Friday, December 31, 2010

An American Disgrace

In retribution for his serious crimes, Jonathan Pollard has been severely punished to the point that the wrongs committed by him are matched by the wrongs committed against him by our government. Spying for Israel is apparently a far worse offense than spying for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War or, more recently, for Russia. If for no other reason, this is why the Pollard story is an American disgrace.

It requires no justification of Pollard’s deeds or even sympathy for the man to recognize that he has been confined to a fate unprecedented in U.S. history. He is, metaphorically, a man in an iron mask, someone to be locked away until death frees him. His prosecutor was duplicitous, his original lawyers were incompetent, his sentencing judge was cruel and unjust and, to top all of this off, there was his wife’s ill-conceived Sixty Minutes interview and also Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s secret and fundamentally dishonest sentencing memorandum. Pollard had the further misfortune that his appeal was heard by a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel that included two Jewish judges, one extremely liberal and the other extremely conservative, who over a powerful dissent by the one non-Jew blithely ignored the inappropriateness of the process that resulted in a life sentence. Fate hasn’t been kind to Pollard.

If this sounds paranoid, with perhaps the charge of anti-Semitism thrown in for good measure, it is assuredly is anything but that. A fair assessment of the case forces the conclusion that Pollard’s sentence was excessive and now should be commuted to time served. In the time-honored tradition applicable to freed spies, he should be sent to the country for which he did his spying. A surprising number of congressmen, a breed not known for courage under fire, and Lawrence Korb who was an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, have called for commutation.

What will now happen cannot be known. It is hard to figure out why Pollard has never caught a break. It may be his fate to fall through the cracks. Anti-Israel sentiment, which is not quite the same as anti-Semitism, in high government positions may be a contributing factor, as his continued imprisonment is a way of striking back at Israel by those who believe that Israel has been the recipient of too much support by successive administrations.

Israel hasn’t helped. True, in the Clinton years and during the Wye Israel-Palestinian peace talks – they seem ages ago – Benjamin Netanyahu who was in his first term as Israel’s Prime Minister, pressed the Americans for Pollards’ release. President Clinton went along, only to be vetoed by CIA Director George Tenet who threatened to resign if the President commuted the sentence. Mr. Clinton backed down, which was wrongful because a president should never yield to such threats. Worse yet, because he backed down, Tenet stayed on, playing a key role in the intelligence failures that preceded 9/11. For incompetence bordering on misfeasance, George W. Bush awarded Tenet our nation’s highest civilian honor.

Although Mr. Netanyahu has asked for Pollard’s release, he invariably has dropped the request when the U.S. said no or simply ignored the issue. Nor has release been advanced as a formal Israeli government position. This has just changed, increasing the prospect of commutation, although doubtlessly the CIA and the Pentagon will object. A more critical barrier is President Obama’s determination, amply on display during the past two years, not to be seen as soft on American security. His Press Secretary, the glib Robert Gibbs, has already said that Pollard’s release is not on the horizon.

Mr. Netanyahu should be insistent because nations ought not turn their backs on the spies they recruit. Unfortunately, Israel does not have chips to swap in the form of American operatives who have spied on Israel. They exist, for sure, although for sure it would be impolitic, even risky, for Israel to arrest CIA agents who have engaged in such espionage.

What should our major organizations and rank and file do? Over the years, most American Jews have been mute, leaving pro-Pollard advocacy to fringe elements, including too many who believe that Pollard did nothing wrong. Our organizations have also stayed away. Now calls for commutation are coming from the American Jewish mainstream. It is now legitimate to advocate for Pollard, which is why there is congressional support.

It may be better for us to refrain from public advocacy, as a public campaign could backfire, serving as a wake-up call for those who want Pollard locked up for life, with the keys thrown away. If Mr. Netanyahu is serious about Israel working to secure Pollard’s release, at some point he will have to decide whether to yield to American pressure on some Palestinian issue. About a month ago, there was what he could offer without undermining Israeli security, notably another two-month freeze on settlement construction. Now that the U.S. is no longer asking for a moratorium, that option does not exist. Presumably there are other issues that can serve as bait. The key obligation is to see that Pollard’s release is on the U.S.-Israel agenda.

The call is Mr. Obama’s not Mr. Netanyahu’s. Of note, except at the time of his arrest and a bit thereafter, Pollard has not been on the American public radar screen. If the President decides to commute, it is doubtful that there will be much of a reaction. He should commute because that is the right thing to do. Continued imprisonment adds to America’s disgrace and not at all to America’s security.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Expanding World of Anything Goes Judaism

Lindsay Lohan, the troubled starlet who has had numerous run-ins with the law, is no poster girl for virtue and certainly not for Judaism, yet as the Times has reported, she is a poster girl for American Jewish World Service, along with several other celebrities, making a pitch for contributions, saying that although she isn’t Jewish the cause deserves support. The campaign, a compound of camp and celebrityship, is apparently doing well. What this says about contemporary Jewish life is another matter. We are again in the ever-expanding world of anything goes Judaism, a world that bears little – at times, no – resemblance to the world of our fathers, including the world of Jewish fathers who weren’t religious but who strongly identified as Jews.

In this brave new world, Judiasm is to a great many, including non-Jews, what anyone says it is. This attitude is dynamic, so that the inventions that we have been witness to are prelude to additional formulations that shall have not even a residual connection to the beliefs and practices that have sustained us.

A useful definition of anything goes Judaism was provided earlier this week by Steven M. Cohen, the noted demographer, when he accepted an award from the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry. Steve spoke of his relationship with Calvin Goldscheider, a sociologist at Brown University, who according to Steve believes that “whatever Jews do in a manner or frequency different from others, whether they agree to call it exclusively Jewish or not, is by definition Jewish culture and Judaism. Intra-group ties and social boundaries are at the core of Jewish vitality and continuity. If so, then Jews can (and do) change the putative essence of being Jewish. They engage in continuing invention and reinvention of the meaning of Jew, Jewish, Jewishness and Judaism, creating the possibility for ongoing transformation.”

Change and a measure of transformation are part of modern living. It is a stretch to say, for example, as some have said that fervently religious Jews in the U.S. have forged living patterns that strongly resemble how religious Jews lived in pre-Holocaust Europe. Time, economic conditions and social forces have brought about significant mutations in religious life-style, including certain values, with core religious beliefs and practices remaining largely intact. However, the notion that we can do and believe whatever we want and still call it Judaism is alien to our history and heritage and dangerous to our future.

The notion that we can constantly reinvent Judaism scarcely affects the Orthodox. The principal impact is on non-Orthodox life, in the undermining of institutions and arrangements that still are vital to a great many Jews. If a few tweaks and a Jewish label are sufficient to impart Jewish legitimacy to any activity, it’s a good bet that younger Jews will go in that direction, associating with activities that are only Jewish in name and embracing what is fashionable in the general culture. There is little hope that synagogues and old line institutions will be able to compete, as a Gresham’s Law will mandate that weak activities and associations will prevail over more substantial Jewish experiences. We see this in the rapid deterioration of the Conservative movement.

I first wrote about this development in the late 1980s and then developed the theme in a book-length monograph in which I suggested that what we were already witness to would not run its course during my lifetime because minimalistic Judaism – which I now refer to as anything goes Judaism – is being sustained and reinforced by substantial communal support, effective promotion and a critical mass of advanced assimilation Jews, including many who have intermarried, who desire to retain Jewish identity even as they chuck off nearly everything that being Jewish meant.

In previous generations, such Jews would have walked away entirely from Jewish life and, in fact, many have in the recent period. What is extraordinary is the number who haven’t. For them, the reinvention of Judaism is tailor-made. Also propping up a residual connection with Jewishness among assimilated Jews who have not vanished into the great American melting pot is the remarkable phenomenon of Jews being at the top of the American ethnic hit parade. We may dwell endlessly on our own warts, yet to other Americans we are hardworking, intelligent, successful, charitable and laden with good values. This helps to explain the stratospheric intermarriage rate.

This sociological brew provides a frame-of-reference for anything goes Judaism. Far out measures are being undertaken to keep the patient called American Jewry alive and they are having some success. A generation ago, I thought that this attitude had staying power. I still do. Anything goes Judaism may be bogus Judaism, yet it is an important sociological reality.

Change will come because the full impact of intermarriage cannot be put off permanently. The evidence is already here in the diminished identity of the offspring of the intermarried. Other changes will result when the dynamic nature of anything goes Judaism as legitimate will induce behaviors that are even more distant from our traditions, including much that is outlandish and even repugnant to our beliefs. This means that the prospect is not rosy for Federations, synagogues and the Hadassahs of our organizational world. This does not mean that our large army of organizations will disappear, although some will. We must never underestimate the capacity of an organization that is functionally dead to remain alive.

For all of its defects, anything goes Judaism is an extraordinary phenomenon and it will be fascinating to see what awaits us.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ultra Bigotry

In a New Republic review of Gal Beckerman’s well-received book on the struggle for Soviet Jewry, Yossi Klein Halevi who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Israel tells of his Jewish Defense League involvement during that crucial period and then offers the following nasty parenthetical aside, “The ultra Orthodox community that did virtually nothing to save Soviet Jews now tries to prevent their full absorption into the Jewish people.”

We can perhaps forgive Klein Halevi for being inaccurate, as he was young when the events being described occurred and he was certainly distracted by the efforts of his JDL buddies to engage in violence. What, however, does “virtually nothing” mean? More pointedly, his current bias is not an excusable offense. There was significant activity by the fervently Orthodox on behalf of Soviet Jews, although much of it was out of the public eye, such things as Chabad’s role in keeping Jewish life alive in the USSR, at times at great risk. There was the work of Rabbi Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth and Rabbi Harry Bronstein of Brooklyn, both now deceased, and the remarkable efforts of Rabbi Mordechai Neustadt who remains active. Malcolm Hoenlein who played a key role working for Soviet Jews early in his distinguished career of Jewish public service points out in an email, “Agudah types certainly came to the rallies.” There was a good deal other involvement from this small sector which is now being smeared once more by a writer with a bigoted agenda.

Why the distortion? There are patterns in how people live, in their friendship circles, food preferences, values, use of language, etc. So it is with groups. This is what is meant by culture. Yossi Klein Halevi does not write on a clean slate. Negativism toward the Orthodox is ingrained and all the better when “ultra” can be added to the identification, so as to convey a picture of extremism, even fanaticism. It is as if denigrating the Orthodox is a Jewish cultural imperative.

I have protested against the “ultra Orthodox” usage, to little avail. No other religious group in the world, including those that stone people or amputate limbs or engage in violence, have “ultra” as part of their identity. We Orthodox are the chosen people, whether in the New York Times or most major Jewish and general publications. Constant usage does not impart legitimacy to the term, nor accuracy, as is evident from its application to Shas, the Israeli political party that caters to Sephardic needs and whose share of Knesset votes tops by a wide margin the percentage of charedim announced by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The governmental data obviously consists primarily of chassidim and persons in the yeshiva world. Although Shas is labeled ultra Orthodox, more than a few of its loyalists can be found at soccer games on Shabbat and engage in other distinctively non-Orthodox activity.

The flip side of deprecatory writing about the Orthodox is what is neglected. If there was an English-language daily Jewish newspaper, most of us would imagine that it would get tons of attention. There is such a phenomena and it is called Hamodia. It has been around for a bunch of years and is read each day by thousands. To boot, it’s well-written and the layout is superb. For nearly all American Jews it does not exist, not because they do not read it but because they have never heard of it and that’s because this and other newspapers that report on much trivia in Jewish life pretend that it does not exist.

There is a galaxy of Orthodox magazines – I dare not call them ultra – including two under Hamodia auspices, as well as Mishpacha, that are attractive and interesting reads and they too do not exist in the mindset of nearly all American Jews. The talented people at Hamodia, under the direction of Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein, a remarkable woman, have produced a major work on the Holocaust called “Witness to History” that is perhaps the first textbook on this critical period. It is already in use in many high schools. Sir Martin Gilbert and Dr. Michael Berenbaum are among the major scholars who were involved in its preparation. Why the neglect?

ArtScroll represents another aspect of the treatment of activities associated with the fervently Orthodox. Attention is paid, too often in a deprecatory fashion, and rarely with adequate appreciation of the quality of the scholarship or how it has transformed the study of sacred texts, notably of the Talmud, which is its most glorious achievement. I admire Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz for his monumental career, yet his Talmud which gathers favorable press at the drop of his name cannot hold a candle to ArtScroll’s, not in usage and not in usability. This is evident in Modern Orthodox and some non-Orthodox homes.

Attention, at times inordinate, is paid when there is real or alleged Orthodox - and especially ultra - wrongdoing to report on. No claim for immunity from coverage can be made when the story concerns a communal matter or official. Even then, balance is required. A couple of weeks back, the lead story, if it can be called that, in this newspaper was about how North Shore Hebrew Academy high school was raiding or recruiting students from the Solomon Schechter of Nassau County. I am not sure how this is wrongful. The more important story should be about the sad and steep decline of this Solomon Schechter school, a decline so pronounced that documents I have seen deal with the continued viability of its high school. This situation merits attention, if only because it might engender support for the school.

In view of the extent of Orthodox activities to assist the needy, much of it ultra inspired, it is probably too much to hope that sufficient credit be given to these achievements. Is it too much to hope, however, that the next time Yossi Klein Halevi veers toward anti-Orthodox bigotry, he might just ponder this activity?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Challenge of Insularity

Nearly fifty years ago, I wrote an article on Orthodox Jews and the civil rights movement that was published in the Jewish Observer, then the magazine of Agudath Israel, arguing among other things that it is appropriate to contribute to such causes. Although the contribution might not qualify as tzedakah, it would certainly be charity and a good use of our discretionary resources.

I taught at Hunter College in the 1960s, with the lion’s share of my time devoted to COLPA, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, which in a brief period made great strides in advancing the rights of religious persons. As an additional voluntary activity, I represented the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with its non-governmental organizational status at the United Nations, working toward the adoption of human rights treaties.

In a sense, the article and ACLU activity pointed in the same direction. An Orthodox Jew who was embedded in his community and was extremely active in religious life need not and perhaps should not be entirely insular.

It’s doubtful that nowadays the Jewish Observer would publish an article that advocates contributions to non-Jewish causes and not only because the magazine is no longer in existence. Orthodox Jews who inherently and justifiably are insular have become more so. There are barriers and attitudes that limit our interactions with the general society. Yet, I cling to the view that I expressed long ago. When recently the back page of the Times Sunday Magazine, usually devoted to human interest stories, told of a courageous Glendale, Arizona woman who operates a home for abused women, after Google provided the name and address, I sent a contribution. It may be that this was not an act of tzedakah, although we are halachically enjoined under at least some circumstances to assist persons in need who are not Jewish.

For sure, this isn’t standard procedure for most Orthodox, at least not among the charedim, and, to an extent, for good reasons. Although in the aggregate the Orthodox are the least affluent of American Jews, they contribute a disproportionate share of the tzedakah given to Jewish causes, helping to sustain in the process and under increasingly difficult conditions a large and growing network of yeshivas and day schools, as well as other educational institutions, and a remarkable array of chesed activities that assist a vast number of Jews, including many who are not Orthodox. All of this despite the high cost of religious Jewish living.

For these reasons alone, the Orthodox can be forgiven for exhibiting parochialism in their charity. If any Orthodox contribute outside of the four cubits of their communal life, this, too, is understandable and even praiseworthy. There is, after all, Hillel’s great teaching about not being merely for ourselves.

Insularity is objectionable, however, when it is expressed, whether in word or deed, as negativity toward persons who are not Jewish. It is one thing to contribute exclusively to Jewish causes because they are our special obligation, need help and we cannot count on other people to be of assistance. It is something else and potentially ugly to justify parochialism on the ground that non-Jews are never worthy of assistance because they are inferior. I have challenged this wrongful attitude in writing for decades, without much apparent impact.

We are a Chosen People only by nature of our living sanctified lives. We are not sanctified – and certainly not better than other people – when we denigrate the 99.99+% of the world’s inhabitants who are not Jewish. Just as a practical matter, this attitude is at once silly and dangerous. Why should we expect other people to respect us, if we do not respect them?

Yet, there is a disturbing tendency among some Orthodox, religious figures included, to express in words but not deeds attitudes that are objectionable. When such language is not challenged, there is a good prospect that what is wrongful will be dynamic and breed even greater wrongs. If offensive rhetoric is regarded as appropriate, our community is seriously in need of improvement.

One highly unwelcome consequence of parochialism accompanied by negativism is that it serves as a justification, if not a cause, for Orthodox Jews who have abandoned a religious life. It is clear that by a considerable margin more Jews who were born into Orthodox families are rejecting that commitment than the number of Jews born into non-Orthodox families who have been attracted to religious life through outreach and other activity. There are, admittedly, strong forces at work to produce this unhappy situation, mainly that we live in an open society that provides powerful and exciting incentives to those who want to abandon religiosity. It remains that there are Orthodox who were turned off by inappropriate language about non-Jews.

When I point this out to my fellow Orthodox, they invariably invoke the long and painful history of persecution. For them the Holocaust remains an open wound that justifies the denigration of non-Jews. It is hard to argue with them about the history and yet their argument which is predicated on the notion that inherently every non-Jew is at least a potential anti-Semite is false and dangerous. The United States is not part of this history; it is a land of tolerance that has exhibited, even now, extraordinary esteem for our people. Nor is it accurate to depict all those among whom we have lived throughout the centuries as people who hate Jews.

There is a way of being on guard against anti-Semitism without regarding every non-Jew as an anti-Semite. There is a way to be insular without being negative and derogatory toward all other people.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Wages of Fear

History isn’t bunk, as a great industrialist who was also a first-class anti-Semite once said, but it is often taught as if it is, especially at the elementary and secondary levels. There is the piling on of facts to be memorized and then to serve as answers on tests that put the students’ brains in mothballs. There is too little focus on understanding and nuance. When I was a lad more than fifty years ago and working on my doctorate, I taught social studies for two years at a new yeshiva high school, an experience that brought an incomparable blessing. About the American Revolution, the assignment was for students to get the British point of view on what transpired in 1776 and thereabouts.

A perspective about history is sorely needed in this time of cholera, of an anger that begets hatred which, in turn, begets repression. This is a recurring motif in American history, cropping up at intervals of about fifty years and occasionally much briefer. Likely, the phenomenon is true of other societies as there is a tide in the affairs of men and nations. The consequences are never pretty, as an air of suspicion warps judgment and distorts reality, within innocent persons being harmed and cherished values jettisoned. For all of the deplorable pain, it is necessary to remember that this too shall pass, that there will be better days.

If we look across the span of American history, there is a pattern, starting with the Salem Witch trials and culminating with post-Second World War McCarthyism with much else that was impelled by fear in between. It is as if history has a biological aspect that from time to time generates emotions that overcome reason and fairness, emotions that propel this nation in the direction away from what America should stand for.

That is what is happening now. We are in an early stage of the fever and worse awaits us. This is not about a conservative mindset, whether in its Tea Party incarnation or any other. There is a legitimate, albeit limited, case to be made for the notion that the government that governs least is the government that governs best and, more powerfully, against the folly that mountains of public debt should grow larger in support of the false god of entitlements. Those of a liberal orientation need to reflect on why after trillions of dollars for programs allegedly aimed at assisting the needy, we are constantly told that the ranks of the needy are greater than ever. The answer isn’t blowing in the wind; it’s in the povertycratic “non-profit” scam involving thousands of well-fed organizations benefitting handsomely off public funding designed to help the needy.

In the reaction against this excess, the baby is being thrown out with the bath water, so that good programs will be hurt. Being conservative about fiscal issues brings with it ideological baggage, including opposition to the main immigration policies and a growing disrespect for basic rights. The fever is such that overwhelmingly public opinion is against giving those accused of terrorism a fair trial and there is hysteria about conducting such a trial in Manhattan. America is not made more secure as a result of these positions. When we depart from values and practices that are our glory, our country is diminished.

Fear is contagious, leaping across boundaries. What is aimed at the enemy affects many more innocent persons. In Justice Brandeis’ epic formulation, referring to Salem and contemporaneous events, “Men feared witches and burnt women.” We are now witness to the harmful wages of fear as Homeland Security and Transportation Safety officials apparently believe that sexual abuse is an appropriate response to terrorism. These experts should ponder Israel’s policy, as that country’s existential threat does not require full x-ray exposure of one’s privates or the patting down of genitals.

The mutations in behavior essentially aimed at protecting our security are a victory of sorts of terrorists and their allies. Much more awaits us.

It remains to be seen whether the atmosphere and its progeny are bad news for Jews. If history is a guide, there is reason for concern. Whether of an economic or another nature, crisis invariably has served as an invitation to those who wish us ill to come out of the woodwork. In the years prior to the Second World War through the McCarthy experience, there was an abundance of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country. Then there was a remarkable shift in opinion and for a half a century we have been admired. It is perhaps of note that during this half century, for all of the political and ideological conflict that we have been witness to, America was not in the throes of fear. The haters -and there have been many, some openly anti-Semitic – have been pushed away from the mainstream, relegated as it were to the fringes of American life and outside of the pale of respectability.

Hopefully, this will not change, yet there are reasons to be worried. We Jews, simply put, do not fare well when the societies that we are in are gripped by fear.

This is a reality that should be pondered by my fellow Orthodox , particularly those who are charedi or fervently Orthodox, too many of whom are also fervently right wing. It’s understandable why on certain social issues they may strongly veer toward conservatism. What is troublesome is their embrace of the right wing, their swallowing whole hog an extremist ideology that poses a danger, I believe, to American Jews.

It is painfully necessary to say that Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing hate parade are not our Roshei Yeshiva or Rebbes. Their ideology and rhetoric are not a branch of Judiasm. We have our Torah and our laws and they are our guides. It is time for those Orthodox who are intoxicated by the right wing to reflect on our painful history, much of it still recent, that demonstrates the peril.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Claims Conference Once More

The Claims Conference which is the principal conduit for German government reparations funds is once more in the news and once more the news is not good. A massive fraud, amounting to at least $42 million, has been uncovered, mainly involving bogus claimants from the former Soviet Union. I doubt that this is the entire story. There needs to be an independent investigation, including a thorough audit of all Claims Conference accounts.

Whenever large sums are available for distribution to a large pool of potential claimants, there is a strong likelihood of some fraud, particularly when, as is true of restitution funds, criteria for eligibility are not precise and certain claims are not fully provable. There are claimants who see their opportunity and come out of the woodwork. Although the situations are not quite comparable, the funds established for Ground Zero claimants and recently for those who say that the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico disaster caused them great harm are feeding troughs for some scoundrels. There is no reason to expect that human nature will be altered because the restitution funds are linked to the Holocaust.

There is no question about the integrity of those in charge of the Claims Conference. There are huge questions about their management skills. It is no comfort that the organization played a key role in uncovering the fraud that just made the front page of the New York Times because this fraud was largely in-house and conducted over a considerable span of years by key employees. That is astonishing.

If a major Jewish organization was beset by a similar scandal, questions would be asked by contributors, the media and others and changes would be made. There would be greater accountability. Because of its vital mission, the Claims Conference should be subjected to greater scrutiny and heightened accountability. This isn’t the case, which is curious and yet there is an explanation. Because there is no fundraising, accountability is diminished. Its board and officers operate essentially as a self-perpetuating body.

The imperious attitude that prevails is manifested by the role now played by Professor Burt Neuborne in the distribution of certain Holocaust-related funds. I have no brief against him and doubtlessly he has done much that is meritorious, but Holocaust-related funds are not his finest hour, as was clearly demonstrated in the Swiss Bank litigation.

The likelihood is that, as in the past, the Claims Conference will do little or nothing in response to the latest scandal, expecting that once more media and communal attention will be short-lived. The organization has weathered worse crises and can calculate that its standard operation procedure of ignoring and often denigrating calls for reform and transparency will pay off. Worse yet, it has engaged Howard Rubinstein and Associates, a sure message that something is rotten and rather than reform, damage control is the order of the day. Is it sufficient to bring in a spinmaster who counsels obfuscation and the application of dabs of perfume to cover up the stench?

Of all of the wrongs or questionable actions attributed to the Claims Conference, none holds a candle to its complicity in the failure to protect those whose property was seized by the Nazis. In the words of Isi Leibler, formerly a leader of Australian Jewry who now lives in Israel and was involved in the Claims Conference, its “leaders have adopted a Robin Hood approach in relation to this issue, arguing that the proceeds of these properties should be directed to other Claims Conference enterprises.”

All told, more than fifty thousand parcels of land have been transferred to the Claims Conference. Many have been sold, with the funds going to the organization to dispense as it pleases. Time limits for applying and other bureaucratic impediments have made it difficult and, at times, impossible for rightful heirs to get back what is rightfully theirs. This is a key issue in Leibler’s powerful indictment of the Claims Conference published last week in Israel Hayom, the country’s largest circulation newspaper. In response to the question, “Will you publish a current list of properties which the Claims Conference holds, including an estimate of their valuation?”, the organization says in part, “The publication of the valuation of the assets, prior to placing them on auction, would prejudice the ability to get the best possible price for them.” Apart from this not being true, how does this trump the rights of heirs?

The Claims Conference story is about what happens when there is too little accountability, when people who doubtlessly have accomplished good elsewhere have come to regard a communal enterprise as theirs and not the community’s. Reparation funds are not meant for staff or officers but for Holocaust survivors and, in a larger and vital sense, for the Jewish nation wherever we may live and especially in Israel. It is not immaterial that over the years the Israeli government and major instrumentalities of Israeli life have been among the most persistent critics of the organization.

When we reflect on what has happened over the years, including multiple big league scandals, it is apparent that the Claims Conference is in a league by itself. No other Jewish enterprise could go through what it has experienced without major reforms in management and policy. The Claims Conference has insulated itself, living inside a self-created communal bubble that provides greater immunity from scrutiny than perhaps any other major player in our robust communal life.

It is time for change in management and leadership. There needs to be transparency and accountability. Our media need to be alert to the story. To start the process of change, outsiders should be brought in to evaluate the situation and to make recommendations and the report that they issue should be made public. The alternative to major reform is the next scandal that may already be in the making.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Doing Away With Denominations

I have an aversion to terms that have “post” as a prefix. For this discussion, therefore, let’s put a Post-it saying “don’t use” on post-denominationalism. This allows for a less jargon-laden consideration of the role of denominations in contemporary American Jewish life, a discussion prompted by Yehudah Mirsky’s post on a blog asking “Who needs denominations?”

In a way, most American Jews need denominations because for all of the changes in our behavior and attitudes, the familiar alignment of Conservative-Orthodox-Reform, with Reconstruction occasionally thrown in, remains a vital part of the American Jewish story. Nearly all of our demography is predicated, to an extent, on this pattern, as is synagogue life, day school and supplementary school education and much else.

It is also certain that the times are a-changing, as they have been for a long time. There is the astonishing decline of the Conservative movement, a development that will not be reversed, and the nearly parallel explosion in the number of unaffiliated Jews, arising from the reality that denominational affiliation does not resonate for a significant proportion of American Jews. Because this phenomenon is generational, it’s a sure bet that down the road the traditional categories of affiliation will be less relevant than they now are, with the important exception of the Orthodox.

Categories are employed because they make it easier to understand sociological realities. There is in this the inevitability of some distortion and it may be considerable, as is evident by the findings that by a widening margin Reform constitute the largest share of American Jewry. This claim stands on two wobbly legs, firstly since surveys ask about affiliation, for many American Jews who are in the grip of advanced assimilation, Reform is the response that is closest to the mark. Secondly, the ranks of Reform are swelled considerably by the inclusion of persons who are not Jewish, many not even by Reform’s loose definition.

Denominational affiliation is largely a post-Enlightenment (oops!) development, first primarily in Germany and then utilized in much of western and central Europe and ultimately adapted to the North American Jewish experience. In Sephardic life, such usages are generally shunned, the upshot being that while of course there are Jews who are not observant in the Orthodox sense, the communal infrastructure is Orthodox. At the personal level, Sephardic Jews range in their religiosity, so that those who are not particularly observant are still regarded as Orthodox.

Although there are Reform and Masorti congregations in Israel, Israelis do not identify themselves in denominational terms. Nor is Israeli demographic research predicated on the denominational categories employed on these shores. Rather, the tendency is to self-identify as charedi or fervently religious, dati or Orthodox, traditional and secular.

The use of denominations may facilitate statistical analysis, yet they serve as a barrier, as an announcement that this is what we identify as and that is what we do not identify as. Non-Orthodox Jews therefore do not worship at Orthodox synagogues, except perhaps for a simcha or another special occasion. The wall that is established may impact on kiruv or outreach activity and the proof may be in the point made by outreach workers that it is usually easier to attract unaffiliated Jews than those who are identified as Reform or Conservative. Here, too, the Israeli experience may be illustrative, as outreach activities in Israel have generated excitement and considerable movement across the spectrum of religious life, while American kiruv is apparently doing a lot less well.

How does Chabad figure in all of this? Some call it a separate denomination; others disagree. In fact, while denominational affiliation means much to the denominations, it is far less relevant in the work of Chabad which has emerged as the largest Jewish organization on the planet. It is continuing to expand, fueled by an army of young persons who are willing to serve, the erosion of organized Jewish life in countless places and an approach that allows it to be different things to different people. Add to this scads of empathy and tolerance, far more intellectualism than readily meets the eye and activities that provide what many actually need and what emerges is a recipe for connecting with vast numbers of Jews who are otherwise not very much engaged in Jewish life.

On campuses, Chabad is overtaking Hillel as the place to be at. There also has been significant growth in Chabad day schools and supplementary schools, at times because the local Chabad has taken responsibility for institutions and activities established by a denomination-affiliated group. Adult education is another area of substantial and an expanding Chabad presence. In short, the movement has something for nearly everyone, with very little if anything demanded in terms of traditional Judaism. Much of what occurs partakes of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Jews are invited to show up and they are welcomed when they do.

Despite Chabad’s size and importance, there is scant research on how this comports with the familiar indices of Jewish identity. We know how denominational Jews keep or do not keep Shabbos, whether they eat kosher and how they respond to a long list of practices and beliefs. About the participants in Chabad, little is known, perhaps because participation is fluid. It is less a matter of formal identification and therefore not easy to pin down via survey research, although it would be a good idea for those who conduct our research to begin to include questions about participation in Chabad.

As denominational life changes, largely in the direction of becoming weaker, we need to know more about Chabad and much else in Jewish life that operates outside the traditional boundaries of denominations.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mad Men

During the summer and after a trial that spanned several years, a Jerusalem court acquitted Knesset member Tzarchi Hanegbi, formerly of Likud and now of Kadima, of fraud and breach of trust charges arising from political appointments made when he served as environment minister between 2001 and 2003 and by a split 2-1 decision convicted him of perjury for denying that these appointments were political in nature.

By Israeli criminal justice standards in high-profile cases, the Hanegbi verdict is a case of speedy determination, witness by contrast the nearly decade-long investigations of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the endless and often trivial pursuit of Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister. I have no brief for either man, yet the expenditure of millions of dollars – and still counting – on these cases, as well as enormous manpower, is legal lunacy that should not be tolerated. When special prosecutor Ken Starr targeted President Clinton on a smorgasbord of charges, some quite serious, there was much protest about how much time and money the investigation consumed. In Israel, the pursuit of politicians is overtime activity.

The notion that political appointments can be criminalized absent any showing of bribery is bizarre, even Kafkaesque, and antithetical to the ideal of democracy which mandates that those who are victorious in elections run the government, subject of course to the protection of minority rights and against serious abuses. This doesn’t necessarily result in good government; that is the price to pay for democracy. The antidote is the ballot box and other political processes, not in criminalizing politics, and not, to borrow from Judge Learned Hand about whose court I once wrote a book, to have Guardian Angels protect us against democracy’s inefficiencies.

The anti-democracy movement in Israel, of which the Hanegbi prosecution is but one example, is fed constantly by the nation’s Supreme Court which has embraced authoritarian principles, including the authority to decide whether appointees to top positions are fit to serve. This is in fulfillment of the doctrine promulgated by Aharon Barak, the Supreme Court’s former President, that Israeli democracy must be saved from itself through judicial fiat.

Interestingly, the zeal to proscribe protekzia does not extend to the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, the branch of government that inherently is the least democratic. The selection process of Israeli judges has been controlled, from top to bottom, by the president of the Supreme Court and other judges who do his or her bidding. This is rotten to the core. Can we imagine an arrangement where Chief Justice John Roberts decides who should fill vacancies in our Supreme Court and lower federal courts?

In the Hanegbi matter, the judicial process has been weird. The verdict ran to more than 1,000 pages – this is not a typo – and the summary alone took 60 pages. That’s not all; the case is not over and not only because prosecutorial zealots may appeal in order to protect their cherished right to criminalize patronage. The time taken by the judges to decide on Hanegbi’s guilt and the War and Peace size of the verdict were not sufficient to determine whether his lying about the appointments constitutes moral turpitude which would require his ouster from the Knesset and being barred from public office. There will be another ruling about that.

This case is the first such prosecution and hopefully it will be the last effort to criminalize political activity, although this may be too optimistic to expect. When, as in Israel, the police-prosecutor-judicial triumvirate devote enormous resources to the targeting of politicians, there is severe collateral damage in the neglect of other criminal justice responsibilities, some that are very serious, including police corruption, ordinary crime and the continuing sordidness of Israel’s sex industry and the forced prostitution of hundreds and probably thousands of young women.

When judges spend years clinically examining the careers of the Hanegbis, there is a huge cost in the inability to do justice because other litigation is delayed. The dockets of Israel’s courts are chock full of cases that are awaiting attention and while this is a condition of all modern societies as litigation has exploded, the situation is about as bad as it can get in Israel.

Additional collateral damage arises from the disincentive for talented and conscientious persons to engage in public service, as they feel that if they did the police would quickly open a file on them. In an editorial challenging the Hanegbi prosecution, the Jerusalem Post cited a book by Professor Yossi Shain called The Language of Corruption in Israel’s Moral Culture whose theme is that “the Israeli judicial approach is counterproductive. It creates the impression that Israeli politics suffers from rampant corruption. This undermines the public’s trust of politics and politicians.” This judicially-created attitude leads, in turn, to the usurpation by the judiciary of responsibilities that belong elsewhere in democratic societies.

The Israeli penal code is overloaded with “Thou Shalt Nots” that while not mandating lashes for transgressors results in excessive prosecutions and prison terms. In this regard, Israel follows in the path of the United States. It’s time for Israel to join the ranks of civilized nations and stop criminalizing every misstep. Far greater reliance should be placed on civil penalties, mainly fines. My advocacy against excessive criminalizing of wrongdoing may be interpreted as tolerance of wrongdoing. That’s not the case. My point is that there are unintended wrongs and mistakes and minor wrongs and mistakes. These are factors that should be taken into account before there is a rush to prosecute.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The American Jewish Congress Is No More

Fifty years ago I wrote an article on church-state separation for an Agudath Israel publication. About the American Jewish Congress, then American Jewry’s fiercest advocate of total separation, I wrote that it was scarcely Jewish and certainly not a congress. What I wrote about the American in its name is another question. While this early exercise in scribbling arose from my commitment to government aid to parochial schools, my view of the AJC was also shaped by an incident a year or two earlier when as a graduate student at NYU and working in the new field of judicial behavior under the guidance of my beloved teacher, Joseph Tanenhaus, whose son is the noted writer and editor of the Sunday Times Book Review, I analyzed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in civil liberties cases to determine whether they added meaningfully to the legal arguments advanced by the counsel for the parties. My conclusion was that they did not, that they were essentially interest group pronouncements.

In the course of this research, I arranged to meet at the AJC with Leo Pfeffer, its then legendary general counsel – he is now all but forgotten – who was the country’s most prominent proponent of absolute separation. When I arrived and he saw the black yarmulka perched on top of my then curly black hair, the great civil libertarian sputtered and said that the meeting was a mistake. He was hostile throughout the meeting. Later, in the 1960s, when I was teaching at Hunter College and representing the Orthodox Union at what was then called the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), Pfeffer and I debated the government aid question a number of times.

In the 1950s, NJCRAC had commissioned Robert MacIver, the eminent sociologist, to examine the organizational structure of American Jewish life, an assignment that resulted in a report that received much favorable attention but no action, as MacIver recommended agency consolidation, bemoaning the duplication and the waste. Our communal response was to create additional groups, in fulfillment of the paramount American Jewish imperative, “Organize, Organize and Organize.” As I have written over the years, each day when the sun sets there are fewer American Jews than there were when the sun rose, yet there are at sunset more Jewish organizations than there were when the sun came up.

What advocacy could not achieve, economics has wrought. The American Jewish Congress is no more, another Madoff victim it said and also the victim of poor lay leadership. Presumably, we should celebrate, if only because at long last we are capable of organicide. I do not celebrate because although it was severely weakened over the past decade before Madoff took it to the cleaners, the AJC played a creative and moderating role in Jewish public affairs, moving away from the fantastic and fanatic notion that this great nation would be endangered if church and state would interact. The absolutists pounce whenever they scent an even tiny breach in their sacred wall of separation. The AJC has cautioned a more cautious approach.

What is left of the organization may now be incorporated into the American Jewish Committee, from which the AJCongress emerged nearly a century ago. We are left with the Committee and the Anti-Defamation League as the defenders of our faithless faith.

The AJCommittee is a study in organizational dissonance. In its research and scholarly activities, as well as in its publications, notably Commentary which remains a bastion of neo-conservatism, it has articulated a nuanced approach to public issues, including the place of religion in the public square. When engaged in litigation or advocating legislation, it invariably veers far to the left, leaving the impression that one part of the organization does not know what the other part is doing. This dualism may be a sign of tolerance. When it comes to legal and legislative issues concerning church and state, however, the Committee lines up with the absolutists.

Over the past two decades, the Anti-Defamation League has surged past the Committee in size and prominence. Adept and aggressive at public relations and fundraising which are far and away its major activities, the ADL feeds abundantly on our fear of anti-Semitism and the seeds of paranoia embedded in the psyche of many Jews. For all of its success, the ADL is astonishingly bereft of any intellectual instinct. It has made no contribution to Jewish thought and it has not produced as much as a single publication of lasting significance.

In line with its anti-intellectualism, the ADL is characterized by a high degree of internal discipline, which alone should make it suspect as a Jewish organization. Its boss is at least as much in control as the typical chassidic rebbe is in control of his flock. None of this would matter were it not for the antipathy to religion that is an ADL hallmark, contributing substantially to the defamation of American Jews as a people who are hostile to religion.

The AJCongress’ closure raises the question of whether other organizations will follow suit, particularly since economic conditions remain unfavorable. Unlike people, organizations often have a life after they are functionally dead. In the aggregate, younger Jews do not identify with the organizations that were critical in the lives of their parents and grandparents. New organizations reflecting their interests are coming into being. What about the old organizations? What about the vast and expensive Federation network? Change is overdue, as there is an urgent need to consolidate and to rethink the Federation concept.

There will be changes in our organizational life because life always brings change. We cannot be confident, however, that the death of the American Jewish Congress is a harbinger of other major organizations calling it quits.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

RJJ Newsletter - September 2010

About fifty years ago, Rav Aharon Kotler invited me to seudas shlishis at his apartment in Borough Park, a block away from where I lived. It was shortly before the Elul zman or term was to begin and he was not in Lakewood for Shabbos. There was another guest, an elderly man who came from Kletzk, the Polish town near the Russian border where Rav Aharon had relocated the yeshiva that Rav Iser Zalman Meltzer, his father-in-law, had established in Slutzk on the Russian side of the border. Soviet officials had made it impossible to remain open in Slutzk.

At one point this man asked, “Rosh Yeshiva, we have a principle referred to as yeridas hadoros, that each successive generation declines in sanctity and observance from the standards of the previous generation. Is this valid? The Talmud tells us that in the First and Second Temple periods Jews committed grievous sins, including murder. Are we now killing people in the streets? How can we say that each generation is diminished from its predecessor?”

The Rosh Yeshiva was obviously not pleased by the question and did not offer an answer. Yet, the question struck me as reasonable. What, in fact, do we mean by generational decline? A possible answer occurred to me many years later when reading “From Berlin to Jerusalem,” the recollections of Gershon Scholem who grew up in a thoroughly secular German home and for a period became observant. Scholem writes about his joy when he began to study the Talmud, ascribing three extraordinary qualities to the sacred text: The remarkable economy of language used by the Sages, the recognition that what is being studied and the questions that are being asked were studied and asked one-hundred years, five-hundred years and a thousand years previously and would be studied and asked one-hundred years, five-hundred years and a thousand years in the future and, thirdly, the total fidelity of the Sages to the truth, so that if a colleague erred in word or deed, that is what was recorded without embellishment in the Talmud.

At that moment, I had the possible answer to the question asked of Rav Aharon. The decline of generations refers to the capacity of each generation to speak the truth about itself. In our generation, we constantly indulge in hagiography, in ignoring what is inconvenient and embellishing stories to make in action and words our rabbinical and lay leaders even more remarkable.

After this essay was drafted, I read Hamodia Magazine, a fine publication whose readership is primarily charedi. The issue included a long article, the first in a series on “America’s noble Torah families,” about a lay person who is no longer alive. It is astounding to read that this man who was born in 1909 on the Lower East Side did not attend yeshiva because “there were no yeshivos in New York in the early 1900s.” The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School was established in 1900 and enrolled five hundred students in 1910. There were other yeshivos, as well. There are also other misstatements in the article, all of which have the aim of making this person who lived a good life even more remarkable than he was. Unfortunately, this style of writing is common in our publications.

We seem compelled to sugarcoat, as if the exercise is some sort of mitzvah. This, I believe, is the essence of contemporary generational decline, a decline from the transcendent level manifested by our greatest teacher, Moshe, especially in the Torah portions that we read in the weeks prior to Rosh Hashanah, to the sad level evident in the present period. We are the generation of feelgood Judaism, the generation where what should be occasions for self-reflection become entertainments, as is evident increasingly on Tisha B’Av, kiruv weekends at luxury hotels and too many other experiences.

Feelgood Judaism seeks to elevate the externalities of religiosity so that they serve as surrogates for the internal piety that was the hallmark of previous generations of religious Jews. Just by looking at the photographs of pre-Holocaust family life in Eastern Europe can we have a sense of how far we are witness to generational decline.

This decline may be built into the ethos of the Jewish people, for each successive generation is further removed from the experience at Sinai. Even so, it is the obligation of Torah leaders to challenge the community, especially since it is evident that excess and sinfulness arise in large measure from contemporary standards and pressures in the societies in which we live. In a sense, there is a chemistry of sinfulness, notably in monetary matters and sexual behavior, in which the shortcomings that are elements of the human condition – ki yetzer lev ha-adam ra min’urav, the inclinations of man are evil from his youth – interact with debased contemporary standards to produce violations of what the Torah requires of us.

Wrongful behavior is inconsistent with Torah living, yet wrongfulness runs in our lives on a parallel track, as if the urges that impel us in that direction are as much part of us as our limbs. Of the remarkable incidents after the Exodus recorded in the Torah, nearly all of which are about the wrongdoing of our people, none is as astounding or as instructive of a profound and sad reality as the story of the Golden Calf. Just days after the never-again achieved spiritual heights reached at Sinai where we stood in total sanctity, we quickly turned away and were diminished – saru maher – and engaged in idol worship.

If sinfulness is an inevitable aspect of the human experience, including in the lives of religious Jews, Torah and mitzvos provide the antidote. Each mitzvah, whether negative or positive, and specifically including tzedakah and acts of chesed, is a restriction on our freedom by limiting what we may do with the resources at our command, whether they be our means, time, physical capabilities, mental capacity and so on. Feelgood Judaism is an insidious antithesis of proper Torah living by masquerading as appropriate, even desirable behavior. As a consequence, the seeming performance of a mitzvah may be devoid of the restraint that defines what a mitzvah is about. When we perform a mitzvah without the necessary restraint that is part of the mitzvah we are in the zone designated by Ramban as repulsive in the precincts of the Torah, meaning that a person can act and ostensibly live a life of Torah and mitzvos and yet act in ways that are repugnant.

We are not required to live as monks or as paupers. We are permitted and, at times, required to enjoy and benefit from the fruit of our labor and from the blessings that we have received. We can eat good food, have nice clothing, enjoy living in fine homes and find ways to be happy, provided that we understand that such blessings are a gift and because they are a gift we need to act with restraint. One aspect of this obligatory restraint is to give tzedakah.

Because of the deficiencies inherent in human nature, much of the character of the Jewish people depends on the quality of our leadership. This is not a license for ordinary Jews to behave as they may please in defiance of Torah standards. What it means is that the behavior of our leaders affects the behavior of our masses, a truth that has been abundantly evident in the two generations of the post-Holocaust American Jewish experience. We need only think of the impact on our community of the extraordinary Torah leaders who guided us in those years.

It is through a synthesis of personal effort and divine blessing that Torah leaders attain a measure of sanctity. They may not be entirely immune from human frailties that affect judgment and behavior, yet through their immersion in Torah study and their elevated midos they largely overcome these frailties. It is therefore their responsibility to lead and to challenge the rest of us to achieve a higher level of Torah observance and this specifically includes a greater degree of restraint. Without their tochocha, their willingness to rebuke, the standards of the community will be lowered. The example of leadership was set by Moshe, the greatest of our leaders. After each untoward incident, he sharply rebuked the Jewish nation and this continued throughout the forty years in the desert until literally the end of his life. In the Torah readings in the weeks before Rosh Hashanah, there is time and time again the message that when the Jews will enter the land that has been promised to them, they must be careful not to lapse into behaviors that could result in the forfeiture of that land.

With but one exception, after each wrongful incident in the desert, Moshe intervened on behalf of the Jewish nation. There was punishment and then forgiveness. The exception is referred to in the Torah as Kivroth Ha-Taavah which can be translated as the graveyard of excessive desire. Because they craved fresh meat and other delicacies and were tired of a regiment of Manna, the Jews rebelled. As compared with the Golden Calf, the episode of the Spies and its aftermath and several other incidents of rebellion against
G-D and Moshe’s authority, Kivroth Ha-Taavah seems to be a minor affair. In fact, it was an epic leadership-changing experience. Rather than just once more rebuking those who sinned, Moshe throws in the towel, at least partially, saying that he can no longer lead this difficult nation. This resulted in the appointment of the Seventy Elders who were invested with a share of Moshe’s authority. This was followed by a plague and punishment, but unlike other occasions of defiance, Moshe did not pray for the plague to cease. He did not intervene. Nor are we told how many died, again unlike the other incidents.

This is the story known as Kivroth Ha-Taavah. What exactly is the place that was named Kivorth Ha-Taavah? Where was it located? Why did Moshe refuse to intervene? Why is there no tally of the casualties?

Kivroth Ha-Taavah is that place, in whichever generation or location, where Jews are engulfed by excessive desire. The sin of idol worship or sexual immorality for which the Jews were punished severely in the desert is obviously greater than the craving for food or luxuries. But those sins have boundaries. When the passion to sin has been sated, it is, in a sense, a return to normalcy, until the next episode which likely will be a repeat of its predecessor. This is not true of ta-avah, excessive craving. There is no boundary and such desires are dynamic, meaning that whatever was craved for previously is a prelude to even greater desires. That is the reason why Moshe gave up. That is the reason why no reckoning of the dead is provided. The toll just kept on climbing.

The craving for food or luxury or another experience that is above the ordinary is a universal instinct, an aspect of our physical and emotional make-up. How this craving is expressed is determined by the environment, as Rambam taught in his laws regarding ethical behavior. This is the phenomenon that we identify as conspicuous consumption. Doubtlessly, in the shtetls of Eastern Europe and other places of Jewish settlement over the generations, there was the phenomenon that is referred to as ta-aavah or excessive craving. However, circumstances, including poverty and the lack of social and geographic mobility, imposed restraints on most Jews. An additional barrier of restraint was provided by an innate sense of piety.

The generational decline we are witness to is manifested through a lack of restraint and this impacts, in turn, on the giving of tzedakah. Whatever the degree of fulfillment of this obligation was in previous generations, the contemporary situation is clearly worse and continues to deteriorate. Fewer religious Jews are giving an appropriate amount of tzedakah. As I have noted elsewhere, Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztl, said as much in a tshuva published a generation ago. Without a doubt, the situation is worse today. When ta-aavah and tzedakah are in competition, invariably it is the latter that is the loser.

One of the hallmarks of our contemporary religious life is that we can have our cake and eat it, or so we believe. The yielding to excessive desire does not on the surface always require the abandonment of religious obligations. We can have glatt kosher and be in the lap of luxury, as, for example, when tens of thousands – including respected Rabbis – make their annual exodus to hotels for Pesach or in the rapidly growing number who feel impelled to take luxury cruises because, after all, that is what their friends have done and, besides, what better way to spend one’s money?

This is the essence of feelgood Judaism. There are costs, although they are not necessarily apparent or it is convenient to disregard them. One certain cost is the diminished giving of tzedakah, notably in the ranks of comfortable but not especially affluent religious Jews. I know people who have plunked down thousands for Pesach or cruises for whom writing a modest tzedakah check to a yeshiva is about as difficult as mountain climbing.

There are persons who properly allot a share of their income to tzedakah. These are mostly affluent individuals, some of whom exceed by a wide margin the maaser requirement. Poorer persons in the chassidic and yeshiva-world sectors also are careful to give tzedakah properly. Our Achilles heel is our middle class, especially its upper range, where, as is true generally in American life, there is a craving for the good life.

Whether adequate or not, in allocating tzedakah funds, yeshivas and day schools often are assigned a low priority, as chesed causes that inherently have a strong emotional appeal trump Torah education. This is understandable, yet it is a manifestation of the feelgood phenomenon. We feel good about supporting chesed causes because, after all, we are doing a noble thing by helping persons who are needy. This kind of feeling does not inhere in the giving of tzedakah to Torah education. Rav Aharon Kotler used to say about support for Torah chinuch, lav kol adam zocheh, not everyone is privileged to understand the importance of giving to yeshivas and day schools. Irving Bunim of blessed memory frequently echoed the same message.

Feelgood Judaism conditions us not to question the legitimacy or appropriateness of chesed appeals. Mishpacha Magazine, another fine publication, regularly runs ads placed by Israeli tzedakahs that convey messages that are offensive to the truth. One recent ad, on behalf of Kupat Hair, an organization that raises many millions each year, proclaims, “For the first time since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu 40 consecutive days and nights of tefillah without a moment’s let-up!” Can we imagine a yeshiva placing an ad claiming that the level of learning at the institution has never been equaled since the Jews stood at Sinai?

It is the responsibility of our Torah leaders to constantly advocate support for yeshivas and day schools at all levels. For a generation, they inadvertently conveyed the wrongful message that basic Torah education is essentially a parental obligation and not a tzedakah priority. Is it surprising that this message received a favorable reception in many religious homes?

What is remarkable about this is the departure from the lesson taught by the transcendent Torah leaders of recent generations. A third volume of the letters of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski, the paramount leader of the yeshiva world in pre-Holocaust Europe, has just been published. There are many letters pleading for support for yeshivas at all levels. There surely were multitudes of needy Jews in Warsaw and Vilna and organizations to assist them. Rav Chaim Ozer was a man of extraordinary kindness. Yet he knew that his primary obligation was to assist Torah institutions.

I have written often about the similar course taken on these shores by the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood who toiled tirelessly on behalf of Torah Umesorah and American day schools and Chinuch Atzmai in Israel. Exhausted as he was, he strove to help institutions at the elementary school level. I will never understand why American Roshei Yeshiva veered from this course, why or how they allowed themselves to be in the position of sending a contrary message.

A new school year is opening. The strong indication is that it will be more difficult than its two predecessors which were themselves quite challenging, as a great number of schools are struggling to meet their obligations. More parents are saying that they cannot pay full tuition or anything close to it. Contributions are down sharply. There are reasons to be concerned because in key day school sectors, including kiruv and immigrant schools, enrollment has declined significantly.

The good news is that Roshei Yeshiva and community leaders are awakening to the situation and seem to be more cognizant of their responsibility to advocate support for basic Torah education. Admittedly, it will not be easy to break the harmful mindset that support of this education is essentially the responsibility of parents and there is scant need for tzedakah funds to go to ordinary yeshivas and day schools.

Reversing the wrongful attitude will not occur overnight and probably not for several years, at best. The effort must begin now and that effort must be predicated on the willingness to challenge the atmosphere of feelgood Judaism which is at the root of what may be termed the tzedakah crisis. Unless there is a willingness to challenge feelgood Judaism, we shall be in the territory known as Kivroth Ha-taavah. In that territory, as Moshe taught in the desert, no words of tochocha or admonition will avail. Rather, the situation will continue to deteriorate, as there will be even greater dereliction in the fulfillment of tzedakah obligations and greater pain in the yeshiva and day school world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Let the Charedim Be

It is not an excess of ethnocentrism to write that Jews who are less than a miniscule share of the world’s population get disproportionate attention or that the Orthodox who are, except in Israel, about ten percent of all Jews get a disproportionate share of the attention given to Jews or that charedim who are only a part of the Orthodox get a disproportionate share of the attention given to the Orthodox. Some and perhaps much of this disproportionality arises from distinctiveness, with Jews being more distinctive than most other ethnics and the Orthodox and then the charedim being, in turn, even more distinctive. It is also true that, again in the order given, each group craves attention. Living in a fishbowl may be our fate, perhaps as an aspect of our being the Chosen People. Even so, it is not an arrangement that we should wish for.

Unlike most Jews who usually can pass as faces in the crowd, the charedim or fervently Orthodox are because of their dress and appearance, as well as certain practices, invested with an identity that scarcely can be ignored. What registers in our minds and, at times, in our emotions, when we see charedim is that we are looking at people who are different.

If the ten percent figure for the American Orthodox derived from demographic research is accurate – I believe that it is low – in all likelihood, charedim who are now a majority of the Orthodox, amount to about six percent of all American Jews. Curiously, that’s about the same figure arrived at in Israeli population surveys, a statistic that is highly questionable in view of what we know about charedi fertility and enrollment in Israeli schools. Almost certainly, Israeli charedim are significantly undercounted.

Whatever the true numbers, charedim are not a monolithic group. What passes for charedi in many Orthodox homes in the U.S. is not charedi by Israeli standards, as in this country modernity has made significantly greater inroads, whether with respect to secular education or more general cultural and societal indicators. Nor are Israeli charedim all of one cut, even though they may look alike to outsiders. As one example, there is diversity regarding attitudes towards the State of Israel.

For all of its apparently static nature, charedi life is not immune from forces that impel change. Some of this is external, meaning that persons either leave or embrace charedi life, without the core group being much changed as a consequence. In either situation, the change breeds triumphalism, as when secularists gleefully point to ex-charedim in their ranks or when charedim parade their recruits.

Of greater significance are internal changes in charedi life and they are not uni-dimensional. In the U.S. and Israel, there is at once a trend away from traditional charedi practices and greater receptivity toward modernity and concurrently a trend toward greater insularity and rejection of modernity; at times, these seemingly antithetical trends occur in the same family. As an illustration, more intensive fundamentalism is evident at the basic educational levels, while there is greater workplace interaction with secular Jews.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai recently attacked charedi schools, saying that they jeopardize Israeli life. He demanded that they be required to teach core academic subjects as required by Israeli law. As a companion piece, Amnon Rubinstein and Uriel Reichman, noted intellectuals and civil libertarians, have petitioned the High Court of Justice to compel charedi schools to teach these subjects. They point out that 20% of Jewish highschoolers in Israel attend schools that refuse to include academic subjects in the curriculum, a statistic which with others undermines data showing that charedim are but 6% of all Israelis.

A case can be made that many who are in yeshiva should have a more varied education, although it is not the business of the government or courts to tamper with the yeshiva system. Of note, a generation ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin v. Yoder that the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause barred states from compelling Amish children to attend school past the elementary school grades.

Putting legalities aside, the anti-charedi case is predicated on the high incidence of poverty within the group, which critics assert arises from defective basic education that fails to provide students with the skills that they will need later in life. Boys are taught to study Torah and Talmud and little or nothing else and there is a heavy price to pay in terms of the cost to society and the cost to families down the road.

Apart from the transcendent benefit of Torah study to the wellbeing of Israel as a Jewish state, the issue of charedi poverty is more complicated. There is, in fact, significant charedi participation in the job market, albeit with a high incidence of these jobs being in schools and other communal positions that invariably are low paying. We should at least recognize the dedication of these workers.

Unfortunately, even charedim who have better paying jobs are often below the poverty level, high fertility being the explanation. Despite changes in Israeli society that promote job training and education for professions among charedim, the fertility factor alone ensures that an ever-greater number of charedim will be greatly in need.

The more that secular forces attack charedi life and seek to enforce change, the more likely will charedi society put up barriers and strive to keep outside influences away. Our best hope is for accelerated internal change which while maintaining the essence of Torah education and lifestyle seeks to accommodate elements of modernity that inherently are not hostile to religious life. This may not be much to rely on, but it is the optimum approach.

Friday, May 21, 2010

About Yeshiva University

While working on my doctoral dissertation a tad shy of fifty years ago, I taught political science at Yeshiva University for a year and a half, shifting then to Hunter College. Charles Liebman and I shared an office, but as we were young and low on the academic totem pole, the space was small and cramped – I believe other faculty used the room – and we met infrequently.

Over the years, I haven’t been much at Yeshiva, not for any ideological or similar reasons but for the more prosaic circumstance that Washington Heights is a distance away from Borough Park and since I do not drive, the trip is time-consuming and time is always a scarce commodity, as my plate is constantly full. Rabbi Norman Lamm, whom I admire, asked me to speak several years ago to a senior kollel group and that was an enjoyable experience. Before Pesach, there was a tribute to Rabbi Lamm, with Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, as the principal speaker. After the event, Richard Joel, Y.U.’s president, invited me to visit and that resulted in a delightful afternoon several weeks ago.

Yeshiva University in 2010 is a lot like Yeshiva University of 1960 and also a lot different. It still represents a synthesis between Orthodox Judaism and the secular world, which is inevitably a challenge, and the main campus still seems a bit out of place amidst a vibrant Hispanic community. There are differences, starting with the diminution but not entire eradication of the paternalism that long characterized the relationship between administration and faculty, a relationship that arose less out of an intent to take advantage of the faculty as out of the dialectical nature of the institution being a heimische place. The school would take care of its own. In return, its own would be quiescent.

When in the 1970s many in the faculty came to believe that this was a bad deal and sought to organize a union, Yeshiva resisted and that ultimately resulted in one of the most atrocious decisions in all of Supreme Court jurisprudence, when in 1980 and by a 5-4 vote, the Justices ruled that university faculty are managerial employees and therefore excluded from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act.

Rabbi Lamm became president in the 1970s, succeeding Dr. Samuel Belkin who during his long tenure had expanded Yeshiva into a full-fledged university with a medical school, law school, graduate schools and programs and much else, accumulating along the way a mountain of debt. Y.U. came within a hairbreadth of declaring bankruptcy, saved by the creative actions of Rabbi Lamm and key supporters. However, scars remained, as the fear that another bankruptcy was always nearby begot a spirit of parsimony.

Yet, during Rabbi Lamm’s long and distinguished service there were improvements in the lot of the faculty and the main campus expanded somewhat and was made considerably more attractive. His great achievement, which remains underappreciated, is that he directed the remarkable transformation of Yeshiva from a center of Orthodoxy distinguished by the intellectual grandeur of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and other European born and educated Torah scholars to an equally elevated institution whose religious faculty are, in the main, Yeshiva-educated. The level of religious study is perhaps higher than ever and the Seminary remains the essence – the heart and soul and much more – of the institution. It is thrilling to be in the new Beth Medrash or study hall, a beautiful place constantly occupied by young scholars.

Universities are characterized by intellectual ferment, as well as more petty rivalries, and this can generate all kinds of conflict, whether ideological or personal. Yeshiva is no exception. Given that it is Jewish and Orthodox to boot, as well as located in New York, it isn’t entirely surprising that it lives a fishbowl existence, so that minor incidents are treated as major happenings.

Rabbi Lamm had wanted to step down as president for some time. The search for a successor turned out to be difficult because there were quite a few hats to wear. Several years ago and seemingly out of frustration, Yeshiva settled on Richard Joel who had been a top administrator at Y.U.’s Cardoza Law School and was doing a strong job as the national director of Hillel. He has more than justified the faith in him. He is a modest and friendly man, yet a person who knows his authority and responsibilities. Under his leadership, the main campus has grown and become even more attractive, extending the achievements of Rabbi Lamm. One senses an enormous amount of vitality.

A characteristic of contemporary higher education, notably in urban areas, is for universities (like medical centers) to sprinkle campuses and programs across the geographic landscape. Yeshiva has maintained its model, with the main campus being the primary beneficiary of additional attention, financial resources and programming. Of course, key units such as Stern College, are elsewhere and they, too, have been upgraded.

There are, inevitably, problem areas and question marks, some heightened by the severe economic downturn. I sense that there are initiatives on hold, while there have been cutbacks that hurt. Central High School for Girls continues to seem out of sync, the result of the unfortunate decision years ago to relocate from Manhattan to Queens where its status resembles that of an orphan.

Surprisingly in view of how Israel figures in the modern and centrist Orthodox mindset, Yeshiva’s presence in Israel is limited to essentially one small program. It’s a major challenge to develop a meaningful higher education niche in Israel and today’s financial realities make the prospect remote. Hopefully, the day will come when Richard Joel and his board will tackle that issue.

Right now, there is an abundance of strong programs and much to be proud of.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RJJ Newsletter - May 2010

Schools are small communities with, to borrow the term much in favor these days, lots of stakeholders. There are children and their parents, faculty and other staff, officers and directors, contributors and persons who live in the community that is being served. In public schools and more affluent nonpublic schools, the staff includes trained personnel who provide important non-educational services, such as guidance and counseling. In smaller and less affluent schools, a category that encompasses a large majority of yeshivas and day schools, these services are either not available or are provided on a part-time basis by an outside program that receives governmental funding.

There is heightened awareness in all educational settings of the obligation to deal with the special needs of children. The notion is that a school is not a sealed off facility into which the problems and pressures arising in the home or the street do not penetrate. Issues that arise elsewhere have a direct and critical bearing on whether children can be properly educated and prepared for future life.

For this reason, there are programs and professionals whose focus is on dealing with outside forces that in reality are powerful presences in the classroom. Some programs focus on early intervention, so that problems that are acknowledged may be addressed and therefore not blossom into more serious deficits or even pathologies. Other programs and professionals deal with behavioral or emotional issues that obviously can hamper educational progress.

It is evident that there now are far more children who are candidates for intervention and attention by school personnel. This may be the consequence of greater awareness of the obligation to address emotional and other needs and not of there being a significantly higher incidence of serious problems among school aged children. Likely, because of social change, there is now a higher proportion of children who require special attention. One contributory factor is the huge jump in the divorce rate. Popular media, with their powerful sexual messages and other unwelcome features, inevitably add to the toll.

Perhaps another factor contributing to the apparent growing incidence of serious emotional and behavioral problems among school children is the plethora of government-funded initiatives that have been established to deal with such situations. In an important sense, the availability of funding generates a search for children who are eligible to receive the services for which funding is being sought. Children are discovered to have deficiencies that no one previously was necessarily aware of, whether the deficiency is how they hold a pencil when they write or how they interact with other children or how they sit in the classroom, etc. These discoveries become the basis for funding requests. Forty years ago, I became aware of a Beth Jacob school that included in its application for funding the claim that a large number of its students engage in promiscuous behavior.

What is happening in certain schools echoes what is too familiar elsewhere in American life when the aim is to receive public funds, as groups make the claim that the constituencies they serve are beset with an avalanche of problems of the kind that make them eligible for public funding.

As noted, schools do face a daunting task in dealing with the emotional and behavioral problems that afflict many children. Exaggeration is not needed, yet the possibility of exaggeration should introduce a note of caution as certain claims are assessed.

There are additional reasons for caution. For all of the credentials of mental health professionals, as well as their dedication, the field that is their expertise is quite imprecise. I once asked Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztl, whether in a particular situation it was sufficient to rely on the assessment of a psychologist. He answered, of course in Yiddish, that it was not, adding as an explanation, “Because there is no boundary,” which I took to mean that the field is imprecise and not entirely reliable.

To put the issue in other terms: When a medical health situation is being evaluated, despite the availability of ever more sophisticated diagnostic tools, often there is no quick explanation for a condition or there is disagreement among those who examine the test results. We are familiar with the practice of asking for a second (at times third) opinion, as well as additional tests, before a determination is made about how to proceed. Why is it acceptable when mental health conditions are being evaluated to rely on the often quick assessment of a psychologist or social worker? Can they or we be certain about what transpires in that fragile and unseeable place called the psyche?

Without a doubt, mental health personnel belong in schools and most schools need more of them than are presently available. As noted further on in this Newsletter, our Girls School has benefitted from the caring services provided by a social worker named Paul Parsowith. However, the reality that mental health professionals are critically needed in schools is not a license to accept uncritically their evaluations and suggested treatments, especially when more than a few are not fully qualified and when what is at stake is the question of whether a child can remain in a school.

As it is, there is too much of a tendency for yeshivas and day schools to expel or not readmit students who are perceived as difficult or having a problem. There is a growing tendency in yeshivas and day schools to get rid of such children, as if they are like some food whose kashrut is in doubt and the formula is “if in doubt, throw it out.” I have protested over many years this tendency and the wrongful policy of allowing principals to have the sole authority to decide whether to expel a student. This tendency is an halachic and moral sin.

I have also written about self-esteem and how this little phrase is in large measure the key to the development of children into healthy adulthood and fruitful lives. Inherently and probably inevitably, schools have the capacity to undermine a child’s self-esteem. This is because central to the education program are tests, grades, report cards, and whatever else has the capacity to transmit the message to a child that he or she is not good at this or that. I am not advocating the abandonment of these measures of a child’s academic performance, although they should be employed in caring ways that least undermine self-esteem.

My concern here is with the expanding reliance by school officials on social workers, psychologists and experts on this or that subject to locate deficiencies among the children in their care. I am especially skeptical when additional funding is predicated on the claim that there are more and more students who need help. If these experts are stakeholders in a school, they are no more than minority stakeholders. Children and their families have a far greater stake and that is something that all of us who have responsibility for schools should never forget.

How Are We Doing?

This question refers to our financial situation. The response requires a bit of context, meaning the financial condition of the day school world generally. This is, by all accounts, the most difficult year in at least two decades. Contributions are sharply down in the aftermath of the severe economic crisis.

That’s only part of the problem. The other part is the tuition crisis. A recent long-delayed visit to my primary doctor for a routine checkup turned into a less than routine discussion of the tuition crisis. He is a talented and caring man whose children attend a Modern Orthodox day school. His income is certainly above that of a typical Orthodox Jewish breadwinner, yet his tuition bill is extremely high and it rises each year. In our conversation he wondered whether he should explore religious educational options outside of the conventional day school framework, saying that he knows parents who have transferred their children out of day school because of the high tuition.

Simply put, there is a dual financial crisis in day school education. One involves parents; the other involves the school. They are closely linked because when high tuition induces parents, rightly or wrongly, to remove their children, school finances take an additional hit. After years of constant growth, in certain day school sectors enrollment has declined. Some schools have closed and others are on the ropes. As I did this past September, I expect to conduct another brief enrollment survey early in the next school year and the likelihood is that there will be a further decline in Modern Orthodox schools and certainly in non-Orthodox schools. As for the crucial outreach and immigrant schools, their enrollment has nosedived.

RJJ as a whole continues to experience a significant downturn in contributions, as many who were faithful contributors for years have cut back entirely or partly. Were it not for the extraordinary generosity of several key donors, our situation would be far worse. Each of our four schools bears the burden of fundraising. How are they doing?

The answer is mixed. The Edison Mesivta has had a good year, certainly in its educational program and because of strong dinner results and hard work, its finances are in reasonably good shape, although it faces four tough months until contributions come in again early in the next school year. The Jewish Foundation School has had to make an extra effort to get by. It has been able to do so, thanks in large measure to the extraordinary efforts of Rabbi Richard Ehrlich, its dean.

Our crisis points are the two RJJ/Merkaz schools. They are behind in payroll and this is terribly unfair to their faculty and staff. We are making an effort in the last part of the school year to improve the situation and for this we urgently need the participation and help of parents, alumni and the larger Staten Island community.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

No Community Is An Island

It’s difficult to write about the Sholom Rubashkin case because it is difficult to write about a person who is guilty yet who is the victim of even more wrongful behavior by the government. He is scheduled to be sentenced the day before this column appears. The sentencing memorandum submitted by prosecutors to the federal district judge in Iowa is a cruel and shameful document.

Before his trial, Rubashkin’s lawyers attempted to negotiate a deal that would have resulted in his serving a prison term. Plea bargaining is not definite proof of guilt as there are defendants who throw in the towel because they do not have the funds to go to trial or because going to trial usually results in a lengthy sentence if the accused is found guilty. Federal sentencing guidelines punish severely accused persons who exercise their constitutional right to be tried.

Sholom Rubashkin did wrongful things, primarily after a frightening raid to round up illegal immigrants working at Agriprocessors, the company he ran. That resulted in brutal treatment of the workers by the government and panic and folly on Rubashkin’s part, with the company ultimately being forced into bankruptcy.

A balanced article by Jeff Stier last week in this newspaper had the headline “Life Sentence For Rubashkin Would Be Unfair.” That’s putting it mildly. Life sentences are for murderers and terrorists and for the once in a lifetime phenomenon named Bernard Madoff. How do Rubashkin’s wrongful deeds, which the government calculates at $26 million, result in a life sentence? This is where the sentencing memorandum comes into play. Prosecutors haven’t asked that Rubashkin be sentenced to a life term, only that the sentencing upgrades that they insist are appropriate would result in a life sentence.

As if with a drumbeat preceding execution, the memorandum begins: “This case is ordinary in that it involves a common criminal.” The prosecutors go on to say that for sentencing purposes, the court can rely on hearsay and evidence not presented at trial and that certain evidence must remain under seal. Worse yet, they rely on demonstrably false arithmetic to arrive at a draconian recommendation, recycling and repackaging the same acts to justify enormous upgrades under the sentencing guidelines. Monetary loss is crucial in federal sentencing and the prosecutors contrive to show that even when there was no loss, Rubashkin is guilty of the offense of failing “to timely pay providers of livestock” who lost “the time value of their money.”

This claim, central to the government’s case, amounts to the argument that a businessman who is late in paying his bills because he is under financial pressure may be charged with fraud, not because he presented false documents but because he did not pay in a timely manner. The Supreme Court is to rule soon on a parallel theory of criminal activity, it being theft of service which has become standard fare in the arsenal of prosecutors. Hopefully, if the theft of service concept is ruled unconstitutional, theft of time will follow suit.

It’s issues like these that make the U.S. the prison capital of the world. We have perhaps five percent of the world’s population and about twenty-five percent of the prison population.

Among the Orthodox, especially charedim, this case has evoked an emotional reaction, with claims that the prosecution amounts to the persecution of Jews. There are posters everywhere and while the Orthodox have a long history of fervid language in these exercises, the Rubashkin case represents a new high in emotionalism. The opening line of one poster reads (in Hebrew): “How can we be silent and not protest when the blood of a Jew is being forfeited here in the United States.”

I doubt that the Rubashkin prosecution is a product of anti-Semitism, but the possibility cannot be dismissed in view of the disgraceful prosecutorial behavior. In their hyper-ethnocentricity, many Orthodox fail to see that the prosecutorial abuses in this case are symptomatic of what is problematic about American criminal justice. The adversary nature of prosecutions, which admittedly may be unavoidable, induces prosecutorial overkill in the form of excessive and duplicate charges, misinformation and even distortion of evidence, as well as the coaching of witnesses to see that the song they sing suits the case that is being made. The catalogue of prosecutorial abuses includes additional items. There are prosecutors who do not overstep. They are the exception, not the rule. What Rubashkin has experienced is not unique.

At the federal level, the atrocious and I believe unconstitutional sentencing guidelines, of which Rubashkin is but one of thousands of victims, are an incentive to prosecutorial abuse. These guidelines are the legacy of the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Stephen Breyer when he was a key congressional staffer, as their intent was to increase the length of prison terms so as to establish a pattern of equality in sentencing. The Supreme Court came close to invalidating the guidelines but yielded unfortunately to Breyer and so the ruling was limited to making them advisory and not mandatory. They continue to do harm and not only to Jews.

There is much else that is untoward in the Rubashkin prosecution. It is understandable, even necessary, for the Orthodox to be ethnocentric. As is true of other groups, we are obligated to care especially about our own. We are distinct and in many ways separate, yet we are not an island unto ourself. We are part of a larger society and what happens outside of our four cubits affects us, including in criminal prosecutions.