Monday, December 29, 2003

120 Years

Sixty years ago, my twin brother Allen and I were in our first year at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street on the Lower East Side. We were fourth graders, that is for what used to be called English. For Hebrew, we were in the first grade, in a class with students three or four years older than we were, a circumstance that arose entirely out of the sudden death of our father five years earlier. Our rebbi or religious teacher was Rabbi Nachman Mandel, who by 1943 had already taught first grade for about ten years, at RJJ and elsewhere.

Good first grade rebbis are hard to come by. Rabbi Mandel was good, as is his first cousin, Rabbi Baruch Pollack, who is in his fifty-third year teaching that grade. There must be something in the family genes.

The first grade experience was not easy for Allen and me or for Rabbi Mandel. We were rambunctious and more than a bit mischievous – or at least I was. If classmates from those early years are to be believed, I was more in trouble than in the classroom. Doubtlessly, there were ample grounds for the yeshiva to tell our mother to let another school have the privilege of educating us. In fact, for several years we switched to another yeshiva, coming back to RJJ during high school. But in 1943-44, we persevered, in large measure because of Rabbi Mandel’s patience and caring.

It’s doubtful that these days boys like us would get the chance that we got. Yeshivas were more tolerant back then and less nervous about accepting and retaining students who don’t easily fit in. They were inclusive, always trying to get more students and not because of the tuition income since many parents paid little or nothing. School officials and lay leaders understood that it was their responsibility to provide a religious education, as well as a good secular education, and this responsibility was not limited to the best and the brightest or easiest students.

The attitude nowadays in many of our schools is that students who deviate from the norm because they have learning or emotional problems or come from marginally religious homes should be someone else’s responsibility. Even when seats are available, it’s a trifling act to turn away, often on spurious grounds, some who seek admission and it takes little sweat to toss out a kid.

There are schools, especially in the New York area, with more applicants than there are seats. It remains, though, that there has been a sea change in attitude as yeshivas seek greater homogeneity in the student body and in the families that they serve. Problem students or those whose families deviate somewhat from religious or other norms are not welcome. Students who are behind educationally or difficult in other ways are in too many instances expelled. It’s easier to get rid of a student than to be patient and caring. Out of sight is out of mind.

In more than fifty years of intensive communal activity, much of it devoted to yeshivas and day schools, nothing pains me more than the awareness that certain of our schools are cold and hard toward parents and children. In most yeshivas, principals have the sole authority to decide who gets in and who does not and, more critically, who remains and who does not. I could never accept such a responsibility because the stakes are too high. But there are principals who acting without principles are determined that these decisions are theirs alone to make. That’s terribly wrong.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is the example of the Beth Jacob of Borough Park, an all-girls elementary school with 2,400 students that is led by Rabbi Oscar Ehrenreich, now in his fiftieth year as principal. He has molded a school with a strong educational program, Judaic and secular, that is purposefully inclusive. Attention is paid in a discreet way to children with special needs or with emotional problems or from broken homes or social and other difficulties. Rabbi Ehrenreich has created an environment in which students can grow emotionally and educationally.

There isn’t space to recite all of Beth Jacob’s special touches, ranging from the way students from needy homes participate in activities requiring payment without the children knowing that payment hasn’t been made to the pairing of successful students with at-risk kids to mentoring arrangements that involve volunteers. There are about 200 graduates each year and the school makes a tremendous effort to see that each girl is accepted by a good high school.

Sadly, this inclusive and tolerant approach is not in evidence at schools that even boast about their exclusivity and have no hesitation about expelling students. Is it any wonder that despite much rhetoric about the tragedy of at-risk children, the situation continues to worsen? Where do the principle-less principals think the students they throw out will end up?

And this brings me back to Rabbi Mandel. He never became a principal or administrator and always remained a first grade rebbi, for many years at a Los Angeles yeshiva. He has retired and Yeshiva Rav Isaacson-Toras Emes in Los Angeles will honor him on Sunday, January 18 for seventy – yes 70! – years of devoted service to Torah education.

If we add Rabbi Ehrenreich’s fifty years to Rabbi Mandel’s seventy, we have 120 years – the fullest lifespan – of caring and devotion, of service to G-D and His people. 120 years of spiritual and educational achievements that have made a difference in thousands of Jewish homes, in the lives of so many who are now themselves grandparents and parents of yeshiva and day school students.

Rabbi Mandel and Rabbi Ehrenreich have glorified religious Jewish education. There are other excellent people in the field whose achievements need to be noted. But I wonder about those in yeshiva and day school education who preach and practice exclusion, people who deliberately or inadvertently are cruel to parents and children. What will they have to say when they complete their 120 years?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Geneva Discord

Clear and present danger is a familiar term. As a legal doctrine, introduced by Justice Holmes immediately after World War I, it serves as a rough yardstick to determine whether our governments can restrict basic rights, notably freedom of expression. To curtail liberty, the threat to security or some other fundamental governmental responsibility must be overt.

In an opinion upholding the conviction of Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act, Judge Learned Hand of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York reformulated Holmes’ doctrine by adding the element of probability. Even if the danger was clear and present, if its realization was improbable, greater latitude would be given to individual liberty.

I will leave it to the constitutional law fraternity, of which I once was a member, to figure out how a concept that in its language and intent is clearly on the side of freedom of expression was employed by both Holmes and Hand in the immediate cases before them to curtail freedom. If we leave the legal arena and explore the political and psychological underpinnings of the concept, it’s evident that the governmental obligation to provide for the security of its citizens will nearly always tip the balance in the direction of allowing actions that are more restrictive of liberty than the pristine words “clear and present danger” would ordinarily permit.

In short, it’s usually better, indeed morally obligatory, to err on the side of caution, to use national security as a sincere – as contrasted to cynical – reason to take actions that limit basic rights. Caution, is in fact, an underlying theme of many social relationships, as when people drive or when banks require additional security. We act prudently or cautiously in much of what we do and while individuals may throw caution to the wind if others are not hurt thereby, governments must minimize risk. That is why we accept all kinds of post-9/11 inconveniences and indignities, at airports and elsewhere.

Which brings me to Israel. Whatever we may think about peace negotiations and the countless issues that swirl in the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dangers facing Israel are clear and present and they are not at all discounted by their improbability. The dangers faced from Palestinians and other Arabs are not imaginary or speculative and this is not because of suicide bombers and terrorism. The Israeli government’s obligation to be super-cautious arises from the depressing recognition that too many in the Arab world regard any agreement with Israel – any concessions made by the Jewish State – as interim steps that do not alter the goal of destroying Israel. This is a frightening reality that transcends by far the threats to security that are Israel’s daily fare.

Since its security is endangered and what qualifies as adequate security is a question that cannot be determined by a universally accepted calculus, Israel’s leaders are morally obligated to err on the side of caution and to make decisions that provide for an extra measure of security. They have no obligation to make Washington happy, although they cannot ignore or openly offend the White House, nor are they obligated to march to the tune composed by editorialists, foreign governments, the architects of the Geneva Accord and the retired heads of the Shin Bet.

That’s why the security fence being built is a necessity and not just a good idea and why Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement plan is preferable by far to Washington’s Roadmap. His speech last week at the Herzliya Conference was extraordinary, at once bold and eloquent, and I think a major document in the history of the State. The fact that the Times went bonkers over it and Palestinians denounced it adds to my feeling that he is on the right track. He is right that Israel should exit from Gaza because it is not in Israel’s interest to control the Palestinians and because remaining there makes Israeli military personnel and other Jews vulnerable without adding to the nation’s security. Hopefully, as well, as the Prime Minister said in this speech, “there soon will be a democratic Palestinian state with territorial contiguity.”

Even as Israel is given the strong benefit of the doubt on how to protect itself, there is room for debate and disagreement over particular policies. Whether and where to build the security fence is a case in point. As wrongheaded as the Geneva Accord is, the hysterical reaction to it in some quarters is overblown and self-defeating because it feeds the impression that Geneva’s opponents are intransigents who will not support any concessions. The advocates of the Accord have a right to their position and they certainly do not have a lesser right to express their views than those who advocate a much harder line.

Yossi Belin’s grandstanding is a turn-off, I suspect including to some who share his outlook. His eye is always on the media and on political forces outside of Israel. The Geneva Accord isn’t his first scheme and I suspect it won’t be his last as he wanders in the political wilderness.

Israel must be given great latitude in security matters. No country faces the dangers it faces and no formula can delineate what constitutes sufficient security. There is a corollary point, which is that as Israelis and Jews of different viewpoints express their opinions about what Israel should do, it’s a good idea for everyone to remember that they are skating on thin ice, that what they advocate is based on what they now know and feel and their views therefore may be subject to change.

I supported Oslo, as did many others, and I have had a change of mind about an incremental approach to negotiations with the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon and leading Likudniks are now more amenable to territorial concessions. Ideology adds nothing to Israel’s security and it may detract from it because to ideologues new information or new developments are usually inadequate reasons to reconsider their positions.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Scarves and Other Dangerous Objects

It looks like the nation of liberte´ and egalite´, but certainly not of fraternite´, is about to outlaw the headscarves worn by Muslim schoolgirls, they being regarded by officials as symbols of Islamic fundamentalism. French feminists have advocated the ban, claiming that girls are being coerced to cover their heads. As elsewhere, there are objections when girls come to school overdressed, but never when, as happens far more frequently, they come to school underdressed.

If headscarves go, so will skullcaps on Jewish boys, they too being alleged symbols of religious coercion in the eyes of the ever-vigilant defenders of church-state separation, a breed that for far too long has distorted intellectual discourse with its rabid hostility to religion. Danger lurks everywhere, even on the heads of little schoolgirls and little schoolboys.

Islamic fundamentalism is the most significant political development in the contemporary period and it is a clear and present danger to world peace. The Middle East is but one stage, for much of Asia is already convulsed by an ideology that is antithetical to democracy and tolerant of terrorism. Shock waves are being felt in the Former Soviet Union and to a lesser, but escalating, degree throughout much of Europe. It’s frightening to contemplate the course being taken by tens of millions of people whose moderates are extremists by any ordinary calculus. The history and ideology of Islam are blood-stained.

But the issue posed by headscarves is not terrorism or even coercion. It is the ability of those who claim to speak in the name of civil rights to be tolerant of those who are different. Scarves are inanimate; at the most, they are symptomatic of a problem and their removal will not remove the problem. If they do not impede the education of students, they ought not be proscribed.

As for coercion, all of fashion partakes to one extent or another of compulsion. Headscarves are no more the product of coercion than are the sartorial atrocities promoted by Rap culture and embraced by Black and other youth who have been conditioned to believe that clothing which makes them look ridiculous is proper attire. What about the elements of style aimed at young girls, even preteens, which makes them feel that they must dress in a sexually provocative way?

The gendarmes presumably have in mind direct coercion, such as threats and physical acts against girls who are not head-scarved. These incidents must not be ignored, but governmental action should be directed against those who coerce and not against those who voluntarily wear scarves.

A ban on headscarves will not counteract that which is hateful in the Islamic mindset. Admittedly, there may be no effective way to root out the seeds of hatred and the encouragement of violence. But the likely result of the proposed ban is the giving of aid and comfort to Islamic extremists by reinforcing the notion that Muslims are outsiders in a world that is hostile to them. Even assuming that the ban can be enforced – a dubious prospect – it will breed resentment and rather than curtailing fundamentalism, it will feed the trend.

Any society that claims to be tolerant should accept the right of Muslim students to wear head coverings. They aren’t political or ideological statements and essentially they are not religious garb. They are worn out of a sense of modesty which most of us do not accept. Is respect for this attitude incompatible with the ideal of freedom?

It apparently is for those who dislike any manifestation of religion. I believe that French officials are prepared to act because they find the idea of girls wearing headscarves repugnant and antithetical to their notion of modernity. The fact that some girls may be coerced, wrongful as it certainly is, serves as a convenient justification for limiting the civil rights of Muslims.

In general, there is an animus toward religion, including its most neutral forms, in Western societies. This is evident, as well, in the constitutional battle over the Pledge of Allegiance. The goal is the eradication in public places and life of any religious sentiment, even the most indirect and moderate. The doctrine of church-state separation is employed as a club to limit the freedom of religious persons. Headscarves become dangerous objects and, somehow, the word “God” is a violation of the Constitution.

Fanaticism is the enemy of reason and liberty. It is the enemy of reason because neither experience nor logic can dislodge what fanatics have come to believe. It is the enemy of liberty because fanatics are determined to impose their views. The fanaticism of those who detest every religious expression is today far less dangerous than Islamic fanaticism, but it is no less an enemy of reason and liberty.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Rough Justice

Why should we have thought that justice could emerge from the ashes and bones of millions of murdered Jews? Why should we have thought that the smell of burnt corpses would be stronger than the smell of money? Even those who are optimistic about the human prospect should have reflected on whether there could be meaningful restitution to survivors and family members of those who did not survive. Why did we not see that the morally corrosive force of money would transform efforts to seek justice into profit centers for the greedy and well placed, that evil would beget new evil, albeit on a much lesser scale?

A road map cannot sufficiently clarify what all of the restitution litigation, settlements and participating organizations are about. There is the Swiss bank settlement, German slave labor fund, litigation against insurance companies and much more purporting to seek justice against those who stole from Jews, those who abused Jews and those who were complicit in their murder. There have been celebrated victories, as lawyers, accountants, experts, consultants and organizations have feasted on the tragedy that befell our people. True, there are those who have acted honorably and have eschewed any personal benefit. But there are lawyers who have reaped in a day’s work as much and perhaps more than Simon Rozenkier, recently featured in the New York Times, has been paid from the slave labor fund in compensation for the torture and gruesome medical experiments that were inflicted on him in Birkenau which left sterile.

Mr. Rozenkier is suing to get more, an action vehemently opposed by most in the Jewish restitution establishment. Stuart Eizenstat, a good man who has stumbled badly in his determination to forge agreements, argues in a Forward article against Rozenkier’s claim, saying that the new suit violates the agreement with Germany. Why should a person who has not been properly compensated lose his right to redress this wrong?

As he obliquely acknowledges, Mr. Eizenstat got snookered by Germany when it reneged on an understanding that there would be a special fund for people like Simon Rozenkier. In fact, we have all been snookered. We and just about everyone else were conditioned to believe that the agreements would result in some justice to victims. We have been snookered because we and just about everyone else were led to believe that the settlements were for Jewish victims, while in fact we have been fighting the battle on behalf of those who are not Jewish. Much of the restitution funds are for such persons.

While litigation grinds on, we have a good idea of what Jewish victims will receive. It’s evident that the Swiss have successfully pulled off one of the great bank robberies in history and that European insurance companies have successfully cheated a great number of Jewish clients. With few exceptions, survivors have gotten a pittance, if that. Many have not applied, either because they are repelled by the notion that payments can serve as restitution for Nazi crimes and/or because they believe that at the end of the day their efforts would be for naught.

In a period when corporate and Wall Street abuses have led to greater transparency in financial transactions, we know little about how much has gone to enrich those who are involved in the restitution enterprise. We have a right to know how much has gone to individuals and to organizations. We do not need additional small-print ads purporting to inform survivors of their rights. We need information presented in clear language detailing how much has gone to each lawyer, each accountant, each consultant, each advisor, each expert, etc., and how much has gone to the restitution bureaucracy and different organizations.

If this information were available – and it’s not likely to come our way any time soon – we would be shocked and, despite our usual lethargy, probably angry. Without public disclosure, an already sordid story is certain to become more sordid. This is an issue that cries out for investigative journalism by the Jewish media. Our newspapers and other publications must ferret out this story.

Mr. Eizenstat’s book on restitution negotiations is called “Imperfect Justice,” a title that suggests that the agreements fell short of achieving justice. His Forward article refers several times to “rough justice,” the suggestion being that the settlements approximated a just resolution. There is a different and I think more apt way of looking at the term, which is that the justice accorded to the survivors and their families has been harsh and unfair, at times even cruel, as in situations like Simon Rozenkier’s. I asked a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald who attends the evening Talmud class that I go to whether he had applied for any of the restitution funds, in compensation for the murder of his parents and all eight of his siblings in Auschwitz. He said that he had, but that his application had been rejected.

Our approach to restitution has been a huge mistake. It has created the wrongful impression that Holocaust memory has a dollar sign attached to it. It has resulted in most people with legitimate claims receiving either nothing or very little and it has limited the ability of persons with legitimate claims to pursue their own cases. It would have been preferable to encourage individual claimants to go after the crooked Swiss banks, the crooked insurance companies, the evil German conglomerates.

We made a mistake and it ought not be compounded by any Jew or Jewish organization impeding those who now want to bring their own litigation.

If we could, we should jettison the entire restitution establishment. It is expensive and largely ineffective and some parts of it are even morally corrupt. Since it is very unlikely that the restitution establishment will disappear, at the least we need to distance ourselves from the lawyers, accountants, functionaries and organizations that are feasting off our still open wounds. They do not add to our memory of the Holocaust. They desecrate it.

Monday, December 01, 2003

No to Same-Sex Marriages

There are plenty of reasons why not to write about the Massachusetts ruling mandating same-sex marriages in that state. Why stand in the path of the Gay tidal wave which targets and smears opponents of such marriages as bigots and worse? This is the most powerful and relentless interest group that the country has seen in a long while and its recent track record is extraordinary. The Gay Rights movement enjoys the unconditional support of key cultural elites and other centers of influence. While surveys show that by a considerable margin Americans continue to oppose Gay marriage, we are enveloped in a public relations apparatus that is likely to convince many who now feel that marriage is between a man and a woman and to think otherwise is to pervert and destroy the institution of marriage that same-sex marriage is, in fact, a civil right.

So why write once more against a development that now seems inevitable, even though not long ago it was regarded as a good deal less than a long shot? Yesterday’s foolish thought has become today’s nightmare. I write because it is necessary to stand up against those who seek to intimidate and to silence opposition to Gay marriages. While we may not be able to prevent them from happening, we may be able to limit the damage to our society.

It is false to history and a distortion of the truth to charge that those who insist that marriage is between a woman and a man are prejudiced and hostile to civil rights. No democratic society has legally sanctioned same-sex unions, at least not until recently, and the billions of people in these societies and their governments who looked at marriage in terms of heterosexual unions were not bigoted. It is remarkable that in a torrent of judicial activism, four judges out of seven on Massachusetts’ highest court have discovered a new constitutional right that is based on nothing more than their personal attitudes. There is nothing in any legal literature to support their radical imposition of a misguided view of privacy and civil rights.

It is of note that the four judges did not rely on provisions of the U.S. constitution, including the 14th Amendment, and they did not order Massachusetts officials to immediately give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If Gay marriage is a fundamental human right, presumably the judges in the majority should have invoked the Bill of Rights and they should have directed that marriage licenses be issued to Gay couples. Why did they ask the state legislature to act?

In addition to the direct damage resulting from the decision, there is much collateral damage and the toll will continue to rise. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ anti-sodomy law – a decision that I support on privacy grounds – Justice Scalia charged that the majority had involved the High Court in America’s cultural wars. Sadly, this assessment now seems to be on target.

The United States is mired in contentious social conflict with the middle ground disappearing in front of us. Each side seeks to prevail on the issues and in the forum or political territory that is most favorable to its prospects. The heck with people on the other side and there is scarce concern about the erosion of what holds us together. Thus, the right wing is triumphant in Congress and at the White House, while the ultra-left prevails in courtrooms and in much of the media. As the fighting intensifies, moderate views are disappearing.

The Gay marriage decision has further polarized this country. Instead of settling for legal status for homosexual partnerships which would have been a compromise position, Gays have forced a confrontation with Americans who look at marriage in traditional terms and they have been able to do so because this segment of Americans is high status, wealthy and influential. If one looks at the New York Times and other media powerhouses, it appears that we are left with but one civil right that counts. Blacks and other minorities, as well as the poor, must settle for occasional lip service.

There is much to abhor in the policies of the Bush administration, including the traducing of civil liberties and the rights of accused persons by Ashcroft’s Justice Department, reckless economic actions, even greater recklessness regarding the environment and a cluster of policies that make the rich richer and the have-nots even more desperate. There will be a day of reckoning for the sins that are being committed by those who in the name of compassionate conservatism are mostly compassionate about conserving the privileges of the privileged.

And yet, the Gay marriage issue and the collateral juridical hostility to religion have presented me with a dilemma. As much as I am repelled by the hyper-reactionary acts of the Bush administration and the unctuous excesses of right-wing talk radio, I am probably more upset by the invalidation of the Pledge of Allegiance and now the Massachusetts ruling. If I have to choose between unqualified judges who distort Federalism and judges with credentials who reject a neutral and very limited role for religion in the public square, I would prefer the latter over the former.

I suspect that this dilemma is shared by others of a liberal inclination and that several Democratic presidential nominees are beset by internal conflict, even as they remain silent about Massachusetts’ validation of same-sex marriages. I believe that they have been cowed into silence because they have been convinced that to oppose the Gay rights movement on any issue is tantamount to political suicide. In my view, they are misjudging the American electorate, although not the left-leaning segment of the Democratic party that has once more gained control of the primary process.

This leaves Mr. Bush in a strong position. He has invested little political capital in opposition to Gay marriages, probably because it is not necessary to say much since the opponents of such marriages have no where else to go.

As the cultural wars intensify, the prospects for the Democratic Party become bleaker. Powerful conservative forces believe that they must engage in total political warfare in order to protect their values. Much can happen between now and Election Day 2004, especially regarding Iraq. By the present look of things, the Massachusetts high court has made things much easier for President Bush.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Religion-Baiting in Our Courts

Racial profiling is unacceptable because it stereotypes and demeans people for no reason other than that they share racial or ethnic characteristics. It seems that at least in New York courtrooms, it’s acceptable to profile Chasidic Jews and to assign to them by virtue of this identification alone certain negative attributes.

Thanks to the first-rate reporting of William Glaberson of the New York Times, we know that city attorneys in the Gidone Busch wrongful death case engaged in demagoguery and worse as they attempted to undermine the testimony of religious Jewish eyewitnesses who said under oath that the police had acted wrongfully when they mowed down Busch in a fusillade of bullets on a Borough Park street.

It’s a near certainty that without the inappropriate defense tactics, the jury would have ruled against the Busch family, for jurors are extremely hesitant to find against the police. They may have decided that they could not second-guess the police who at the time that they fired may have felt threatened, even if they should have acted with far less force.

City attorneys suggested in their questioning that those who testified in support of the lawsuit had, in effect, lied, not because they had anything to gain by lying but, as Chasidim, they would readily depart from the truth in order to help one of their own. Putting aside such pertinent considerations as 1) Busch was not Chasidic, 2) the witnesses did not know him or his family, 3) not all of them were Chasidim, 4) immediately after the shooting, eyewitnesses reported that the police fired without sufficient cause and 5) generally, Chasidim are respectful, even fearful, of police authority, we should be repelled by the profiling of religious Jews. The witnesses were labeled as unreliable not because there was any evidence impeaching what they said or because they had given a different version previously. They were untrustworthy on account of their being religious Jews.

This is odious stuff, although I am confident that as bigots always do, city attorneys celebrated their famous victory.

Sadly, what happened in Busch has antecedents. The trial of Shlomo Helbrams who was accused and I believe wrongfully convicted of kidnapping Shai Fima was permeated with Chasidic-baiting as the zealous prosecutor who was unrestrained by the trial judge inflamed the jury against religious Jews. Here is a remarkable tidbit from the summation by the prosecutor as he explained why he had not sought the testimony of Michael Apter, a Chasid who had knowledge of the alleged crime:

“And they want to know, the defense wants to know, why we didn’t call Michael Apter? Remember the term ‘mesirah’? Boy, if anybody was to practice mesirah, it would have been Michael Apter.”

As erroneously defined by the prosecutor, mesirah means, “It’s wrong for one Jew to say anything that would get another Jew into trouble.” We can ignore that bit of misinformation for the more breathtaking issue is the prosecutor telling a jury that he did not call a possible witness because the person is a religious Jew who would be sure to lie. In effect, the decision not to seek this testimony is employed as an argument against a person accused of a crime. This should have been a reversible error.

In a 1993 case called Malek v. Federal Insurance Company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a jury’s finding in favor of an insurance company and against the Chasidic plaintiff because the trial judge had allowed the company’s lawyer to impeach the plaintiff’s accountant on account of his religious beliefs and affiliations. During cross examination, the accountant was asked whether his firm’s lead accountant is “a member of the Hassidic community” and also “do you act as a CPA for other members of the Hassidic community?”

In reversing, the Court of Appeals wrote, “because it is apparent from these questions that defense counsel attempted to show that Schneck’s [the accountant] character for truthfulness was affected by his religious beliefs and that such questioning may have prejudiced the Maleks, the District Court erred in permitting the defendants to pursue this line of questioning… We are particularly troubled about this line of questioning, especially where the impeached witness’ religious affiliation is the same as that of the plaintiffs.”

Regrettably, this was a solitary decision against religious profiling and Chasidic-baiting. More often, what shouldn’t be tolerated is being tolerated, as in the celebrated Skwere prosecution where in addition to greatly distorting the amount of financial misappropriation, the prosecutors sought in court papers to demonize a community, suggesting that the poverty of its members and modest ways resulted in a criminal conspiracy.

The escalating juridical excesses against Chasidim may be viewed as the inevitable outcome of how litigation is conducted. In civil cases, each side is expected to do it can to prevail and the heck with fairness and truth. In criminal cases, prosecutors rarely regard themselves any longer as public servants whose primary obligation is to seek justice. They are out to get their prey and nearly every tactic can be used, including the already familiar device of piling on extraneous but severe additional charges in the hope, often realized, that cowed defendants will cop a plea lest they run the risk of long sentences. This isn’t justice. It’s an injustice and the practice is spreading cancer-like because too many prosecutors have learned that they can act without restraint.

Whatever excuses can be offered on behalf of our adversary system, it remains that there is an important difference in the scale of wrongdoing between harming a single litigant or defendant and impugning an entire religious or ethnic group. Religion-baiting has no place in our courts, no more than would racial-baiting. We need to confront those who invoke group hatred in order to win their cases. If we are complacent about what happened in Busch, we can be pretty certain that more of the same awaits us.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Whither – Or Is It Wither? – The Conservative Movement

There’s no quick fix for what ails the Conservative movement. In all probability, there is no fix at all, even far down the road. Membership and synagogue attendance will continue to decline and, more importantly, internal conflict and religious and theological confusion will place an even greater strain on the movement’s leadership. This is bad news for American Jewry, including the “We told you so” crowd. With few exceptions, those who are defecting are not heading in the direction of greater religiosity. They are moving further away from Jewish commitment and continuity.

The Conservatives made a bet against history and they have lost. They calculated that by shedding a portion of our heritage they could concoct a brand of Judaism that retained much of our theology and practices in a way that would accommodate droves of Jews who were not comfortable with the rigors of Orthodoxy. They eliminated the mechitza and in a series of ever more radical departures from tradition, they yielded to feminist pressure and also chipped away at Sabbath observance.

It’s accepted that the turning point came in the mid-1950’s when its halacha committee sanctioned driving to synagogue on Saturday. Since dates and events facilitate the understanding or presentation of history, this decision is a legitimate way of looking at the story of Conservatism. But the emphasis that has been placed on it masks two realities, the first being that there was much that preceded it which separated the Conservative movement from our religious tradition. The other is that advanced assimilation was already impelling Jews further away from observance. This situation was dynamic, so that irrespective of any official laxity in halacha, the outcome would have been the same, as Conservatives were abandoning the world of their fathers.

There is an interesting clue supporting this view in what happened during the same period among Orthodox-affiliated Jews who were nominal or marginal in their religious commitment. They once constituted much of American Orthodoxy; now they are gone with the wind.

For quite a while, it seemed that the Conservative bet had paid off. Hundreds of synagogues – many of them large – were built to accommodate the exodus to suburbia and expanded membership. There was intellectual ferment at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Conservative rabbinate included many of quality and learning, often men who had studied at yeshivas. Yet, there were disquieting signs. The Conservative laity which once consisted of Jews who were Jewishly literate and knowledgeable experienced a steady erosion as the older generations passed on and their offspring knew less and could care less. Nowadays, perhaps half of those who are identified as Conservative are by affiliation alone and they practice rather little. Even among the other half, there has been a considerable decline in observance.

Inevitably, Conservative rabbis of a more traditional bent have retired or passed away. The younger rabbis are in the aggregate distant from the attitudes and theology that once characterized the movement. If Seminary students are an indication of what’s blowing in the wind, as they must be, what awaits us is a Conservative rabbinate that is committed to conserving very little. The internal battle over Gay Rights is one omen of what lies in store. There is also a geographic divide, as New York reflects the views of those who are struggling to keep the movement within somewhat traditional bounds and California which is growing more powerful within Conservatism is being led by those who advocate greater liberalization.

Under these unpromising circumstances, there may be little that Conservative leadership can do to stem the tide, to abort what is already in the womb of time. I have, just the same, several suggestions, beginning with the abolition of the halacha committee. Its sole function is from time to time to put a veneer of religious acceptability on additional departures from traditional practices. While its abolition will not result in Conservatives becoming more observant, it will mean that violations of religious law will result from the actions of individuals and not from the permissiveness of rabbis who in the name of halacha are anti-halachic. In a sense, the Conservative movement should learn from Chabad synagogues, notably the newer ones in outlying areas whose members drive to shul on Shabbos, without either the approval or reprobation of local rabbis.

Secondly, there must be downsizing, starting with the reduction of synagogue size. Cavernous sanctuaries are not inviting. The Havura phenomenon needs to be revitalized. Downsizing also means lower financial expectations. The Golden Calf syndrome in Jewish life inevitably results in younger families being turned off and turned away. Membership needs to be affordable and not every activity needs to have a dollar sign attached to it. Here, too, Chabad can point the way because while they very much want people to contribute, they don’t make it a precondition for coming to services.

Downsizing may mean a smaller movement. Conservative leaders should worry less about losing members and more about the loss of identity. Smaller can be stronger, particularly if the movement attempts to recapture lost ground by becoming more religiously purposeful.

Next, the commitment to day schools should be ratcheted up. It is telling that enrollment in Solomon Schechter schools has been stagnant and too few schools have been established during the past decade, a period marked by increased acceptance of day schools. In various communities, the emphasis has been on establishing Community or trans-denominational schools. It’s my observation that Solomon Schechter schools do a better job than Community day schools.

Most importantly, unless the Conservative movement is to morph into an extra-strength brand of Reform, it must take a stronger stand on Shabbos and the observance of mitzvot. Because the barn door of American Jewish life has been opened wide for so long, whatever the movement does, it will experience further membership loss. So be it. To survive, the Conservative movement has to learn to swim against the tide.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Education is in Schools and Classrooms

A call from the daughter of a friend told a familiar story. She is on the board of the local day school attended by her children and the school is looking for a principal. The incumbent will be leaving, not because the board wants him to or to go to another school that is offering a better deal. He is headed to even greener pastures, to a new foundation that is committed to Jewish education. There is no better way for foundations and projects that are committed to Jewish education to demonstrate this commitment than by raiding schools, thereby adding to the already severe shortage in Jewish educational leadership. Many of our best educators are now ensconced in offices away from schools and the exodus is growing.

We cannot fault foundations or organizations for going after the best talent available and we must not fault those who seek advancement or an escape from the pressure cooker existence of day school life. But we also must recognize that the trend has consequences. Too many of our schools cannot find educational leaders of good quality. They are settling for candidates of limited ability, at times even hiring persons who aren’t Jewish. The situation has worsened during a period when foundations are funding programs to recruit and train principals for Jewish schools.

The deficit resulting from this loss of talent could theoretically be offset if the former principals would use their new positions to convince funders to be more generous to those who remain on the front line in schools and classrooms. That’s usually not the case. Instead, they become critics of the system they abandoned and they embrace a foundation culture that prefers expensive and distant projects over direct support for schools and educators.

With several notable exceptions, foundations have forgotten that education occurs in schools and classrooms and in the interaction between teachers and students and not in organizational offices or in training programs or in conferences or in the pseudo-expertise of those who do not have the responsibility of running a school or managing a classroom.

There is plenty of room for improvement in most Jewish schools. It could hardly be otherwise in view of the multiple tasks – including a dual curriculum – that they must perform and in view of their scarcity of resources, as well as the extraordinary challenges arising out of limited enrollment. What day school educators accomplish in view of these circumstances is remarkable.

When we give funding priority to those who talk about teaching over those who teach we are engaged in self-delusion. Admittedly, this attitude mirrors a trend that has dominated American public life for more than a generation as preference has been given to nonprofit organizations and projects that will allegedly help those whom society wants to help. In a real sense, we do not trust those who need help, whether they be the poor or educators.

This trend is wasteful and at best of limited efficacy, although those who are adept at grantsmanship manage to convince governmental and philanthropic funders that enriching them is the way to go. Is it any wonder that after spending tens of billions of dollars to address various social problems through the intervention of these intermediate nonprofits, the problems that they are designed to deal with have become worse.

We in the Jewish community go perhaps a step further in our obsession with projects, an obsession that is evident and pernicious in Jewish education. Even as philanthropic support has risen substantially, relatively little directly reaches schools, as we strongly prefer those who talk about education over those who teach. The attitude apparently is that education is too important a function to be left to educators, that the best way to help schools is to give grants to those who rarely go into a classroom. Intended or not, this attitude conveys a certain contempt for teachers.

As the cost of day school education has skyrocketed – faculty salaries play only a small part in this – the share of the school budget met by tuition and other mandatory parental payments has risen dramatically. In short, tuition has risen sharply because 1) the product costs more and 2) others are giving less. It is also true that as a percentage of school budgets, scholarship allocations have declined steadily. In practical terms this means both that day school education has become too expensive for a growing number of families that might be inclined toward meaningful religious education and also that fewer parents are receiving meaningful scholarship assistance.

Obsessions cling to people. In fact, they tend to grow, to become even more dominant in the minds of those who are attached to them. There is no reason to believe that we will kick the habit of favoring in the name of caring about Jewish education those who don’t teach over those who do. More than ever, we are giving priority to activities that occur outside of schools.

I have made this argument more times than I care to remember, apparently to no avail. I am as prone as those whom I criticize to an obsessiveness about Jewish education. This has been much of my life and my passion for fifty years and while I wish that I had more company, so be it. I will continue my advocacy, even if it falls on deaf ears. We must challenge the misguided view that extremely low salaries in Jewish education are acceptable and that scholarship opportunities should go only to those who have suffered catastrophe or the like. Most of all, we must challenge the attitude that the feeding of those who are not responsible for the education of our children is the preferred way of supporting Jewish education.

We need to learn at long last that education takes place in schools and classrooms.

Monday, November 03, 2003

It’s Not Always Anti-Semitism

Words – spoken and written – are our primary means of communication. As social relationships and others contacts have expanded and as work increasingly shifts away from labor and takes the form of communication, there is an even greater reliance on spoken and written expressions, a trend that obviously has been advanced by technological developments such as the cell phone, email and the Internet.

None of us are angels and few of us are holy persons so that all that we do is likely to be morally compromised, to one extent or another. We tend to be sloppy or impulsive, at least occasionally, in the language that we use, which is why we are frequently admonished to be careful. We can be incautious in speech, saying things that scarcely reflect what we believe or think. In all relationships and especially in families, there is always the possibility that stress or anger may evoke words that are accusatory or hurtful. Relationships endure because there is the ability and willingness to separate the wheat from the chaff, to recognize intent and context and to look at the larger picture of what bonds people together and ignore or forget that which is hurtful and passing.

In public life and often in legal matters, words that were expressed long ago remain on the record and may be given greater prominence than they merit. Which brings me to anti-Semitism. Our tiny remnant seems besieged in a world of anti-Jewish sentiment, a world that encompasses all of Islam and much of Europe, not to mention a fairly regular diet of incautious remarks or actions on our home front. In the recent period, we have also had revelations about Richard M. Nixon and Harry S. Truman. When he isn’t forgiving the Prime Minister of Italy for his anti-Semitic words, Mr. Foxman of the ADL has what seems to be a full-time job sending letters all over the globe excoriating those who have defamed the Jews. It’s hard to keep up with all the bad news.

There is disturbing news, but I wonder whether it justifies our hyper-sensitivity as we parse spoken and written words in order to extract tidbits of anti-Semitism. The exercise is increasingly pathetic and even pathological as we become exercised over inconsequential words. I date this folly to the extravagant reaction to Jessie Jackson’s Hymietown crack years ago. There is much not to admire about Mr. Jackson, but the phrase did not merit a communal fit. We have been off and running ever since as we no longer distinguish between hardcore anti-Semitism and incautious language of the kind that, in fact, is employed when we speak among themselves.

In private discussion, there are verbal and psychological processes that engender the use of disparaging language. We need only think of how often in telephone conversations between friends A and B, there are hurtful things said about friend C. If telephone discussions could be replayed, countless friendships and other relationships would be shattered and if painful words hurled in anger or pain by spouses would be viewed as accurate expressions of feeling, the already high divorce rate – said to be 50% - would zoom into the stratosphere.

Of course, there are good reasons why Jews react so emotionally to inappropriate language. Yet, we need to show more restraint in reacting to words that should not have been expressed and we need to understand that there is an unfortunate tendency to be careless in private conversations when the topic is other ethnic groups. We who are ready to jump all over outsiders who say disparaging things about Jews should examine how some – and more than a few – Jews speak about other ethnic groups.

This isn’t to excuse Presidents Nixon and Truman or anyone else for nasty things said about us, but we must not forget that there is a public record to judge them by and it is a far better gauge of their sentiments than incautious words. This is obviously true of President Truman who may have had a bad day at the office or perhaps the kitchen was too hot and took pen to paper and produced the already infamous diary entry. Inexcusable though they were, the words do not alter Truman’s splendid record.

This episode raises the fundamental question of how to criticize Jews without violating standards of decency that proscribe anti-Semitic utterances. The gist of Truman’s outburst was that Jews make demands for themselves while they could care less about the situation of other people who face hardship and suffering. On any scale of group altruism, Jews would certainly score very high and yet it is the case that we are ethnocentric, as we press endlessly for our interests and show far less concern for others. In fact, that’s the way it should be. Our moral obligation is to worry primarily about our own and not about others. And so it turns out that in a clumsy way, President Truman hit on the truth.

The same could be said about Greg Easterbrook’s recent blog on, of all places, the website of The New Republic in which after decrying Hollywood’s glorification of violence and debasement, he wrote that “Jewish executives worship money above all else.” That’s nasty business and it isn’t any less nasty because there is a high incidence of Jews in the various cesspools that constitute popular culture. Still, we must recognize that Jewish writers have criticized the role of Jews in Hollywood, a role that is or should be a source of embarrassment to most of us.

We have major enemies in all of the Islamic world and among the Quislings in the West who have turned against Jews and Israel. Let’s not trivialize anti-Semitism by getting exercised over every trivial expression that incautiously says unkind things about Jews.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

RJJ Newsletter - November 2003

We are a parochial school, a term that isn’t used much these days. The term refers to elementary and secondary schools that have a dual curriculum consisting of religious and academic subjects. RJJ wasn’t the first Jewish parochial school in the U.S., but those that preceded us exist no longer and we will soon enter our 105th year.

When we were established, religious Jewish education was mainly a ramshackle arrangement of private classrooms or cheders. Students attended public school for much of the day and then came, often reluctantly, for religious lessons. This arrangement was severely criticized as unprofessional by Jewish educational reformers who believed in standard curricula, trained and licensed teachers and other attributes of a well-organized educational system. In the early years of the last century, these reformers set up what became known as talmud torahs, institutions that had standards aplenty. From anecdotal and more precise sociological evidence, the students who came in most instances could care less. Over the years, probably several million children attended talmud torah. Relatively few emerged from this experience as Jews strongly committed to our great heritage.

Yeshivas and day schools were, to an extent, a response to the feeble Judaism offered by these after-public school programs, although they also echoed in attenuated form what religious education was like in the old country. For decades, day schools struggled to gain students, ultimately being accepted in the post-Holocaust period as preferable vehicles for preserving Jewish continuity and commitment. Organized American Jewry now recognizes the value of day schools, a state of mind that does not bring with it adequate financial support.

While day school enrollment continues to grow, it remains that the lion’s share of this growth comes from the high Orthodox fertility rate. Day schools are still off-limits for a majority of Jewish youth whose parents want them to have some formal Jewish education. Supplementary school (formerly known as talmud torah) enrollment data is hard to come by, but the figure certainly exceeds enrollment in day schools. Simply put, a majority of Jewish children who are in formal Jewish educational settings are receiving a product that, with some exceptions, has proven to be ineffective.

We are faced with a dilemma. Though day schools are preferable, because of high tuition and real or imagined social and educational considerations, too many parents will not enroll their children. Staten Island whose Jewish population is growing rapidly because of the influx of younger – mainly Russian and ex-Israeli – families serves as a case study.

Despite the population growth and a low intermarriage rate, enrollment in our three schools (and there is scarcely anyone else) has not grown. We could and should do a better recruitment job. Still, the larger pattern is not going to change.

Several respected rabbis who have done fruitful work in kiruv have recently suggested that the supplementary school/talmud torah issue be revisited, that unless we address the reality that many Jewish parents will not opt for day school, a great number of additional Jews will be lost. They argue, perhaps not convincingly, that it’s possible to structure after-school classes that are both religiously purposeful and more attractive to marginal families than the old talmud torahs.

Their position may be based more on emotion than on logic, more on the desperate feeling that almost anything must be tried than on the confident assertion that in today’s world of multiple diversions, kids would be willing to go to a Jewish school after they complete their public school work. At the least, the burden is on those who urge that after-school classes can stem the fierce assimilatory tide.

It’s also true that desperate situations may require desperate or long-shot measures. While I am not persuaded that any form of supplementary education has much promise, I am persuaded that those who have made the argument ought to be given the opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy of their ideas. Little is to be lost – except some money – if support were given for pilot projects or experimental activities. If such activities were multi-dimensional, encompassing formal religious education and informal activities that enhance Jewish identity, such as youth groups, summer camps, Israel experiences and Shabbatonim, it is at least possible that beneficial outcomes will emerge from a form of Jewish education that heretofore has been a Jewish dead end.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Jews Who Hate Jews

I am confident that the Jewish student at Rutgers who threw a pie at Natan Sharansky believes in freedom of speech, as do the too many Jewish academics and students who have disrupted pro-Israel speakers at other campuses, and I am equally certain that the Neturei Karta members who have joined in anti-Israel demonstrations held on Saturdays believe in keeping the Sabbath. Doubtlessly, the temporary suspension of these fundamental beliefs in order to put on display hatred of Israel was extremely distressing for these activists. They sacrificed in order to be faithful to their convictions.

From our first days of peoplehood in Egypt, we have been afflicted by fifth columnists and some of these have been quite nasty as they bonded with our enemies. We need only think of the Inquisition and the suffering caused by turncoats. But it is no solace that what we are now experiencing echoes painful history, especially when the frum scum of Neturei Karta publicly make common cause with those who openly call for the destruction of Israel and applaud the murder of Israelis. This group has sunk to new levels of indecency.

Being anti-Israel has become one of the new forms of radical chic, a posture that embraces extreme positions that almost always include exaggerated fault-finding with the U.S. and its government. It is to be regretted that in its various incarnations, radical chic has undermined both the legitimacy and attractiveness of liberalism. This country sorely needs a vibrant liberalism which challenges practices that favor the advantaged over the disadvantaged. But for too long, liberalism has had a bad name because too many of its activists have advocated positions, such as we are now seeing with respect to Israel, that turn off many Americans.

There are sufficient grounds to criticize Israel, whether for actions taken against Palestinians or actions taken against charedim. Criticism of Israel is not off limits. What we are now seeing on campuses is the willingness of Jewish faculty and students to go beyond rejecting particular Israeli policies as they join forces with radical Islamic groups. Overwhelmingly, these Jews are secular and far remote from religion. Their abandonment of Israel’s Jews can be seen as the logical outgrowth of their abandonment of Judaism.

We are now hearing much about the alleged vitality of secular Jewish life in the U.S. The fact is that when Jews reject traditional practices and beliefs, there is a strong prospect that sooner or later they will reject Israel and even turn against Israel. There are obviously many secular Jews who identify closely with the Jewish State, but the majority are, at best, lukewarm or turned off. Worse yet, the trend is strongly in the direction of further abandonment and hostility.

Hatred toward Israel has become an obsession in certain Jewish quarters. Those who are obsessed feel compelled to be true to that which obsesses them, even at the cost of encouraging those who give aid and comfort to terrorism and extreme Islamic groups that are not bashful about announcing the plans they have for Israel. We are being afflicted by a kapo syndrome that is frightening.

Paul Krugman, an Op Ed page contributor at the New York Times, is afflicted by an obsession with President Bush, assigning to him blame for nearly all that has gone awry in the world. The President’s policies are, for sure, fair game and there is much that deserves criticism on both the domestic and foreign fronts. But it is breathtaking to read that the hyper-anti-Semitism of Mohammad Mahathir, the Malaysian autocrat who went deep into the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” territory to conjure up a Jewish conspiracy to control the world was somehow a response to what the White House has been doing. Krugman’s apologia gave cover to the single most blatant anti-Jewish statement uttered publicly by a world leader in at least fifty years.

Although the Jewish reaction to Mahathir’s message has been sharp, so far as I know our organizations have not taken Krugman to task. Perhaps we are all getting tired of beating up on the New York Times. What becomes routine loses effectiveness and there is inevitably a law of diminishing returns to our criticism of the record of our newspaper of record. It’s also the case that we have become hypersensitive, that we have lost the ability to distinguish between the hardcore and dangerous stuff and incautious remarks of the kind that abound in ordinary speech. Mahathir’s speech was hardcore, Krugman’s column was outrageous and it’s one more blot on the Times’ record regarding Jewish matters and Israel.

We also need to respond more vigorously to the thuggish atmosphere that has arisen on campuses and which is being tolerated by officials who previously were ultra-sensitive to even the slightest criticism of Blacks and other minorities. I am not for political correctness but it’s time to challenge the curtailment of the basic right to speak on behalf of Israel. As Sharansky has written, ninety percent of the Jews on campus have become Jews of silence, at times because of intimidation. If the only voices that are heard are anti-Israel, inevitably young Jews in the middle will gravitate toward hostility. For the good of Israel and also to salvage what we can among college-age Jews, it’s necessary for our community to be proactive and tough.

I am not suggesting that nothing has been done. Alan Dershowitz has emerged as a powerful advocate, using his abundant skills to make Israel’s case and to confront Israel’s enemies. Malcolm Hoenlein, the gifted leader of the Presidents Conference, has developed an Israel advocacy project which includes an attractive weekly newsletter that is circulated on college campuses. There are others who have awakened to the necessity to speak out and not to be afraid. Just the same, more needs to be done, for Israel’s sake and for ours.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Rethinking Outreach

Outreach has been our primary domestic concern and activity for nearly a generation. Most of what we now do includes, at least to an extent, the goal of bringing unaffiliated, secular and marginally observant Jews closer to their heritage and our religious traditions. This is evident in all forms of Jewish education, formal and informal, as well as in synagogue life, youth programming, campus activities, camping, community centers and Israel experiences.

It’s probably impossible to statistically assess the efficacy of these activities. After all, we can no longer figure out how many American Jews there are. Our sociology needs to move away from the numbers games that have become our surrogate scholarship and focus on qualitative studies that describe what is happening across Jewish America.

We are taught that the saving of a single life – and this teaching encompasses a spiritual life – is equivalent to saving the entire world. It follows that from the perspective of those who are engaged in outreach, the statistic of how many have returned to Judaism though it is important cannot serve as the only yardstick by which to measure outreach success. The communal perspective is different, in part because so much has been invested in outreach and, more importantly, because this investment is a race against time, a desperate effort to keep hundreds of thousands of Jews from drifting further away from identity and commitment.

We need to know what the record is, whether in the aggregate our efforts have been successful. We also need to figure out which approaches have the optimum prospect for beneficial outcomes. In short, we need to rethink outreach in a spirit of admiration for outreach professionals and respect for their accomplishments.

The contours of kiruv or outreach were essentially set a generation ago by the Orthodox when two somewhat antithetical insights intersected. We suddenly awoke to the realization that unless we acted to prevent further losses, one day American Jewry would wake up to the shocking news of staggering defections. At about the same time, we sensed that contrary to long experience in the Diaspora, we could bring Jews back to Judaism, that the Tshuva movement was real and significant.

Because this movement was inherently religious in nature, the stress was on teaching religious texts and encouraging religious practices. Outreach meant a return to tradition and heritage, not merely remaining somehow connected to communal life. Indeed, in the early years of outreach activity, most of those who were reached out to were already connected to Jewish life.

Those who devoted themselves to kiruv have seen their labors rewarded, as tens of thousands have embraced a more Jewish, a more religious life. These returnees have strengthened our people. It remains, however, that Judaic abandonment has continued, in fact at an escalating pace. The powerful assimilatory forces that affect nearly all American Jews have taken a terrible toll. Our losses in the recent period dwarf our gains. There is no way to read the latest data without being appalled.

As American Jews have accepted intermarriage and secular versions of Jewish identity, outreach outside of Orthodox life has taken a secular turn, the message being that intermarriage and advanced assimilation, including Judaic abandonment, are not barriers to Jewish continuity. The idea is that if a whole loaf is beyond reach, a half loaf or quarter loaf or even less is worth having. Nearly everywhere Judaism is rapidly being defined downward in a desperate effort to stem further losses, the hope being that minimal expectations will maximize prospects for the disaffiliated to remain.

Outreach obviously has come a long way from when it was an Orthodox activity. If numbers count, the largest outreach enterprise by far is the Reform, which in addition to minimum expectations of those who are Jewish also includes a welcome mat to many who are not. Even Chabad or Lubavitch has adjusted its sails. While some who are attracted to its activities become observant, overwhelmingly the movement now accepts Jews as they are, making no more than a small effort to influence those who participate to become more religious. There is no other way to explain the remarkable paradox of Lubavitch’s enormous growth during the same period that has seen Jews being lost wholesale.

Orthodox outreach clings to a mindset that was forged before we lost a couple of million Jews and before another couple of million said that they do not care. Small comfort can be derived from statistics about the Orthodox. They constitute no more than ten percent of American Jews, this despite their extraordinarily high fertility rate. I have suggested that aliyah has significantly reduced the number of American Orthodox; still, the figure should be higher if the number of returnees to Judaism were as great as exuberant outreach workers have suggested.

Perhaps there isn’t anything that the Orthodox can do to improve the outreach landscape. This is an open society and those whose connections to us are tenuous may have greater incentive to leave than to remain. We live in a Jewish world that is radically different from the world that existed when many of today’s outreach activities were conceived. It’s time for re-examination.

Without abandoning any individual Jews and in full acceptance of the value of saving a single spiritual life, it may be time to acknowledge that outreach cannot in a statistical sense counteract the larger story of abandonment and loss. Even so, it would be useful for outreach groups to rethink their approach, to consider whether activities that are not text oriented but rely on, for example, music or the wonderful array of Orthodox programs that help the needy may offer greater hope for successful kiruv.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Ticket Prices That Are El Al

Sukkos is our most joyous holiday and this year there is an additional reason to celebrate because a great number of Jews have come to Israel for the chag. Flights were packed and hotel rooms, especially in Jerusalem, hard to get. Suicide bombers and the fear of terrorism have not been deterrents, as they were during the past three years of Intifada. Tourism is up by 50% in 2003, nearly all of it from the United States.

What’s more, a synagogue-based campaign urging more of us to go to Israel has just been launched with the attractive slogan, “I care. And I’m Going.” There is a powerful mood in the circles I travel in to demonstrate love and support for Israel by being there. This rise in tourism is certain to be a morale booster and also to boost Israel’s economy which has been in rotten shape.

Campaigns to lure customers usually provide an incentive, something like a special sale or a bonus. This is always true of airline attempts to attract passengers. The one for Israel is different because the appeal is emotional and also because it is accompanied by sharp increases in fares. For Sukkos, economy tickets on El Al ran as high as $1,500, which I believe is an all-time high. This is a strange way to reward loyalty and affection. I know what el al means; I didn’t know that the words referred to ticket prices.

There is a school of thought that insists that everything with the “Israel” label should be immune from criticism. If we accept this, we should also accept what Israel’s national airline does, even when what it does would not be tolerated elsewhere. There certainly is much to be grateful about El Al, notably its extraordinary security. But we have a right to kvetch about the reconfiguring of Boeings to squeeze in more seats than other airlines do and about a frequent flyer arrangement that can scarcely be fathomed and which frequently seems to be stacked against those who fly frequently. We also ought to be able to complain about protekzia in seat allocations and favoritism toward Israeli travelers who often pay less than American tourists for their tickets.

Worst of all is the recent experience with fares and indications that seats were deliberately held off the market as demand rose in order to drive up prices. That would be an improper business practice.

It’s true that El Al is adhering to the eternal economic rule of supply and demand. As demand rose in the recent period, supply remained stable or perhaps decreased as the Intifada resulted in some airlines curtailing flights to Israel. At best, this arrangement would be acceptable if there wasn’t a deliberate effort to manipulate the supply of seats.

Even without manipulation, there is something errant about applying the supply and demand formula. If the new campaign to promote tourism is successful, the formula would result in American Jews who go to Israel being forced to pay substantially higher fares because of the rising demand and the limited supply. It’s the obligation of those who are promoting this campaign to see that this does not happen.

Tourism (along with charitable giving) is vital to Israel’s economic well-being. Those who come are, for the most part, spenders in hotels, shops, restaurants and wherever else they can be made to part with their dollars and they directly affect thousands of essentially small businesses and benefit hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Few countries rely as heavily as Israel does on tourism, which is why the fair pricing of airline tickets is more than a matter of fares but an issue that is important to the country. If the laws of economics apply to Israel, the high cost of travel will ultimately be a disincentive to some.

For Sukkos and throughout the year, the Orthodox whom we are told are fewer than ten percent of U.S. Jews constitute by a substantial margin a disproportionately large share of tourists, whether they come for a few days or, as is true for yeshiva and seminary students, for a year or longer, serving thereby as magnets for their parents to make the trip. We hear frequently about how a major event or a sports team is important to the local economy. I suppose that we cannot figure out how much Orthodox visitors contribute to Israel’s economy. The sum must be tremendous and usually disproportionate to the number of American Jews who are Orthodox. It expands considerably if we include the American Orthodox who have made aliya throughout nearly the entirety of Israel’s existence, again disproportionate to their numbers in the U.S.

We can also factor in the amount of charity that flows from the Orthodox outside of Israel into the coffers of literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of religiously-oriented Israeli institutions and causes.

What emerges from this is a picture that is sharply in variance with the big lie promoted by journalists and others that the Orthodox and especially charedim are parasites who take from the State and who give very little in return. There is much that can legitimately be argued about in charedi life, including military service for men and the need for better career training. But whatever the shortcomings of charedim – or for that matter any other group – there is no justification for the lies that have come to be part of the vernacular of secular oriented Jews as they speak about those who are fervently religious.

It’s noteworthy that even as the Intifada drove many thousands of American Jews away from Israel, the yeshiva and seminary students kept coming, the Orthodox who made aliya remained and an even higher percentage of tourists were religious Jews. These are truths that need to be recognized, for truth’s sake and also in order to properly understand Israel’s economy.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

My Bush Dilemma and Yours

We are just months away from the presidential primaries and a bit more than a year away from the 2004 election. While he has slipped somewhat, President Bush still seems unbeatable despite the unresolved questions and difficulties arising out of Iraq and despite the still faltering economy and job market. The tide may turn, as his father learned, although the uninspiring cast of Democratic aspirants adds to the likelihood that this won’t happen. With the exception of Howard Dean - and now Wesley Clark - none has caught fire. Dean’s good fortune is predicated on the suicidal instinct of Democrats who allow a tiny cabal of leftists to seize control of the primary system. As for General Clark, it’s too early to judge how he might do.

We Americans who still regard ourselves as Jewish have a problem. For all of the noise made by right-wingers and neo-conservatives in our ranks, overwhelmingly we remain identified with the Democratic Party and with liberal policies. The question many of us will face is whether to maintain this loyalty and reject an incumbent president who has been caring about Israel in favor of a Democrat who is likely to be less hospitable to the Jewish state. The problem is intensified by the dislike, even abhorrence, in most Jewish circles of Mr. Bush’s domestic policies.

In an interesting way, there is a mirror image on a much smaller scale of this problem among politically conservative Jews who support the President on nearly everything else but are aghast at the pressure he is exerting on Israel to accommodate the Palestinians. To be sure, especially behind the scenes, the White House and State Department have taken a tough stand and bullied Prime Minister Sharon to take steps that he believes might harm Israel. This being said, there is no reason to expect any American president to embrace every position espoused by our own hardliners. The President heads the American government, not Israel’s.

The issue that already confronts us is whether to ignore Mr. Bush’s views on taxes, the environment and a range of social and economic issues and say, in effect, that Israel trumps everything else. Or do we reject a right-wing agenda that for all of the soothing talk about compassionate conservatism is as reactionary as anything that America has seen in more than two generations.

This question does not appear on the radar screen of about half of those whom our numbers - crunching statisticians (aka demographers) identify as Jews because these folk no longer care much about anything Jewish. Nearly all of them are liberal and they do not care at all for the President or, for that matter, much about Israel. As campus events have demonstrated, more than a few are in the anti-Israel camp. One of the potent corrosive by-products of our wholesale Judaic abandonment is the erosion of identification with Israel.

As for the rest of us, should we hold our noses and disregard a tax plan that seems to have been fashioned by rejects from Argentina, a tax plan that is built on bullying and deceit, a tax plan that is cruel to many, especially the working poor, a tax plan that will contribute to an annual deficit of at least one-half trillion dollars and hurt this country for years to come?

Jews and, of course, many other Americans, must now include in their political calculations the inevitability that some time soon there will be several vacancies on the Supreme Court. It isn’t necessary to spell out the ideological implications, for the battle lines are already being drawn. Nor is it necessary to spell out how the great majority of American Jews passionately feel about control of the nation’s highest court .

Because old loyalties are hard to break and, in any case, younger Jews have been raised to believe in liberalism, the strong prospect is that in November 2004 most American Jews will once more be in the Democratic camp. The one caveat is that if Howard Dean or some other entirely unattractive candidate gets the nomination, there is a good chance for mass defections. Whatever the scenario, I believe that the percentage of Jews voting Democratic will decline, continuing a trend that began several elections back.

As I reflect on these lines, there is something strange about the discussion. We Jews constitute a tiny and shrinking proportion of all Americans and the percentage will go down further, even if we count as Jews persons who say that they no longer regard themselves as Jewish or are of questionable status. Yet, in constant bursts of ethnocentric exuberance we continue to act and even think as if we are at the center of the political universe, that somehow we are crucial in determining electoral outcomes. The incontrovertible fact is that we can scarcely determine who gets elected in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, but in the fantasy world that some of us occupy - and not only the Orthodox - we have come to believe that we have major influence over who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Admittedly, the media – and therefore also politicians who follow what is being reported – contribute handsomely to this phenomenon by the exaggerated attention that they pay to us. This attention has the capacity to distort how 250+ million Americans who aren’t Jewish by any stretch of the imagination look at Jews. They think we are powerful because we do get so much attention and we do seem to be all over the place. In our mad and maddening ethnocentrism, too many of us think that this is a good thing, that it is good for Jews and for Israel that we are thought to have so much power. Why are these people so illiterate about history?

How pathetic and dangerously foolish are we to believe that it is in our interest to get all that attention, that it is in our interest to have others think that we control so much.

Monday, September 22, 2003

A Guide to the Perplexed About Jewish Demography

Now that the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey has been released, let us at long last discard the fanciful notion that it’s possible to figure out how many Jews there are in the U.S. Any field of study that produces estimates as divergent as we have gotten from our population mavens can scarcely be regarded as reliable. We have been sold an expensive bill of goods.

It’s unlikely that the NJPS mess and the incessant in-fighting among our demographers will put a damper on our yen for population surveys. We have been obsessed for two decades and we remain in the grip of a mindset that cannot be easily changed. There are too many funders who are too eager to endow those who speak of factor analysis, standard deviations, regressions and other arcanum. They are now our intelligentsia, our great scholars. Once we were the people of the book. Now we are the people of the numbers.

Since we’re stuck with the numbers game, here is a brief guide for those who may be perplexed by the confusing claims and in-fighting.

There is no reliable way to count us – This is a huge country and we are dispersed throughout it. Our surveymeisters are not the U.S. Census Bureau which attempts to reach all Americans and has the resources and legal backing to do so. Our surveys rely on voluntary responses elicited through Random Digit Dialing, a technique that depends on making a huge number of calls in the hope of ferreting out a small number of Jews who will answer a set of questions. RDD, a dubious device to begin with, has been fatally undermined by growing resistance to telemarketing, so that in recent surveys the response rate has been significantly below the minimum level for reliability. Furthermore, RDD is based on pre-estimates of how many Jews there are in particular localities, extrapolations and other stratagems that reduce even more the reliability of the data that is produced.

We can’t agree on who is Jewish – Not long ago, it was relatively easy to figure out who is a Jew, whether as defined by religious law or sociological categories. This is no longer the case. If we cannot agree on who is Jewish, how can we count Jews? Many who were born Jewish say they no longer are, while many others acknowledge Jewish identity but are not at all connected to the community. There are children of the intermarried who are not being raised as Jews in any sense but live in what might be called a Jewish household. There are also a couple million or so Americans who aren’t Jewish by any standard but who live in what is referred to as a Jewish household because at least one person living there is somehow Jewish. How many we are depends decisively on who we include and who we do not.

Our numbers are fewer and also greater than the announced figures – Some say that we are being undercounted, while others argue that we are being overcounted. In the mad world of demography, both claims are probably correct. NJPS was under pressure not to show a sharp decline in the number of core Jews and so it inflated that figure. But it also undercounted the far greater number of somehow-Jewish persons who have moved away from Jewish life.

We’re in for more inflation – No group wants to say that its membership is declining. Given Jewish political involvement and the erroneous notion that U.S. support for Israel depends on our clout, we have additional incentives to inflate our figures. Then there is the growing influence of secularism which casts its net quite widely, reaching Jews that are excluded in most surveys.

The Reform numbers are a fantasy – Don’t believe the wildly exaggerated figures that say that 40% of core Jews are affiliated with Reform. Look at the endless rows of empty seats in Reform congregations and it’s easy to figure out that there’s something fishy. Reform statistics are puffed up by a) people who aren’t Jewish, b) many who are but do not go to synagogue and c) the understandable tendency of persons who are remote from Judaism to respond to survey questions about affiliation by selecting Reform because that’s the planet closest to them.

Conservatives are in a bind – A shrinking number of Conservative Jews are ex-Orthodox and a growing number are at odds with the movement’s ideology. The inevitable result is steady attrition. Younger Conservative rabbis and seminary students are pushing for further liberalization – gay rights, for example – but experience has shown that this will contribute to and not staunch further losses.

The Orthodox aren’t growing as fast as they think – NJPS data suggests that there are 415,000 Orthodox, an unexpectedly low figure in view of their extremely high fertility rate. It could be that as with its predecessor, the latest survey underestimates Orthodox family size. It’s certain that Orthodox outreach has not resulted in the gains claimed by exuberant kiruv workers, while defections away from Orthodoxy have continued at an alarming pace. One factor that has not gotten attention is the impact of aliya on Orthodox numbers. While aliya may not be significant in the overall data of American Jewish life, it is critical for the Orthodox in view of their low numbers and the high percentage of olim who came from this sector.

We are going to have more population studies and some good may come from this activity, particularly if the claims are not overstated – admittedly that is a tall order – and if the focus will be on what Jewish life is about and not on producing numbers. If there is to be a new NJPS in the next decade, it is obligatory that those who conduct it avoid the blockbuster project and questionnaire that the Federation world cleaves to.

Monday, September 15, 2003

There is a Time to Be Silent

Although I am intrigued because some of its dialogue is in Aramaic, I don’t expect to see Mel Gibson’s movie about Jesus. That should disqualify me from reviewing it but not from commenting on the controversy that has erupted as Jewish groups have denounced it as dangerously anti-Semitic, something that should be condemned and perhaps even banned unless it is drastically revised to remove the charge of deicide and other calumnies against Jews arising from events that occurred 2,000 years ago.

There are good reasons why many in our community feel strongly about the film. They associate it, understandably, with the Passion Play and other milestones in the blood-soaked history of Christian persecution of Jews. Gibson’s retrograde brand of Christianity and the passion he brings to this project add to the fear that the movie will open wounds that have scarcely been closed.

I do not discount the harm that can result from the unholy union between Christianity and anti-Semitism. Gibson is not a friend and there is too much in his family’s story that is unsettling. But his theology and passion do not invest the movie with the importance that we are assigning to it, although there is a good prospect that the barrage of criticism will result in more attention being paid and more people going to see it. I fear that we are making too much of a fuss about something that is likely to be fleeting and that the collateral damage resulting from our heated protests may be by a considerable margin greater than the harm caused by the movie.

I fear that once more our fears are clouding our communal judgment, that instead of reflecting and assessing whether all of our sharp criticism is needed, we sound as if the enemy is at the gate. It may be that because Gibson is a movie star and therefore also a celebrity, we are making more of a fuss about this matter than we did about Nazis marching in Skokie and other anti-Semitic occurrences.

Because we are aroused by the memory of Christianity’s transgressions against Jews, we are unable to recognize that American soil is not hospitable to the kind of intolerance that we were subjected to in Europe. I expect to be reminded that Spanish Jews said much the same about their country and so did German Jews later on about theirs and we know what transpired. None of us can divine what may happen in generations that are not yet on the horizon of time, but I am confident that the U.S. today and as far ahead as we can foresee is not Spain or Germany and Mel Gibson is not a threat to Jewish security.

What is to be accomplished by our fervent protests, other than putting us in the vulnerable position of attempting to squelch freedom of expression and increasing the film’s likely audience? If the movie is revised to edit out what we deem objectionable, we will be exposed to the charge that we have used our clout to prevent Christians from viewing the original.

Protests are likely to come mostly from conservative Christians – evangelicals, fundamentalists and others who compose the coherent and powerful Christian right – who have been among the most vocal and effective supporters of Israel. This was evident a year and a half ago in the great Washington rally on behalf of Israel.

This relationship is, of course, as overt a case of strange bedfellows as one can locate in the intertwined domain of ideology and politics, given the hyper-liberalism and ultra-secularism of most American Jews. Some conservative Christians, including Catholics, have questioned whether they are getting enough in return for the aid and comfort they give to the Jewish State, especially since on such transcendent issues as church-state separation, gay rights and abortion, Jews are in the vanguard opposing what these religious folks fervently believe in.

It would be fanciful to expect American Jews to alter their views on public policy in order to accommodate conservative Christians as a quid pro quo for the latter’s identification with Israel. But why should we put on display additional hostility and run the risk of alienating those whom we now need?

Admittedly, Christian support of Israel is predicated on theological premises that have less to do with affection for Jews than with what I regard as esoteric calculations about Armageddon and eschatology, all of which is a foreign language for nearly all of us. Yet, conservative Christians have been friendly in ways that are truly remarkable, including humanitarian programs that assist Jews in the Former Soviet Union and subsidies for aliyah to Israel.

If Gibson’s film posed a clear and present danger to Jews, we would be obligated to protest without regard to what collateral harm this might cause to Christian-Jewish relations. The movie is, however, little more than a side-show that is being given temporary hype by the familiar injection of celebrityship and media attention. As Solomon has said, there is a time to cast stones and a time to cry out. He also said that there is a time to be silent and I believe that this is one such occasion.
Last week’s issue contained a letter from Rabbi Haskel Lookstein critically commenting on what I was quoted to have said in an article reporting on a study I conducted on the impact of the economic downturn on Jewish day schools. Rabbi Lookstein, a man who deserves respect for his leadership of Ramaz, claims that “most of the day schools that charge a high tuition also have a very large scholarship program.” As I have written to him, the truth is exactly the reverse and there is an inverse relationship between tuition costs and scholarship availability. Because of economic, social and psychological factors, the priciest schools are the most parsimonious when it comes to financial aid to needy families.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

RJJ Newsletter - September 2003

There was a ready explanation when the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey indicated that more Jews had moved away from Orthodox affiliation than those who had become Orthodox. It was evident that during the extended decline in religious commitment and practice among American Jews throughout much of the 20th Century, a considerable number of the lapsed Orthodox had been Orthodox in affiliation only. Although they were no longer particularly observant, they retained the Orthodox synagogue affiliation that had been something of a family tradition. Their children, however, had moved into Conservative ranks or even further away. That is why the 1990 data showed significant Orthodox abandonment, even during a period when there were abundant signs of Orthodox vitality.

Still, NJPS was – or should have been – disturbing because it also showed that for all of our large spiritual and resource investment in kiruv, there were fewer returnees to Judaism than our outreach professionals had claimed. Of course, the value of kiruv cannot be reduced to numbers, especially in the contemporary American Jewish environment. We must always be mindful of the well known Talmudic teaching that saving a single life – and this includes spiritual salvation – is equivalent to saving the entire world. Yet, the statistics that showed more modest kiruv achievements than we thought to be the case were unsettling.

We still do not have the results of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, a project that has been so poorly managed that when its findings are released, as is expected shortly, they are certain to be challenged as unreliable. There is, in any case, a sense that is shared by people in kiruv that the outflow away from Orthodoxy and religious commitment is more pronounced than the beneficial results of outreach. In short, we are losing more than we are gaining and whatever population growth we are experiencing essentially results from the high Orthodox fertility rate. While we can fault the powerful assimilatory pull of our host society, we can no longer say that our losses are in the main comprised of Jews and their children who are Orthodox in identification alone and not in practice and belief. We are now losing core religious Jews.

The yeshiva world has made kiruv a priority activity. Along with others in outreach, we have achievements that we all ought to be proud of. There is, just the same, a need to take stock, to consider whether kiruv activities are properly focused and whether approaches that were once effective are as relevant today as they were years ago. The yeshiva world and others engaged in kiruv must reflect on why we are losing so many, particularly among our young and particularly in an era when economic and other forces that in a previous period impelled religious Jews away from their heritage are no longer significant factors.

I have long believed that the functional division between kiruv and chinuch – outreach and Torah education – is a tragic strategic blunder. The two activities must be organically integrated in day schools (as they are in our Jewish Foundation School Division), else they cannot be effective. Incredible as it may seem to some, the number of outreach students in Orthodox day schools has declined, this despite fanciful claims to the contrary, notably by a group that boasts about having taken many thousands of students out of public schools and placed them in yeshivas and day schools. This is a dangerous falsehood.

It obviously is more difficult to reach out to non-observant and unaffiliated Jews than it once was. A great number of American Jews no longer regard themselves as Jewish. Those who still do, mostly observe very little and are secular in their orientation. They scarcely listen to any of our messages. Intermarriage has taken an ever-escalating toll, which is also to say that it inevitably reduces the number of Jews who can be reached via kiruv. This is a critical point that is being lost on much of the kiruv community. Increasingly, we are reaching out to Jews whose halachic status is in doubt.

The kiruv movement must engage in self-examination and, as I suggested in the previous newsletter, Orthodox leadership needs to have a lesson in American Jewish geography. It is not smart or effective to concentrate, as we often do, on small communities that are distant and where the intermarriage rate may be 75% or more, while at the same time we neglect larger communities, such as Staten Island, that are in our own backyard and where kiruv can be effective, especially if it is tied to chinuch. Of course, it is more exotic to go out West and exotic locales are conducive to more effective fundraising.

Whatever directions kiruv may take, we need to examine why too many are moving away from Orthodoxy, why we are losing many who were “frum from birth.” We must take a hard and honest look at what is occurring and see what we can do to reverse the trend.

There are, I know, situations that are beyond our reach. This is a large country and an open society and people can choose where and how they live and how they wish to be identified. We could do everything right and yet there will be some Orthodox who decide to abandon a religious life. Besides, America has been enmeshed in a drug culture which entraps the young, some of whom are our own. It may also be that we are losing adherents because of our own failings. I will not develop the thought here, except to say that whether or not we are more prone to wrongful business practices and other ethical lapses than persons who are not Jewish or not Orthodox, the moral condition of Orthodox life is in serious need of repair. Moral laxity by presumably Orthodox Jews serves as a deterrent for other Jews who might consider returning to Judaism. Likely, it is also the case that our derelictions serve as an incentive or excuse for some who want to abandon a religious life.

At a Torah Umesorah dinner years ago, I said that while we focus on Kiruv Rechokim – reaching out to those who are distant – we are Merachek Kerovim, turning away those who are close. This is sadly too true, at times, of yeshivas and day schools.

I will say once more, although I have no hope that my words will have an impact, that in too many instances yeshivas and day schools have become catalysts to Judaic alienation, as when they expel students because of even minor failings, whether behavioral or academic. We estrange these children and often their parents, as well.

The yeshiva world reveres the memory and teachings of the Chazon Ish. I do not understand why we violate so routinely his determination that the issue of expelling a student from a yeshiva is a question of “nefashos,” of life, and therefore requires a beth din of twenty-three. This teaching is routinely ignored, especially by yeshiva and day schools principals who feel that they can unilaterally decide which students shall stay and which shall not. This is an unconscionable violation of Torah law and together with other dubious practices relating to admission and retention costs us dearly among students and their families.

We point routinely and, at times, boastfully to the Talmudic ruling that saving a single life is equivalent to saving an entire world. There is, of course, a second part to this ruling, which is that destroying a single life is equivalent to destroying an entire world. Isn’t it time that we were faithful to this teaching, as well?