he did was say that he thought it fair to suggest that he may have a greater insight into it than you.

    And this wasn’t based on whether he saw you at a synagogue or not – it was on the fact that your opinion piece was pretty threadbare on evidence other than personal anecdotes to make your claim. Others raised issue with some of your claims which were dubious.

    All the rest has been nasty ego clashing which has wrecked what is actually an important topic that you’ve raised.

    As I noted above, I actually agree with you that there is a growing trend of extremism within orthodoxy (some of it, not all of it). Others have listed examples with a similar perception.

    I’m curious to determine what is causing it – as I noted earlier, is it a growing feeling of isolation and threat from modern society? Is it that extremists have hijacked the public and private identity narrative within orthodoxy? Is it something else?

    This is the sort of thing that could be explored here with some good input from people who would fall into the more stringent definitions of orthodoxy.

  • Levi says:

    “I did not see you at a particular shul, therefore you can not be religious.”

    I’m not sure if putting words into people’s mouths and/or purposely misquoting them could be termed a “discussion.”

    I quite simply stated that rather than rely on pure hearsay, factual inaccuracies and make statements without backing them up (see the article above), I could give an insight based on my own first hand experience to suggest the opposite – rather than become more “fanatical” the orthodox world is going the other way. When you spend every single day with a group of people or a community you have a greater insight about them than most other people.

    The fact that Alex chose to rely on hearsay and didn’t back up any of his statements should be a cause for concern for any objective & rational person.

    But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good argument…

    Alex Kats – for the record we’ve me, you certainly know me by face and we spoke on several occasions.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for trying to steer the topic back on track, and let’s all do our best to ignore the trolls.

    It would be interesting to look at the psychology behind the chumra/machmir culture, especially in the context of some of the more questionable or extreme chumrot .

    I guess this needs to be separated into examining the people/individuals that follow such chumrot, and the people/individuals who create or at least push the chumrot.

    As an example, let’s take one of the more baffling chumrot – the prohibition by some authorities that one should not eat quinoa on Pesach (despite that fact that it is not a grain nor a species of kitniyot)

    In the case of those that follow this chumra, a large part of it is people sincerely trying to do the right thing, and in the example I’ve given above, they may also be botanically unaware of what quinoa is, believing it to be some sort of grain.

    A small part may also be pride – the pride that, almost all of us feel in one context or another, that comes from feeling superior to another. In this case, superior in one’s piety, but for other people, this feeling could be gained from feeling superior in one’s wealth, athleticism, fashion sense, environmentalism, literacy, or anything that someone might value.

    However, a large part of the motivation is also the social pressure. I suspect that many people who keep this chumra are aware that quinoa is not a grain etc, but are concerned about the social (rather than the spiritual) consequences of eating quinoa or just having it their house over Pesach. What would their peers think? Would their friends still eat in their house etc? These concerns are understandable.

    More worrying is the motivation of those that push the chumrot. I suspect that it is partly connected with social control and partly a desire to further separate from the wider community. However, I suspect there’s even more to it, and I have to admit that I am missing a part of this picture. Perhaps someone could give an insight into this.

  • 123 says:

    Frosh,

    Do you not even consider the possibility that people refrain from quinoa because they wish to follow the advice of the galactic experts?

    You offer social pressure, pride and piety based on ignorance. How about offering for discussion in this pluralist, open, site the option that they are actually doing the right thing?

  • 123 says:

    Sorry Should have said “halachic” experts. Iphone thinks it knows better!

  • halachic -> galactic!! Best comment of the whole thread! http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com/

  • frosh says:

    Hi 123,

    I certainly believe that some people don’t eat quinoa on Pesach “because they wish to follow the advice of the galactic experts” and I wrote as much (assuming by galactic experts, you mean The Divine One, and not some other extra-terrestials – sorry, I’ve never come across that term before, but I do like it!)

    Alternatively, you might be arguing that the quinoa prohibition is a valid one, and thus that quinoa is a grain etc. I don’t want to take this off track anymore than it has been, into a discussion of botanical realities.

    So, if we can just agree to disagree about the botanical realities of quinoa, then surely you can find one chumra that you think is invalid. Just one, that’s all I’m asking. Then, following that, you can apply my same reasoning and examination to your own example of an invalid chumra.

    As for pluralism, you are most welcome to submit Galus an article on why quinoa should not be eaten on Pesach (in fact, this would be a most welcome submission in the leadup to next Pesach).

  • 123 says:

    Is there any point in submitting an article about quinoa when you’ve already decided that you know all about the prohibition? You know that it’s prohibited because it’s a grain and that that’s wrong.

    What is so frustrating about this thread and this site is how reluctant people are to admit that maybe they don’t know everything about Halacha, and maybe those who have studied for many years know more than them.

  • frosh says:

    Hi 123,

    I just saw your correction now, after I had written my previous comment. I assumed “galactic experts” was some kind of “Intelligent Design” term for The Almighty. Anyway, LOL!

    As far as “halachic experts” are concerned, such experts, unlike “galactic experts”, are not divine, and thus can and do make mistakes, like experts in all fields.

    For example, circa 1970, most climate experts were saying we were headed for a period of global cooling, and now most climate experts say the opposite. Whatever your view on the matter, it is now clear at that one point (then or now), most experts were mistaken.

    In the quinoa example, it requires the halachic expert to have a little bit of botanical expertise also, and originally, this may have been lacking.

    As for submitting an article, is there any point? Yes, for the following reasons.
    1) I’m willing to have an open mind – I am yet to hear an acceptable explanation for the quinoa prohibition, but I don’t discount that one could exist.
    2) The audience is far greater than myself.

  • Alex Fein says:

    “Galactic experts:” that really was pretty fabulous, as far as auto-correct mistakes go. Far more apposite than my phone, which refuses to let me type, “Booba” without first correcting it to, “man boobs.”

    Alex and Frosh: thanks for returning the thread to its original – extremely interesting – topic.

    The sociology, psychology, and any other -ology of Chumra will always run into the argument, “but what if people are merely following an authority? What if they’re doing it because it’s right?”

    My follow up question to that would be, what is the socio-historical environment in which *leadership* tends more stringent? What is the nature of the environment that sees people look to authorities for opinions on matters for which, previously, such people would not have sought opinion?

    There isn’t a linear progression from Har Sinai to now in which stringency has increased. Indeed, I believe we see stringency bottlenecks in response to historical events.

    I’m a big fan of biologist and polymath, Jared Diamond. He urges us to distinguish between proximate and ultimate causes. I’ve heard it argued that one of the proximate drivers of stringency is the Modern Orthodox attitude to the profession of rabbi – it’s seen as less prestigious than other professions such as medicine or the law.

    So Modern Orthodox communities rely on importing rabbis from more stringent sub-groups, thus driving Modern Orthodoxy towards a more machmir path.

    The problem with this explanation is that it fails to explain *why* the role of Rabbi has become devalued among Modern Orthodox and why there is commensurate movement to the right among the more fervent sects.

  • Alex Kats says:

    Finally the discussion has come back to being about issues..
    I have no idea about quinoa, but what I do know is that some of the so-called Halachic (or galactic) experts with sizeable followings have ruled that it is not acceptable on Pesach, as an example, often without knowing the botanical or other realities, and without any obvious justifiable reason. Maybe they are scared, maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t want to know. But because of their perceived gravitas in their community, their ruling becomes widely known and supported by their colleagues who in reality are equally clueless on the issue or don’t wish to investigate because they trust their colleague, and thus because of something like that, orthodoxy as a whole moves towards fanaticism. Obviously quinoa has nothing really to do with it. I think this is the same scenario that is true of most Jewish practices these days. Moreover, people who support the ruling/chumra – whatever it is – cloak it as something mainstream and often don’t realise or choose to gloss over the fact that it is indeed a chumra or something extremely machmir rather than mainstream halacha. That is the issue and my problem with it that I tried to argue in the article in the first place…

  • 123 says:

    Alex (K),

    This is not a question about what shul you go to. But I would like to ask whether you’ve read any rabbinic teshuva on quinoa, or other subjects?

    I think it would be helpful if you substantiated your very strong statement that the ruling is derived “without knowing the botanical or other realities, and without any obvious justifiable reason” and the suggestion that “Maybe they are scared, maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t want to know”.

    You also refer to authorities who give rulings but “who in reality are equally clueless on the issue or don’t wish to investigate because they trust their colleague”. Shouldn’t such an accusation be backed up by facts.

    Or is this also an “embellishment” (i.e. fiction)?

    Yet again I ask for this discussion, if it’s worth anything, to be based around correct and substantiated facts.

    I don’t know what the basis for the ruling on quinoa is (unlike Frosh, who knows for sure, and Alex K who knows that it’s baseless) because I haven’t studied the rulings (which are published and available). Hopefully I’ll find the time to study them in the future, amongst all the other stuff I hope to get round to. In the meantime, I’m happy to follow them because I have good reason to trust the expertise of the authorities.

    “Irrational blind faith”, I hear you cry. Well, maybe. I have faith in my doctor, when he tells me to take a pill and I don’t have a clue how it works. I have faith in my lawyer when he says that something is legal or illegal. I have faith in architects, accountants, and a whole slew of people who know far more about things than me. And I don’t ask “what social or psychological tendency has encouraged the doctor to prescribe this pill or that pill?” – I just take it!

    I know about my own profession and can decide matters for myself in that field. I know a little about Torah and halacha, and can therefore decide some things for myself. But for the vast range of subjects where I am ignorant, I rely on the tried and tested expertise of others.

    (Please note – of course rabbis can get it wrong. Just as doctors and all the others can get it wrong. Just as doctors say things which are different to what they said in the past. But we take the pills because we work on the basis that they’re usually right).

    So why is it just rabbis whom we can’t possibly trust? Could it be just because we don’t want to, and then we make excuses? Is that possibly what this is all about?

    Shabbat Shalom

  • Mel says:

    I wonder if the whole phenomenon of chumraot is just ‘putting a fence around the Torah’ – maybe, rather than educating themselves to a greater degree in regards to halacha, it is easier, and less frightening, to blindly practise chumraot to avoid even the possibility of violating halacha. I am definitely NOT saying that all people who keep chumraot keep them because of this, but maybe some do.

    Some people may do it because it makes them feel better (a new interpretation of ‘holier than thou’ as something to aspire to).

    Some people have other reasons, I’m sure.

    There is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with keeping chumraot if it adds meaning to one’s own religious practise. However, I also think that if one does so, one needs to make sure one has the ability to empathise with others and recognise the effects it can have on the community around. For example, those who take on chumraot in regards to kashrut do affect others, if they will not eat at a house which keeps kosher, but does not keep chumraot. It might be good if this is explained to the family whose house will not be eaten at (‘thank you for the invite but our family have some additional chumraot which make it difficult to cater for us. If we can’t find a way to make it work, maybe we could go to *** instead?’) then bad feelings and assumptions about disapproval/judgement may be avoided. If one community chooses not to eat meat during the nine days even if one is having a siyyum, perhaps it would be nice for those who choose to do this to emphasise that they are doing it to gain meaning in their spiritual lives and that those who do eat meat at a siyyum are just as legitimately ‘orthodox’ as they.

    Yes, it seems like a clunky thing to do, and it will mean some people will spend a lot of time in their life communicating with others, often about seemingly small practises, but maybe this would help maintain intellectual honesty about what is chumra, what is halacha, and what are motives, and would also help engender mutual respect between chumra-keepers and those who find enough personal meaning in the halacha as it stands.

    Just my two cents, and please don’t yell at me if you disagree, it’s only my opinion and i would love to hear yours as well.

    Ps – i eat quinoa at pesach. There, i’ve said it. :-)

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m intrigued by the consideration of pride – couldn’t one argue that the pride is not necessarily a negative thing – after all, our belief system is actually superior to that of non-Jews?

    We have chosen the one true G-d and consequently our covenant and observances (and stringency) are a source of genuine pride?

    Totally unfashionable to suggest these sort of things, but I think its a valid point nonetheless.

  • frosh says:

    123,

    Actually, if a medical doctor suggests for me a course of action, I do my best to understand why they have prescribed as such. And if I’m not convinced, and the matter is serious enough, I’d seek a second opinion. This is fairly normal behaviour, but I’m not saying blindly following the doctor is abnormal. I’d say both strategies are far from uncommon.

    Furthermore, it’s not a perfect analogy. One expects their medical doctor to adjust their decisions based on evolving scientifically derived knowledge. Few people would have that expectation of their rabbi.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    123, you conflate faith with trust.

    You trust your doctor because he spent 5 years studying at a well-accredited university to get his degree.

    You trust your lawyer for much the same reasons.

    Just as you might distrust a dodgy lawyer with a diploma for a paper mill, there are reasons for trust and distrust.

    I admit I have no knowledge of halacha at all, nor would I ever want to have any, but your argument about ‘blind faith’ is ridiculous.

    Perhaps the reason people distrust these rabbis is because they have a proven track record of embellishment, or their accreditations are shoddy. Then you have no good reason to trust them, much less have ‘faith’ in them.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    er diploma mill*

  • 123 says:

    Frosh,

    Do you understand how every pill works? I’ll admit that I certainly don’t.

  • 123 says:

    Daniel,

    5 years of study! Given that you have no knowledge of halacha, let me explain that the rabbis we’re talking about are not your local shul rabbis, good people though they are. We’re talking about halachic authorities, who, I guess, have probably had 20-30 years of study minimum, and have been accepted as authorities because of their expertise, experience and integrity. Those are the people in whose rulings I have faith, as an intelligent and rational person, I make no apologies for that.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    123,

    You cannot claim to be a believer in god -and- a rational person. It’s one or the other, pick.

    Re: years of study, 5 years is actually a gross underestimation for doctors. It’s more like 10 when you take into account specialisation.

    Secondly, 20-30 years of study, you say? Sounds like quite the exclusive club. Sounds like there’s quite a political aspect to it, almost like a power structure where dissenting opinion might be stifled.

    Given how many different halachic authorities (esp. in the area of kashrut) there are (this I do know) with several conflicting opinions, perhaps you might concede that it isn’t an exact science (for lack of a MUCH better word), and that throwing your ‘faith’ behind any one halachic authority is misguided?

    :)

  • frosh says:

    No one understands who *every* pill works.

    But if I have concerns, I’ll tend to read up about its efficacy and side effects.

    And yes, I admit follow I plenty of halacha without knowing much about its origins.

    However, every now and then one comes across a ruling or practice where one feels it requires questioning. I’m not sure where or when in the Jewish tradition questioning interpretation became so frowned upon. In fact, I have always been led to believe that questioning is part of the very fabric of the Jewish tradition.

  • 123 says:

    Frosh,

    Of course questioning is part of the Jewish tradition. I was wrong to imply otherwise. (You see, rational coureous debate does work!)

    But what I was objecting to is assuming you know better than the experts. For instance, your statement (which is quite different from a question) that you knew the basis for the quinoa ruling, and that you knew it was wrong. Was this the result of your questioning and analysing the sources, or was it a supposition based on rumour and a limited understanding? (Genuine, if loaded, question).

  • Levi says:

    once we fail to acknowledge and address points brought up by the trolls -such as the lack of facts and sources etc- we can now safley go back to the ‘topic’ and discuss qinuoa.

    since we are back on ‘topic’, is not having a piano accompaniment on shabbos another one of those chumras cloaked as mainstream? Religious exrmemism and fundamentalism is on the rise and I can back it up with real ‘facts’.

  • Gedalia says:

    Having taken the time to read all of this, and given that we are in the nine days, I thought this would be worthwhile reading for all involved in this conversation

    http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/breslev/customs_and_thought/hashems_cop.aspx?id=21201&language=english

  • ariel says:

    Four years ago I was in Israel during the Three Weeks.

    In his weekly motzaei Shabbat drasha, Rav Ovadia Yosef said that “humra is from the same root as hamor (donkey)…if you do to many humraot, you become a hamor!”

    Also, eating quinoa on Pesah is not a kula. Not eating it is an example of an irrational humra. Quinoa is a grass, not a grain (like rice, which is a humra that has a rational origin). Grass is not kitnyont by any stretch of the imagination. And it was not subject to the no-rice-humra since it wasn’t known of then, so how do we know how the rabbis would have ruled?

  • frosh says:

    123,

    Again, not to make this a discussion about quinoa, but rather just to use this as an illustrative example…

    As Ariel has says, Quinoa was not historically prohibited. It is a rather new thing where quinoa became listed as a prohibited food for Pesach. Thus my eating quinoa is not even challenging the status quo. Eating quinoa is in keeping with the status quo! It is the new radical kashrut authorities that, every year, grow the list of prohibited foods. What was it this year that was added? Coriander?

    If they are going to change the status quo, the onus is on them to provide a reasonable explanation. Despite my efforts to seek out a reasonable explanation, I have unable to find one, hence I eat quinoa (and coriander!) on Pesach.

  • 123 says:

    Frosh,

    I don’t doubt your efforts to seek out a reasonable explanation, but in about 30 seconds on Google I found

    http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/498035/jewish/Is-Quinoa-Kosher-for-Passover.htm

    http://www.star-k.com/kashrus/kk-passover-kitniyos.htm

    (both say not kitniot, but other problems).

    I think these are reasonable explanations, so I think “they” have fulfilled their “onus”. I’m not sure how else “they” can fulfil it, since it’s not practical for “them” to visit every Jew to explain their change to the status quo. Publishing such explanations in the pre-Pesach booklets that the kashrut authorities put out each year, and putting these explanations on the internet is, I think, good enough.

    There are other sites that explain why qinoa is fine on Pesach. I’m not saying you mustn’t eat it. Maybe you can argue that it’s a “humra” (though it’s false thinking to always assume that anything stricter than the most lenient position is a humra), but what is not justified is to say “it’s clueless” or “it’s wrong” and anyone who follows this position is mistaken at best, or motivated by all sorts of bad things at worst, as you suggested.

  • Alex Katz, who I know fairly well, said that the “mainstream Orthodox community seems to be moving more and more to the extreme.”
    I want to expand a little upon this and include some considerations raised by various responders to his article.

    What is “the extreme” that Alex refers to? Perhaps some have the perspective that all those stricter than they, are fanatics whilst all those less strict than they, are heretics. Although it alliterates well and pithily captures a sentiment, we know it to not be true.

    So I offer the following for consideration. Gd created but one human, even though He created millions of butterflies etc. Since Gd wants the world to be populated, why did He not make millions of people? The Mishna Sanhedrin answers: to prevent people saying my ancestors were better than your ancestors, since we all derive from the same Adam and Eve; also to entitle and empower each individual to know and believe, “Gd would have created the entire universe just for me.” [And perhaps more importantly, for us who sometimes dismiss those who don’t see things our way, to remember that maybe those opinions are part of Gd’s Great Plan for the Universe]

    Yet our Sages are quick to point out that although we all emerge from the genetics of but one couple, no two people are the same. Our fingerprints are different, our voices are different, our faces are different and our minds are different. Who wants us to be different from one another? Gd does, that’s who. And it is Gd who wants us to think differently from one another. Gd wants us to investigate and analyse His Torah to make it OUR Torah.

    In view of this, we should be inclined to say that extremism is that policy that wishes to eradicate these Gd given variations and stamp the identical imprint upon the community. A poster spoke of externals like shirt colour, kippa colour, shape, size and fabric, being very important indicators of conformance and membership, and being no different to other uniforms.

    I think that this is true and positive, but it must be remembered that conformity can also stifle creativity and learning and Halacha. Demanding, overtly or covertly, allegiance to the party line can come at a terrible cost. One tends to suspect that it plays a significant role in the dissatisfaction of those who seek some way out of the party system, which theme occupied quite some discussion as an offshoot of Alex’s article.

    I wonder if Alex’s point was not properly addressed. Is it not extremism when a community seeks to promote its customs by reinforcing them [untruthfully] as Halacha. It’s a bit like scaring a little child when you want them to come in by telling them that “the Boogey man will get you”, effective perhaps in the short term but tragically destructive in the long term. And compelling conformance via overt or covert threats does not engage a positive engagement but a belligerent dismissive dullness.

    I suppose this extends to extremism being the abuse of rabbinic or community authority to criticise those things that interfere with their own agenda, even though what is being attacked is Halachically legitimate. Playing the man not the Halacha.

    So, in principle all communities should try to preserve their membership, charter and values but that must not be through the misrepresentation of Halacha. That is fanaticism; as is shouting down any Halachic voice that dissents with the community’s agenda.

    Rabbi Channan [mentioned by David Werdiger] who visited Melbourne has said many times, and also during his Melbourne lecture, “there are 4 reasons why people keep stringencies. A) they wish to be the same as everyone else; B) they wish to be different to everyone else; C) just to be sure; D) they love HaShem. And there are not too many who are doing so because they love HaShem.”

    To give an example of Chumrah Creep, in the US during the 70s the vast majority of Roshei Yeshivah and Litvishe Poskim were eating peanuts and peanut butter during Pesach. Today it is unheard of. One would not be able to maintain their community position if it were known they were eating peanuts during Pesach. What has changed?

  • Harry Joachim says:

    RR asks: “To give an example of Chumrah Creep, in the US during the 70s the vast majority of Roshei Yeshivah and Litvishe Poskim were eating peanuts and peanut butter during Pesach. Today it is unheard of. … What has changed?”

    The answer? Availability.

    Other products were simply not as readily available 40 years ago.

    It is also possible that these rabbonim followed Minhag Lita which allowed peanut consumption, but the growth of the Polish influence in America has caused these rabbis to adopt the more mainstream minhag. (Notably, the prevalent Lita minhag in South Africa until today accepts peanut consumption on Pesach.)

    In Australia, too, certain kitniyot oils were accepted (until the 1990s) owing to a lack of choice, even though the prevalent Ashkenazi minhag (Minhag Anglia – based on German/Polish minhag) was not to eat such oils (as confirmed to me by the head of the Kashrus Division of the London Beis Din in an email). As food production became more automated and importation became more cost effective, new alternatives were made available and the kosher consumer (and the kashrus agencies) could afford to be more stringent in line with the dormant minhag.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Aside from my post above about peanuts, I feel it also important to comment more generally on Rabbi Rabi’s rather sweeping allegation that adopting chumras will automatically lead to extremism, which, in turn, will purportedly “eradicate these Gd given variations and stamp the identical imprint upon the community”.

    So if I decide to wait 6 hours between meat and milk even though my family minhag is 3, I am an extremist who wants to negate diversity in the community?!

    If I decide not to hold by a particular eruv, I am, again an extremist who is eradicating G-d-given variations?

    If I decide to adopt the chumra of not eating certain ice creams that a Melbourne-based rabbi says are kosher (even though the mainstream kosher agencies say they cannot be eaten), I’m I then an extremist?!

    I cannot see how my actions – personal chumras – cause homogeneity in the community, either in Australia or elsewhere.

    Please explain Rabbi Rabi.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    “as is shouting down any Halachic voice that dissents with the community’s agenda”

    Agreed, but the question is whether that “halachic voice” is sufficiently knowledgeable in halacha (eg kashrus) to offer LEGITIMATE dissension on a particular issue.

  • Shalom to you Harry,

    Thank you for reading my comments and sharing your thoughts.

    We agree that fanaticism is “shouting down any Halachic voice that dissents” And I imagine we agree that the fanaticism is not in the disagreement but in the shouting, the intimidation, the attempt to rally support by emotionally charging the issue with peripheral matters and the attempt to impose the Chumrah on others. Shouting often takes the form of attacking the man, not the issues. The attack takes the form of questioning the legitimacy of that person who is offering the opinion. If the discussion is to proceed along lines that is balanced and not extremist, it must be dignified and focussed on the actual issues.

    Following a Chumra is fine when it is noble and honourably motivated, when it is motivated by ones love for Gd, but as Rabbi Chanan said, there are not many like that. Consider your examples, Eruv, waiting 6 hours after meat and not eating various ice creams; how many of us have dedicated some of our time to better understand the Halachic aspects of these considerations? Not many one imagines. So what is driving the adoption of these positions or Chumrot? That is the core of our discussion. I suspect that it is an unhealthy energy that may well disappoint Gd.

    Harry, on another point you made, I must draw your attention to what I wrote, “extremism is that policy that wishes to eradicate these Gd given variations and stamp the identical imprint upon the community” Clearly, I defend the option for individuals and even for communities to adopt and encourage Chumros. What is of concern is the desire, the purpose and the means employed to institutionalise these Chumros.

    Regarding Kitniyos during Pesach, and the Chumrah creep observed with peanuts; I find it difficult to accept your suggestion that “Availability” is what altered the Halachic landscape. The Roshei Yeshivah and Poskim ate peanuts during Pesach without compunction, not because there was a food shortage. Your second suggestion, “the growth of the Polish influence in America has caused these rabbis to adopt the [more mainstream] minhag” is probably closer to the truth. But that is my very point. Why did they abandon their Minhag? You will note that I put your words, “more mainstream” within parentheses. Even if those who preferred to not eat peanuts were in the majority, that does not make it “more Halachically mainstream”.

  • ariel says:

    Harry,

    You raise an interesting question regarding personal humraot.

    If one waits 6hrs between meat and milk when the family minhag is 3hrs, one may be violating the halacha of not separating from the community/family and of disturbing shalom bayit.

    The same with not holding by an eruv. Does it mean one’s wife/father/mother/sibling have to push strollers to shule while one gets out if it by being mahmir on the eruv?

    (This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons where after going to church on Sunday, a visiting musician was having trouble packing her car with her heavy equipment. When Marge told Homer to help with the loading, he replied: “I toileth not on the Sabbath, woman!”)

    If you were visiting a friend who was terminally ill and had a kosher kitchen, but you knew them not to be shomer shabbat or they were using some ingredients at home which did not meet your standards, would you accept a cuppa tea/coffee and piece of cake from them?

    I think it’s an interesting discussion to have and relates to a previous article on Galus (Six reasons why you might already be keeping kosher)

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Ariel –

    “If one waits 6hrs between meat and milk when the family minhag is 3hrs, one may be violating the halacha of not separating from the community/family and of disturbing shalom bayit.”

    Point taken.

    “The same with not holding by an eruv. Does it mean one’s wife/father/mother/sibling have to push strollers to shule while one gets out if it by being mahmir on the eruv?”

    I was not thinking of a scenario where my chumra impacts upon my wife or family. However, I concur that such a chumra would need to balance the family’s needs.

    “(This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons where after going to church on Sunday, a visiting musician was having trouble packing her car with her heavy equipment. When Marge told Homer to help with the loading, he replied: “I toileth not on the Sabbath, woman!”)”

    An excellent example. I will have to find the video of this episode.

  • Levi says:

    Meir Rabi, like you I’m also wondering why Alex’s point was not properly addressed. There is a a very big halachic debate here about qinuoa and halav Yisroel and chalav stam etc – topics which were not specifically mentioned by Alex. He did however specifically mention ‘stories from the Torah’ (apparently) of women reading Torah,’ and lamented the fact that orthodox rabbis were no longer converting people with ulterior motives or that synagogue shabbos services no longer have a piano. Issues like not hearing a piano on shabbos totally transcends issues and debates over keeping chumras like chalav Yisroel. That’s why any resuling discussion/debate around qinuoa or chalav Yisroel etc is dishonest – pure and simple.

    So if Alex’s definition of ‘chumras’ is centered around not hearing the organ at a shabbos service or not giving a woman an Aliyah to the Torah…what else is a ‘chumra’? Not driving on shabbos? Not smoking? Not being able to hug or kiss a female friend? The reform movement considers all of these things to be ‘chumras’? Are orthodox people fanatical because they don’t drive on shabbos or have an organ at their shabbos services? Perhaps, Meir Rabi or Alex for that matter can shed light on these issues. Let’s have an honest discussion about whats at stake here.

  • Levi, I ignored the particular Halachic discussions you mention because it is not critical to Alex’s theme. I did not think Alex’s definition of Chumrah is centred around giving women an Aliya to the Torah. Do you agree with the ideas I explained?

    Do you think that there is no Chumrah creep in the Charedi communities?

  • Levi says:

    You don’t think? You obviously haven’t read his article. I was quoting directly from it. Is not hearing a piano on shabbos or not giving an Aliyah to women a ‘chumrah creep’ in the charedi community? Are we willing to have an honest discussion about the points that he raised?

  • Levi,

    You did quote from Alex’s article, but you did not address my perspective and the question I asked. Alex’s examples are not at the heart of the discussion, let’s not get distracted. Another article can address what is Halacha and where Chumra begins.

    Our discussion now is:
    Do you agree with the ideas I explained regarding Chumrot and related potential problems?

    Do you agree that extremism is that policy that wishes to eradicate our Gd given variations, and stamp the identical imprint upon the community group?

    Is this happening at all, and to what extent, in our community?

    Do you think that there is no Chumrah creep in the Charedi communities?

  • Levi says:

    “Alex’s examples are not at the heart of the discussion, let’s not get distracted”

    Let’s not get distracted? Really? That’s interesting. I wonder who and what prompted this discussion on “creeping chumras”?

    earlier you stated – “I wonder if Alex’s point was not properly addressed.”

    Now you’re saying that his point was a distraction? What was his point by the way…?

    “Another article can address what is Halacha and where Chumra begins.”

    Interestingly you never sought to make that distinction here between what is a chumra and what is a Halacha, until I raised the issue by addressing Alex’s main points.

    ” Is it not extremism when a community seeks to promote its customs by reinforcing them
    [untruthfully] as Halacha. It’s a bit like scaring a little does not engage a positive engagement but
    So, in principle all communities should try to preserve their membership, charter and values
    but that must not be through the misrepresentation of Halacha.”

    I’ll ask again, what is extremism? What are creeping chumras? This discussion was prompted by Alex’s opinnion piece which raised a number of interesting points – conversions, not hearing a piano on shabbos and women not getting aliyahs. At first you lamented that Alex’s point was not addressed by readers, now you’re saying his point is a distraction. Something tells me that we’re not having an honest discussion here.

  • Levi, I posted that Alex Katz recently said, that the “mainstream Orthodox community seems to be moving more and more to the extreme.”
    I explained that I wanted to expand a little upon this and respond to some considerations raised by various responders to his article.
    I then asked, ‘What is “the extreme” that Alex refers to? and explained that Gd wants us to think differently from one another. Gd wants us to investigate and analyse His Torah to make it OUR Torah and accordingly “we should be inclined to say that extremism is that policy that wishes to eradicate these Gd given variations and stamp the identical imprint upon the community” and I see this as the main point of Alex’s article. That is the plain meaning of, “Alex’s examples are not at the heart of the discussion”

    You seem to ignore all this and dwell on Alex’s examples. To which I suggested that you are allowing yourself to be distracted. I think this answers your question, “What was his point by the way…?”

    Levi, I don’t follow your comment, “you never sought to make a distinction between what is a chumra and what is a Halacha, until I raised the issue” Why should I raise a point that I feel is not a crucial part of what it is that I am discussing?

    Levi, you again ask, “what is extremism? What are creeping chumras? This discussion was prompted by Alex’s opinnion piece …”
    Sure, Alex’s article prompted my contribution but I did not evaluate his examples. I moved on to what I deemed to be the core issue.

    I “lamented” that Alex’s point was not addressed by readers, and I am still saying that.

    I certainly did not say that HIS point is a distraction. I am saying that you Levi, seem to be distracted by Alex’s examples and unable to focus on the points that I made.

    I think the discussion is honest, its just that we are focussed on different parts of what Alex said. So I suggested, let’s separate them and invited you to submit an article addressing your Halachic arguments regarding Women getting Aliyos and musical instruments etc.

    For the time being let’s just discuss the thoughts that I developed.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    “For the time being let’s just discuss the thoughts that I developed.”

    Let’s all discuss what the good Rabbi Rabi has to say, regardless of what Alex wrote in his insightful article, or the other issues that were raised.

  • Levi says:

    “You seem to ignore all this and dwell on Alex’s examples…I certainly did not say that HIS point is a distraction. I am saying that you Levi, seem to be distracted by Alex’s examples and unable to focus on the points that I made…For the time being let’s just discuss the thoughts that I developed.”

    it’s nice to see that Alex’s article comes with a well developed and insightful meforash.

    “let’s separate them”

    thanks for making a distinciton. It’s really clarified a lot for me. You’re right to focus on his article and on the points that he raised is a complete distraction and going off topic…

    I give up.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Levi – The following shows how there appears to be confusion on the part of RR as to what constitutes normative and acceptable halocha (especially vis a vis kashrus)… Only once that issue is cleared up, one can discuss with him chumras…

    From the (NSW) Kashrut Authority…

    Kashrut Alert: Iku Restaurants – You may have heard that Iku stores are purportedly now certified as Kosher under the supervision of “It’s Kosher”. It is well known that “It’s Kosher” supervision is not recognised by any Australian Kashrut Agency or Rabbinate as reliable for kosher certification.

    The Kashrut Authority was in negotiations with Iku and we identified many significant problems that required rectification before certification could be given. We also determined that in our view it would be impossibleto certify all IKU shops and we would have concentrated our efforts on four shops. Iku were not prepared to implement the changes required by The Kashrut Authority.

    While The Kashrut Authority is already aware of many inadequacies in “It’s Kosher” kosher certification and requires no furtherproof, “It’s Kosher” has placed on their own facebook page a photo in relation to Iku which reinforces our belief of their failure to adequately deal with the issues.

    “It’s Kosher”, by certifying, in our opinion, in a completely unacceptable manner, actually does a disservice to the community. Companies such as Iku working hard toward kosher certification, are misled, and avoid achieving acceptable standards by being offered shortcuts to certification that must be rejected by those serious in their desire to keep kosher.

    The Kashrut Authority shares the above information with consumers with the intent of protecting them from consuming food that may be non-kosher.

  • Thank you Harry,

    KAS has not identified any issues they have concerns with but one – that they were in negotiations with IKU and failed to persuade IKU to pay what IKU apparently thought was exorbitant and perhaps even extortionist rates.

    As Lucy said, “You aint nothing till you’re envied”

    We have identified all the Halachic issues relevant to ensuring the IKU foods and services are Kosher. We have explained what arrangements have been made regarding Bishul Akum, Bedikas ToLaIm and Pas Yisrael. http://www.kosherveyosher.com/iku.html

    We are also pleased to answer all questions from all questioners, I can be contacted through our website, http://www.kosherveyosher.com/contact.html

    I append a response drafted for one such caller:

    IKU WholeFoods is delighted to have selected It’s Kosher, to provide it with Kosher certification. IKU is committed to providing healthful, macro-biotic foods, and making them attractive to the entire population. To this end IKU sought a reputable and helpful Kosher certifier. It’s Kosher provides amongst others, the Kosher certification for The Sanitarium Health Food Company, a mainly NSW based company, and also the Kosher certificate for Nestle Peters Ice Confection manufactured in Australia.

    We know there are a number of agencies providing Kosher certification in Australia, and around the world there are hundreds, if not thousands of Kosher certifiers. It is an extremely competitive arena and our choice is based upon sound research.

    We are disappointed to hear your concerns as we are to see the state and tone of rivalry between the supporters of various Kosher agencies. Rabbi Rabi has refreshingly provided us with a most courteous, professional and efficient service. We are honoured to work with Rabbi Rabi, who is a pioneer in this arena, forming a business alliance and a close personal friendship with Mohamed El-Mouelhy for Halal certification, a wonderful thing to witness in these days of conflict between those who are indeed cousins from biblical times. It would be nice to witness more of this and amongst those who are brothers.

    Have a Gutt Shabbos, may this Tisha BeAv fast be our last, may the bonds of brotherhood overwhelm the petty divisions and infantile taunts that prolong our exile and create the barrier that keeps us distant from HaShem

    Rabbi MGR

  • I post the following thought on this week’s Sedra and this tragic time of the year. Its relevance to this thread/discussion is obvious.

    Moses, counting his final days, conveys in this week’s Sedra, a review of The People’s shortcomings, which is locked into our religious memory.

    How could a people so close to Gd, eating His food and drinking His water, shaded and protected by His hand; fall short of what appears to us to be so easy and so proper?

    Moses chides us, “You knew I was your best teacher, so why did you reject me?” [Rashi 1:14]

    The answer is likely the most devastating criticism of all, “You did not want justice, you did not want to learn. You wanted to win. You wanted to be right, to be victorious.”

    The appetite for personal victory overwhelms our overt pledge to honour Gd and respect principles.

    A timeless message that is sadly so suited for this time of the year when we recall the destruction of our Temple that we did not and continue to not deserve.

    Have a Gutt Shabbos, may this Tisha BeAv fast be our last, may the bonds of brotherhood overwhelm the petty divisions and infantile taunts that prolong our exile and create the barrier that keeps us distant from HaShem

    Rabbi MGR

  • St Bulldog says:

    David W is correct staing that Chabad is not ultra-O. Except for a few fuddy-duddies (eg uncle Reb Arel) they have long abandonded any attempt to remain in than sub-group.

    Except for their beards and the kapote on Shabbos (which on Motzash is swapped for footy paraphernalia as they rush off to watch Carlton or St Kilda) they are another version of Mizrachi/BA types or what is known as MO-lite

    Despite this, ultra-O in Melb is pretty well represented by Adass, Beth Hatalmud, Ger, Heichal Hatorah and some in Merkaz Hatorah and maybe Katanga.

    All in all I would guess there are 300-400 UO families and over 2000 souls in Melbourne.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Eds: Comment Removed. Unsubstantiated (and almost certainly false) allegation by an anonymous commenter.
    Contact the editors (using your real name) with evidence for your allegations if you would like your comment restored.

  • Yaron says:

    Harry,

    1. Iku are VEGAN. Outside of bugs on the vegetables and bishul akum, where could there be serious halachic issues? And saying there are insurmountable issues does not mean there are any. I would love to know what is insurmountable in a vegan restaurant (as well as which facebook picture ‘proves’ that these issues have not been fixed)?

    2. Peters – There is gelatine and carmine used, and you can check for it on the ingredient list if you want to be machmir (which is what was said in the original R’Rabi email).

  • yael says:

    Harry.

    Rabbi Rabi does not to do anything (and has in fact done nothing) to disclose the incompetence of KAS; they do a great job all by themselves. And you Harry, also seem to do splendidly to help them along.

    Did KAS tell you (or are you KAS wearing a poorly fitting mask?) how long they kept IKU dangling? You said it was about a year.

    Did they tell you how much they wanted to charge for their service?

    And one might note, that alongside the bungling incompetence and endless problems which KAS cannot see a way around, it is not difficult for Rabbi Rabi to appear to be riding up in shining armour and delivering good news: good news for the producers and good news for the Kosher consumers.

    Did they tell you Harry, that they almost had IKU signed up until naughty Rabbi Rabi came along and robbed them of their hard earned catch?

    I wonder then why we see Rabbi Moshe Gutnick loudly proclaiming that, “Iku were not prepared to implement the changes required by The Kashrut Authority” And regarding the supposed problem with Shabbos (which Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has failed to explain why it is a problem, and which Rabbi Rabi has cogently explained why it is NOT a problem, http://www.kosherveyosher.com/iku-kas.html) “the KA was not able to resolve the problem at IKU.” And you Harry said, “In the end, Iku refused to make the changes” that KAS insisted are required to become Kosher Certified and that you called, “insurmountable”. And all this, “despite the many hours spent by the senior KA staff”


    Eds: some content removed. Please email the editors if you wish to discuss]

    Harry, did your reliable sources tell you that Rav Moshe Gutnick erred very badly? That he made a fool of himself by attacking Rabbi Rabi, saying, a photo shows, “a Kosher V’Yosher representative placing a sticker or seal on an electric wall socket purportedly resolving the issues of bishul akum. Of course simple logic (and the poskim) would point this out to be an apparently futile excersise (sic). What does sealing the wall socket help if the gentile chef can turn the switch off and on at the appliance? The only sealing that would help is sealing the switch of the utensil, not the wall socket.”

    Had Rabbi Moshe Gutnick taken the decent approach, the sensible approach, of asking Rabbi Rabi or troubling himself to read the information available on the KVY website, he would have seen the answer to his stupid assertion. Has Rabbi Gutnick apologised to his blog and fb readers? Has Rabbi Moshe Gutnick approached Rabbi Rabi asking for Mechilah?

    Perhaps you might want to contact Rabbi Moshe Gutnick [Eds: some content removed. Please email the editors if you wish to discuss]

    It would be a welcome change to the tone and posture that the Australian Kosher community has been exposed to and is appalled by, and yes Harry, you too could modify your tone and posture to make your points forcefully but with less venom, less personal frustration and less distortion.

    The beautiful letter from the LBD, in which it is plainly stated that it is provided as a public notice, should remain on the website until Yonassan, or any other officer of the LBD will send a letter, signed, properly dated, and stamped with the seal of the Office of the Chief Rabbi, making their request and explaining why they wish it to be removed.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Eds: Harry, if you have feedback regarding moderation of comments, the correct approach is to email the editors. You’ve been told this before.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    Yaron: what on earth does being vegan have to do with hashgacha? Even assuming that the problems of insects, treif ingredients (e.g., unsupervised grape juice), and bishul akum are dealt with, a vegan restaurant owner is no more to be intrinsically trusted than any other restaurant. I recall a scandal a couple of years ago when fish was found in some popular “vegan” restaurants’ products.

  • Yaron says:

    Joe,

    I was not saying there were nothing that could go wrong. I was responding to the claim that there were serious issues (I believe the word insurmountable was even used). I presented the issues that could exist (I did not include grape juice since I am informed that they do not use it).

    I did not suggest that we trust the owners, just that the issues presented would not be difficult to overcome with a little bit of intelligence and effort.

    It should not take a year of intensive negotiations to make a vegan restaurant kosher. So where does that leave KAS.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    “It should not take a year of intensive negotiations to make a vegan restaurant kosher. So where does that leave KAS.”

    And how many vegan restaurants have you worked with vis-a-vis kashrus?

  • Harry Joachim says:

    yael writes: “Harry, you too could modify your tone and posture to make your points forcefully but with less venom, less personal frustration and less distortion.”

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Your vindictive comments about the spiritual head of the KA are blatantly libellous. You are the one who obviously has no respect for rabbonim or for civilised discourse.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    “2. Peters – There is gelatine and carmine used, and you can check for it on the ingredient list if you want to be machmir (which is what was said in the original R’Rabi email).”

    It’s not a matter of being machmir. NO OTHER KASHRUS AGENCY IN THE WORLD accepts non-kosher gelatine or cochineal in the products it certifies. These products are blatantly treif.

  • Yaron says:

    Harry,
    I have not investigated carmine and cannot comment, however gelatine in most cases can be allowed as a kosher ingredient according to a number of opinions.

    The fact that many of the kosher authorities around the world do not use it does not take away from its status as permitted by some.

    And the Rabbanut in Israel uses gelatine and marks the packets clearly for the sake of the consumers.

    As for the vegan restaurant please point out where I am wrong and what other issues could exist.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Yaron,

    You are misinformed. As a resident of EY with a good knowledge of the kashrus scene here, I know for certain that the Rabbanut in Israel does not permit gelatine from non-kosher animals in its products. However, it will give an ISHUR to products made overseas by a recognised kashrus agency that contain such gelatine, such as those of Rabbi Rabi.

    Re vegan eateries: bishul akum, pat akum, checking for infestation, Shabbos, and the use of ostensibly vegetarian products from overseas and locally that do not have a hechsher (eg many of the soya products used are not under supervision).

  • yael says:

    harry,

    please provide documentation to back up your claim about the rabbanut procedures on gelatine. ‘I know for certain’ is insufficient.

  • Harry,

    Rabbi Moshe Gutnick made a serious error. He posted on the KAS fb, that a photo shows, “a Kosher V’Yosher representative placing a sticker or seal on an electric wall socket purportedly resolving the issues of bishul akum. Of course simple logic (and the poskim) would point this out to be an apparently futile excersise (sic). What does sealing the wall socket help if the gentile chef can turn the switch off and on at the appliance? The only sealing that would help is sealing the switch of the utensil, not the wall socket.”

    Had Rabbi Moshe Gutnick asked me or read the information available on our website http://www.kosherveyosher.com/iku-kas.html, he would have been better informed. Has Rabbi Gutnick apologised to his blog and fb readers? Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has approached me to ask for Mechilah.

    Yael wrote, “Perhaps you [Harry] might want to contact Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and remind him of the right thing to do; remind him of his own words, his emphatic denunciation, “When their incompetence is conveyed to them and they fail to admit their error and to the contrary continue to pretend everything is ok, then simple logic would dictate that they cannot be trusted. Not politics – simple logic and rules of Kashrut.””

    This last paragraph is a part of the posting of Yael, which was removed by the editors, I have taken the liberty of re-posting it after removing some rather strong language.

Leave a comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.