Monthly Archives: February 2012
Fidler and Storobin Slugging it Out for the New York 27th Assembly District
Last year we had a special election after Anthony Weiner, a New York delegate to the US House of Representatives resigned in the aftermath of the sex scandal. Now, we have another special election; this time in response to State Senator Kruger resigning over charges of embezzlement.
As far as the Jewish community in New York is concerned, which constitute a large portion of the 27th district (including such neighborhoods as Flatbush and Borough Park), it would traditionally align itself with the Democratic camp, which in the current race would be Concilman Lew Fidler. Indeed, Fidler initially obtained the endorsement of many Rabbis and seemed destined to to glide his way to victory.
Things reversed course quickly, however, after his rival David Storobin –a prominent lawyer of Russian heritage– alerted the Rabbis to Fidler’s records of sympathizing with the gay rights cause in the city council. The Rabbis are now being intimidated or coaxed into retracting their endorsement of Fidler. As the distinguished OU Rabbi and spokesperson for Orthodox interests Rabbi Chaim Yisroel Belsky put it: it would be a hilul hashem (desecration of god’s name) to have Orthodox Jews vote for a pro-”toevah” (abomination) candidate.
Another advantage the Republican Storobin may have over Fidler is his pro-voucher stance, an obvious benefit to the Orthodox demographic which largely educates its young in parochial schools, which receive limited or none direct state funding due Federal and State rigid church-state separation statutes.
HN EDITORIAL OPINION
What is a bit perplexing and perhaps amusing about this whole contest is that the question of gay marriage doesn’t really apply to the Orthodox constituency. Even after the highly controversial Jewish Press call for tolerance toward gays in the Orthodox community several weeks ago, it did not dare take the position of championing the public display or countenance of gay conduct, let alone gay marriage (which is not practiced in even most Conservative and Reform congregations).
Why then is this even being raised as a plank in this upcoming election? Aren’t there more pressing needs in the Jewish community? Does anyone honestly think that any Orthodox person will be swayed by Fidler’s sign in the municipal administrative office advising people to how get around New York’s non-recognition of gay marriage by getting married out of state? No Orthodox Rabbi will officiate in a gay marriage; so the whole thing is a moot point.
This is an example of Orthodox conflation of their genuine interests with abstract moral and religious precepts. No Orthodox politician would advocate for closing Brooklyn streets for traffic on the Sabbath –not even in frum (observant) neighborhoods, let alone in gentile or non-frum ones– to promote Jewish law, as is commonplace in Israel. Why, then when it comes to the “abhorrence” of a gay lifestyle are they any more outspoken, when the matter clearly does not have any bearing on the Orthodox constituency?
If you figure out the answer, we at HN would love to hear from you. Send us the solution email@example.com or comment below.
Read the full story at http://www.communitym.com/article.asp?article_id=102199
In a surprise hearing today in NJ Family court in Toms River, the judge assigned to the Perry Reich custody battle case, the Hon. Arnold B. Goldman, announced that he is recusing himself from the case in response to concerns about his ability to maintain impartiality. He twice quoted what he referred to as culled from a “blog” by Reich, as follows: The prevalence of decisions in which judges attempt, sometimes successfully, to impose their own religious beliefs and codes of morality in the face of settled constitutional principles is tantamount to judicial nullification of constitutional principles in favor of a subjective application of the best interests standard. AND BY THE WAY, THE NEW JERSEY TRIAL COURT JUDGE PRESIDING OVER THIS CASE IS A RIGHT-WING ORTHODOX MALE.
The judge added hat he was approached over a dozen time by various elements in the Lakewood Jewish community who expressed apprehension over his suitability for the case given his allegedly strong religious convictions, which may prejudice him against Ms. Reich, since the basis for her loss of custody –which she is appealing– was that she wasn’t dressing in accordance with the religious standards in Lakewood. He denied this characterization, claiming that the “right-wing Orthodox Jew” epithet is “unfounded” but did not make it clear which part was unfounded. Is he not right-wing or not orthodox?
There was no sign of the judge’s Orthodoxy in court. He did not, for example, cover his head, which is nowadays virtually universally adhered to among the Orthodox. During the interwar years, however, the reverse was the case: even the most religious Jews would not wear any headgear or be otherwise distinguished outside the framework of the synagogue and liturgy. Regardless, he is reputed to be a conservative practitioner of Judaism — likely Centrist or Modern Orthodox, and he seemed convinced that the doubt about his impartiality is genuine.
In response to the defendant’s attorney voicing his objection that the system is too prone to manipulation if the judge were to recuse himself in response to a posting on the Internet, the judge repeatedly cited the law in this regard which requires that a judge recuse himself even if there is an “appearance” of bias –which exists as per the passage from the Perry Facebook group cited above. The judge’s description of the origin of the passage was somewhat amusing; he never mentioned Facebook, nor did any of the counsel present. He said that the passage was “sent from Ms. Reich’s (or a proxy’s) Internet to his Internet”.
When the judge was suddenly interrupted by a phone call on his cel, he apologized saying that his grandnson had just become engaged. Both attorneys then exuberantly congratulated him ingratiatingly. Later, however, when Ms. Reich examined her cel phone for too long during the proceedings, the judge slapped her with a prolonged, stern look.
Mr. Susholz, the defendant in the case, watched anxiously and intently as his eloquent and highly experienced lawyer expressed his dismay over the judge’s recusal. In addition to portraying the Reich party to have “saobtaged” the case by maliciously spreading a baseless rumor that the judge is ultra-religious and prejudiced, he also expressed concern that this will set a dangerous precedent and that it will cause “distress” to the defendant. The judge, in turn, seemed content that what has turned into a “cause celebre” can be transferred to another judge before the trial is to begin, or else the hassle would have been much greater if it were to be done after the trial had begun.
Ms. Reich was interviewed by a film documentary producer after the hearing. She expressed joy at the “victory” and was touched by the outpouring of support from the community, which was instrumental in pressuring the judge to recuse himself and forcing the transfer of the case to a judiciary where she will feel more confident of getting a fair trial. Ms. Recih’s Facebook support page currently has over 4,000 members, many of which have made symbolic financial contributions to her cause. A “Save Perry’s Kids” website has recently been published by her friends.
The judge made it clear that the trial schedule will be maintained; the trial date has been set for March.
The Susholz-Reich custody battle case has garnered widespread publicity after HasidicNews.com first scooped it up in early February. The New York Post subsequently ran a column which was then picked up by many other media conglomerates, some touting her a “Hasid Hottie“. Last week, Ms. Reich discussed her case on the Dr. Phil show in L.A.; the show will air next week.
The significance of the case lies in that the very basis for beth din arbitrations is being brought into question. Reich’s lawyers will probably argue that whatever religious standards she agreed upon in the beth din arbitration document was ill-begotten through intimidation and coercion. Unlike the average arbitration agreement in which both parties voluntarily elect to submit to an arbitration panel rather than having an acrimonious and costly court case, in Ms. Riech’s case the community pressure to conform was immense, perhaps reaching the level of “duress” which would legally nullify a contract.
Due to the immense publicity this case has generated it is likely that the ruling in this case will be cited by other judges as precedent, in jurisdictions far beyond the borders of Ocean County and the State of New Jersey.
As proprietor of HasidicNews.com and HasidicWilliamsburgTour.com, I have been contacted by a couple of media entities recently who have asked my help in getting Hasidim in front of a camera. In July 2011 it was a representative of Oprah’s Next Chapter seeking an up-close documentation of a Hasidic family; several months later it was the Zig Zag Productions company looking to produce a movie for National Geographic featuring Hasidic life through the lens of a dozen or so small businesses owned and managed by community members.
In both cases, however, my efforts were futile. In the Oprah case, I explained to her rep that it would be very difficult to secure the cooperation of any Hasidic family other than a Lubavitcher. I repeatedly noted that without significant compensation there is virtually no chance that anyone would agree, since the mere exposure to TV is NOT cause celebre; it is, in fact, a likely cause for approbation and would possibly constitute grounds for expulsion of kids from educational institutions. She had difficulty grasping this concept; it seemed that she suspected me of attempting to extort money for a task that should have been easily achievable gratuitously.
After a while and some consultation with a friend, I suggested Abe Karpen, the actor from “I love New York” who quit that movie project after intense pressure from the Williamsburg community where resided. Even after quitting, however, his name was already too tarnished for him to remain in town, prompting a move to Monsey, NY. I thought that perhaps Karpen would agree to the show since he had already tainted his reputation anyway regarding media collaboration; yet he was still staunchly Hasidic. But my suggestion evidently didn’t bear any fruit and when I inquired about it later I did not get any response. Ultimatley, it became apparent that Oprah chose to go the classical, tried-and-true Lubavitch route, and her appearances were featured on her OWN TV network in February this year under the title America’s Hidden Culture.
But the culture shown on her show isn’t quite hidden. Lubavitch is known to crave publicity and its members are very eager to communicate with strangers, Jew and gentile alike about their faith and practices. Lubavitch is in a league unto itself when it comes to the observation and analysis of Hasidism in America. They make an okay second-best choice for a show insistent upon exposing Hasidic family life to the world, but Lubavitch culture was never quite hidden to become exposed. There’s nothing surprising or revealing in her show that isn’t accessible to any private individual seeking to join a Lubavitch family for a dinner, let alone to a media entity.
That Oprah couldn’t get her hands on the real deal –dining with and interviewing a Satmar family from Williamsburg– is a testament to the highly effective iron curtain that stands between the non-Lubavitch Hasidic sector and the gentile world. Samar and its satellite communities have successfully fostered an environment where no one would contemplate breaching the unwritten rule of not exposing family life to the media.
WHY HAREDIM ARE AVERSE TO THE MEDIA
But why he aversion to media exposure? — you ask.
There are several explanations to this:
- Lack of communication facility. The Satmar’s –unilke the Lubavichers– speak Yiddish as their primary language. A typical Satmar man is not capable of expressing himself well in English, let alone elucidating the complex religious rules under which he operates. A TV production company can more easily overlook this drawback since it has more editing leeway before it releases a final show. The Hasid, however, is afraid that the media will select unflattering segments to include in the show where they may have fumbled are expressed themselves inaccurately.
- Resistance to the subject matter. Satmar’s do not want to be asked why they do the things they do. In Traditional forms of Judaism, asking why we must do what God commands us to do is inappropriate. Since we can never truly fathom God’s will and instruction, asking questions can only lead to trouble if we resultantly forsake his commandments because we deem them irrelevant. In fact, this is also the reason Satmars are averse to general cultural interaction outside their community. They are trying to avoid any encounter of practices or ideas that will inevitably tempt them and challenge their traditions.
- There is, in fact, no answer. The Satmars truly don’t have an answer to many of the questions they would likely face. For example, the laws of “family purity” were eloquently explained to Oprah in the aforementioned show on both amorous and sociological grounds. This is because the ability to explain religious laws is an inherent component in the Lubavitch jurisprudence. Every “shaliah” (emissary) is trained to explain to non-observant Jews why it is beneficial to adopt a Torah life and this training permeates the Lubavitch culture at large. For Satmar, in contrast, it never occurs to the average adherent to ask themselves why why their women go to the mikveh once a month? They simply take it for granted and have no tolerance to anyone suggesting that life might be better off otherwise.
- Modesty. Satmars believe that they ought not flaunt their accomplishments to gentiles, lest it incite anti-semitism. The reasoning goes that if a gentile detects something to be envied in the Hasidic community, Hasidim are liable to suffer persecution as the gentile attempts to emulate it or snatch it from them. It’s the same idea that underlies women’s modesty
The Haredi world is still debating the fallout of the Deborah Feldman book: Unorthodox, which has reached far beyond Feldman’s home base in the Haredi-Jewish-saturated Metropolitan New York. Haredim are failry image-conscious; they are aware that the average American looks at them askance, at a loss to make sense of the contradictory signals of integration and isolation Haredim convey in their day-to-day intercourse with strangers.
What many Haredi members are pondering these days while walking down a street in Manhattan is: what does that gentile staring at me think of me now that he’s read Feldman’s book? Does he think that I never dated my spouse before marriage and so I’m a sucker for being coaxed into an unloving, arranged marriage? Or, how silly must the woman siting across me in the Subway reckon me to be that I put up with all the Mikveh ritual purity rules?
This –no doubt– is what engenders the gut-level conviction that Feldman is ipso facto trouble. No mater how delicate she approaches the topic of Hasidism in America, it can never reflect positively on them.
But this is largely imagined since most gentiles have not read her book, and those who did, do not necessarily see dogmatic ritual as negative. Watch –for instance– this video clip in which a “Hasidic apologist” explains to Tyra Banks how beautiful Orthodox Jewish marital laws are. The Audience seems convinced.
It’s not the Hasidic sense of inadequacy that has them scurrying for the panic button. There’s a far greater existential threat that permeates the entire Haredi community. Everyone is asking: if fire has befallen the cedar tree, what hope is there to the hyssop of wall (Talmudic proverb)? If the very core of Judaism –the bulwark against assimilation, to which overall Jewry has been gravitating persistently ever since the Civil Rights Era– is rotten, how can we be confident in the long-term viability of more liberal Haredi forms of observance that allow secular professions and extensive interaction with the mainstream?
After scouring the public opinion on DF over the last week, HasidicNews.com has discovered a surprising vacillatory pattern in disposition toward her book and persona, as it plodded its way across the diverse and highly-opinionated spectrum of Haredi Jewry.
Core Hasidic — those who dwell and work in the core of the Hasidic world, are not educated and have only second-hand knowledge of DF. They say: “nebekh, zi kimt fin a tzebrokhene mishpukhe” (It’s a pity; she stems from a broken family). We are lucky no to be in her shoes.
“Enlightened” Hasidic — those are Hasids who are not content with the narrow feed of information available inside the community. They surreptitiously engage various subversive elements on Facebook and through their Blackberries (Yes, it’s the only place in the world where the Blackberry is still “cool”). They “know” the world, but ultimately it’s all empty; the Torah life is better. They say: DF is bitter, she had some bad experiences and so she’s looking to get even with the family and community that dissed her. I would respect her more if she had left quietly.
YU/ Yeshiva R. Chayyim Berlin — those are professional, “Torah and Science” folks. They say: I give DF a lot of credit for telling her story without embroiling the community she came from. She does not make her struggle to be free of the Hasidic world, a struggle AGAINST the Hasidic world. Cool! Considering the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse.
OTD but envious (OTDBE?) — those are Off The Derekh folks, just like DF, but not quite “just” like her. They feel they are just as talented and just as deserving to have been just as successful. But since they’re not, it’s obvious that DF is just plain wrong. She’s just a plain liar, making up her stories in order to sell; capitalistic opportunism at its best. One day THEY will show the world the true and proper way of expressing the OTD sentiment. In the meantime everything DF asserts is fabricated and exaggerated and non-representative of life in the Hasidic world.
OTD/principled — those are the folks who left Haredi Judaism out of principle and are bona fide educated. They are properly equipped to evaluate a message critically without becoming distracted by irrelevant characteristics of whoever happens to be the author of the message, or similar personal quarrels and as hominems. They judge the book by the level of empathy they feel for the protagonist as she endures trials and ordeals that are very similar to what they themselves experienced on their path out of the Jewish ghetto.
Exclusive HN Email Interview with Feldman: I’m not trying to attack a community, I am trying to encourage reform and offer resources to those who want a different life!
Jacob Gluck — HN editor; Feb 16, 2012.
I would like to open this email interview by first expressing my profoundest appreciation and overwhelming joy at finally having an engaging, frank, and genuine account of Hasidic life published for all to read, peruse and critique. This is a very momentous occasion for the entire spectrum of Hasidic, duplicitous, on-the-fence, on-the-fringe and fully-OTD communities.
We can now finally avail ourselves of this intensely felt and palpably real narrative of what it’s like growing up in the most conservative of Jewish communities in America.
Personally, despite sharing a similar background and trajectory, I found your account highly informative; I never got married, I’m a man and hail from Borough Park – a tad more moderate community than Williamsburg. Nevertheless, I am very keenly aware of the subculture that is Hasidism in America and your overall portrayal is spot-on accurate. What’s more, your tone does not come across as hostile or vindictive. There’s no hidden agenda in the narrative – there isn’t even a thesis.
Rather, I came away with a sense of validation for the thoughts and feelings that I –and no doubt many others– similarly experienced. It is comforting to know that I am not a meshugener (crazy) –as my colleagues in Yeshiva would call me. It is reassuring to witness your ultimate triumph. It is uplifting to behold the rags-to-riches Horatio Algier ascendancy of a wretched little girl from the depths of the ghetto to the heights of prosperity.
The sense of can-do permeates your narrative: if it can happen to you, it can happen to anyone!
In the name of many in the HasidicNews.com and OTD community we extend our loudest accolades to you. You are a model of hard work, erudition and tenacity!
HN-1: Let me commence this interview by referring to the following quote from your book which has generated considerable resentment among many in the OTD community:
There were rebels before me. When I was growing up, there were a few here and there who broke the rules openly, and everyone talked about them. But where are they now, these rebels? No one knows. They leave so that they can go out to clubs and drink and do drugs and behave in uninhibited ways, but there is nomenuchas hanefesh, no serenity, in such a life — Feldman, Deborah (2012-02-14). Unorthodox (p. 238). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
You seem to be ascribing such behavior to all “rebels”. Nowhere else in your book do you talk about the positive lives many who have left the rigidity of Hasidism have adopted. Are there no positive role models in the OTD community you are aware of?
DF-1: When I wrote this book I was not yet well acquainted with the OTD community. The few rebels I had heard of or met seemed lost and confused and I was scared of becoming like them.
HN-2: Your 11th-grade teacher asked you “What are you going to do with that A, now that you have it?” Ultimately, you vindicated yourself by demonstrating that a Bais Rochel A in English does make a difference in the rarest of cases. Have you been in contact with that teacher since, and do you feel that she had any input in your subsequent literary excellence?
DF-2: I have not been in contact with her, but I am grateful that she taught me to avoid using idioms in my writing.
HN-3: Quote: [referring to your ex after sex] The truth is, I don’t want him to hang around. I don’t want him in my bed in the first place. But I wish it weren’t so obvious to me what my role is in this household. I wish I could be ignorant and believe that my husband cherishes me for more than just the simple pleasures my body provides.
You said a mouthful there. Why do you not wish him in your bed. It seems from the overall narrative that you were attracted to him physically? Also, are you championing here the age-old adage “ignorance is bliss”?
DF-3: I think as a woman I was too emotionally invested in the sexual experience to be comfortable with the possibility that the male didn’t derive any emotional satisfaction from it. It felt like we were experiencing it differently. I didn’t want to feel like I was someone’s toy.
HN-4: Quote: [referring to sex] “Why does it get to be so great for the man and so much work for the woman. Will I ever like it?”. Do you really think women in the Hasidic community initially do NOT enjoy sex as much as the men do; or perhaps you were unique in this regard?
DF-4: I can only speak for my own experience. I did not make any claims whatsoever in this segment about other women or men in the Hasidic community, I spoke only of my own perspective.
HN-5: You tried to be the “successful, obedient housewife” in order to erase the familial shame. What went wrong — Did you not try hard enough; or do you feel that they did not meet you halfway? Also, is there any particular moment you can identify when you gave up trying?
DF-5: It just felt like an unfulfilling life to me. I wasn’t interested in it. I wanted something different. I think I gave up trying after the third Pesach. In the Hasidic community, preparing for that holiday involves months of arduous cleaning and weeks of non-stop cooking and then eight days of standing on your feet serving meals and I just got really tired of feeling like a housemaid.
HN-6: Quote: “It wasn’t made for me, not in the way Eli’s watch was, handpicked for his personality, the way I like it. This watch is for a girl that doesn’t exist, a girl that my mother-in-law thinks she’s getting. The girl that everyone wants, who is as bland as oatmeal under her heavy jewelry, who piles on the pearls and the bracelets to give herself some allure because underneath them she is as commonplace as a pebble.”
Very powerful words there! You seem to have felt completely misunderstood by your future in-laws from the get-go. Why did you go ahead with the marriage? Did you not suspect at the time that something will eventually go awry?
DF-6: I didn’t suspect that it would go awry but I felt that no one really knew who I was, and that they didn’t care. It was clear to me that girls with “personality” had no value, and so no one paid any attention to the fact that I was curious, intelligent, and ambitious.
HN-7: Quote: “I don’t blame the goyim for hating us. [for bending zoning regulations and manipulating funds] I just wish there was a way for me to tell them how much I want to be different and how trapped I feel in this costume, this role.”
I personally shared that sentiment when I was in a similar transitional stage out of Haredi Judaism. I dealt with it by making it clear in conversations that even though I look the part, I disagree on certain matters. Did you ever try such an approach to “clear your name”?
DF-7: I was too scared to do that. But now I try to tell people not to judge based on the costume. I feel bad for people still stuck in it.
HN-8: Quote: “…should value instinct over logic, emotion over intellect. …Every brave leap I’ve taken in life I can trace to a feeling, as opposed to a rational thought… [I am] choosing not to rationalize my decision”.
Do you mind elaborating on this? Personally it was courageous rationalization that triggered inescapable conclusions and bold decisions regarding my future. If I had left matters to my emotion I would now probably have been a bearded father of six in Borough Park.
DF-8: A lot of people I know who left did so because of some sort of rational, intellectual realization that God didn’t exist etc. But I didn’t really have time to concern myself with the intellectual aspect of it all, I was too busy worrying about what kind of life my son would have when he was older, and I just sort of jumped on every gut impulse I had, and it led me out.
HN-9: Some have questioned the accuracy of your reports. For example, you claim that on Lag Baomer there were bonfires “on every street” and that Bais Rochel girls visiting Israel is grounds for expulsion. Do you stand by these assertions or would you consider them hyperbole?
DF-9: I only said those things because I actually remember them happening. I do remember there being this case of a girl who wasn’t allowed to come back to school for a while because she had been to Israel, and I do remember there being a lot of small bonfires on the street on Lag Baomer. I actually thought that was cool; one of my favorite holidays.
HN-10: Regarding the Sexual assault incident by your cousin in the wine cellar when you were a mere 12 years old: according to your account, it could not have been premeditated since your cousin was not initially meant to join you. Is it possible that he was just “playing around”? Was he mature enough to go all the way, physically and psychologically?
DF-10: He was definitely mature enough, at eighteen years old. I think it was an impulsive assault as well. But at the time it certainly reaffirmed in me this idea that men can’t control their lust and can’t be held responsible for it either.
HN-11: Regarding the boy whose dad OSTENSIBLY chopped off his penis in a fit of rage and then slit his throat (in apparent attempt to erase his crime): Some claim that it was suicide or that the whole story is mere rumor. Any insight on that?
DF-11: The way I related that story in the book was exactly the way it happened to me: in a conversation. I described a dialogue word for word in which my husband told me the story his brother had told him. I made no claims about the story itself, or if it was true, I just described hearing it being told to me and my reaction to that telling. It was more about the conversation than the actual story. Since then I’ve received a lot of messages about that story; some people seem convinced it was a murder, others are inclined to dismiss it as a suicide. Either way it’s tragic, but again, I don’t make any claims as to its veracity. I hope someone does uncover the truth though.
HN-12: Mindy (a teacher and friend who was similarly well-read in English) and you parted ways ultimately. To what do you attribute this eventual path divergence? How scary is it to suppose that you could have easily been the one walking down her path in life?
DF-12: Not scary, because I know I could never have been convinced to do what she did, but sad, because of how much she changed after marriage. I no longer recognized her.
HN-13: You don’t mince words on your Aunt Chaya, even though she seems to have been well-meaning. After all, she was raised to harbor Spartan values: discipline, deference and conformity. You were the Athenian. It’s inevitable that the two of you wouldn’t get along well. Considering this, isn’t the effort she spent on your behalf commendable to some degree, despite her putatively selfish motives?
DF-13: Definitely commendable, and I don’t blame her for anything that happened. I really think she was doing her best, and I also believe that she herself had a lot of reasons to be unhappy and was unconsciously taking it out on the rest of us.
HN-14: Ironically, your granDF:ather is more liberal than it seems: he approves of the Eruv; is ambivalent about the wig scandal; and he drinks wine that isn’t kosher enough for KJ. As your surrogate dad, do you reckon some of his open-mindedness –and perhaps inquisitiveness– rubbed off on you?
DF-14: Absolutely. My granDF:ather was whip-smart and I adored him. But I don’t think he ever really understood me, which made me sad as a child.
HN-15: Your husband seems to have loved you very much. Did this ever appeal to you –and perhaps cast a shadow of guilt— when making the decision to leave him? Also, how did his inferior education affect your relationship – did you ever consider or try to “educate” him in order to make the relationship work?
DF-15: I used to question what love is. How do you know when you love someone, or when someone loves you? What does it mean? I worried that he loved me automatically because I was given to him as a wife and that was his duty. It felt too robotic to me and I couldn’t muster the same artificial emotion. It didn’t feel genuine. But I definitely tried to change our lives together, I even tried to get him to come with me for the sake of our son, but ultimately he wasn’t able to break away completely in the way I wanted to. Certainly I wish him great happiness now.
HN-16: You grapple with God a lot. Why would he make you suffer? Is he inherently just? Does he even exist? Considering that he sustained you through the horrendous car accident and successfully plucked you from your narrow Hasidic world into the open plain; would you say that he exists and there’s justice in the end –albeit perhaps he isn’t a very “frum” God?
DF-16: At the end I say “God is an ally in my heart,”and what I meant by that was that Einstein-inspired idea of God being different things to different people, and about how it comes from within, not without, the corporeal being. I guess what I was really referring to was the inner strength I discovered after I left. Perhaps it was a poetic way to describe it?
HN-17: Regarding your diagnosis with vaginismus (a psychological contraction of the vaginal muscles preventing penetration). As you yourself discovered — both when the doctor testified to it and when you were later consulted about it – it is a common affliction in the Hasidic community, likely due to the rigorously prohibitive attitude towards sex prior to marriage. Do you feel resentful toward the community you were raised in for being responsible for this awful ordeal you endured as a result? What would you recommend be done in order to ameliorate the situation?
DF-17: I would recommend a better sex education program and a clinic designed to deal with this issue. Hopefully this problem will subside over time, not get worse.
HN-18: Regarding observance of mikveh rules while you were married: you insinuate that you did not observe them in the end, seemingly because you thought your husband didn’t care. But you don’t make it clear whether he would knowingly violate the niddah rules or that he would adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Do you mind clarifying that?
DF-18: That’s because I wasn’t sure myself. At that point we weren’t communicating. Because this book is about real life, I can’t pretend to know what goes on in the minds of other characters.
HN-19: Regarding your outrage at submitting to the humiliating kerchief menstrual inspection by the Rav if there’s uncertainty: Some Hasidim report that this is largely merely a matter of legal principle. Only on rare occasions would a sheelah (inquiry) emerge and even then one can restart the count and avoid having to ask a sheelah. What are your thoughts on this?
DF-19: I myself had to do it plenty of times so I can’t imagine I was the only one. My assumption is that people have different Ravs that they ask, and the ultra-frum people ask ultra-frum Ravs, which are more likely to err on the side of caution, while less extreme members of the community stick with the Rav that’s more lenient.
HN-20: To my knowledge you are the first ex-Hasidic person to have their memoir published in decades. You –no doubt—will be an immense inspiration to many inquisitive souls in the Hasidic community for years to come. Is there any message you’d like to transmit to them through HasidicNews.com?
DF-20: I too am tired of seeing the anti-Semitism card being pulled. Satmar doesn’t reflect badly on the global Jewish community, it only reflects badly on itself. And if there are Jewish people who are concerned about how the Satmar culture influences the great Jewish reputation, then I put it to them: this is your responsibility! Root out fundamentalism from your midst and you will have nothing to be embarrassed about. But continuing to ignore it and cover it up is no longer possible. I’m not trying to attack a community, I am trying to encourage reform and offer resources to those who want a different life. To those who wish to remain I offer my full support. May everyone be free to live the life of their choosing – it is a human right.
In Haredi Theology, Masturbation Kills Babies!
A Rare Alliance between many in the OTD community and KJ Leadership Conspire to Cover Up Penis-gate Incident!
Deborah Feldman reiterates in her book Unorthodox what she first reported in her blog Hasidic Feminist that a boy was found dead from a slash to his throat, with his penis severed in a basement in Kiryas Joel on January 19, 2007 (date not reported in her blog or book).
According to the circumstances of the event, as told her by her husband (who is a brother of a Hatzalah member who was involved in the incident), Feldman postulates that the boy was murdered by the father after committing the grave sin of masturbating. I quote the entire story as recounted in the book (p. 205-6):
After he puts down the phone, I amble into the kitchen and lower myself gently onto a kitchen chair. “Who was on the phone earlier?” I ask innocently. “My brother Cheskel. You know he’s an EMT, a Hatzolah member. He just had a call before Shabbos, and by the time he got there, the boy was dead.”
“A boy? What do you mean? What happened?”
“He told me they told him not to tell anyone, but he called me, he said, because he was traumatized. He doesn’t know how he can sleep tonight.”
“Why? What happened?” I straighten my back in expectation.
“When he got there, the father pointed him to the basement, and the boy was lying there in a pool of his own blood. His penis was cut off with a jigsaw, and his throat was slit too. And the father wasn’t even upset. He said that he caught his son masturbating.”
It takes me a moment to process the implications of what Eli is describing to me. “So he killed his son for masturbating? And then he called Hatzolah? I don’t understand!”
“No! Don’t jump to conclusions. Cheskel told me he doesn’t know for sure what happened. He said the neighbors told him they heard loud arguing coming from the house. When he called the dispatch, they told him to go home and keep quiet about it, that they would take care of it. He said they buried him in thirty minutes and they didn’t even issue a death certificate.”
“So they’re not going to report it? They’re going to let a possible murderer roam free to protect their reputation?” I can feel a twinge in my lower back and remember suddenly that I’m supposed to be resting for the baby. “Oy,” I say. “What is this world, that we only punish for trivialities like wearing a short skirt, but when someone breaks one of the Ten Commandments, we keep quiet?”
“Ah, you can’t know for sure. The Torah says there have to be two witnesses for a man to be tried for murder. What are you gonna do? You can’t bring back this dead boy anyhow. And you better not tell anyone about it, because Cheskel could get in big trouble for talking to me. Please don’t get him into trouble; you don’t know what these people are capable of.”
“I do now. I know exactly what they’re capable of.” I’m dying to say something to someone. I restrain myself at the Shabbos table, because I know Eli would never forgive me if I brought it up, but just this week no one has anything interesting to share, and I can’t help but wonder if someone else is holding their tongue too.
Out of all the accusations she has heaped against the haredi community this is by far the most heinous. It purports not only that a hemishe (lit. homey) Jew with shtreimel and “white socks” is a cold-blooded murderer — of his own son nonetheless– but that the village leadership quickly reached a unanimous detente that it’s best to keep the lid on the true circumstances of this murder and to promulgate a more benign version instead –suicide– in order to cover up a crime that would surely taint the entire community if revealed.
In post-book-release interviews Feldman soft-pedaled this report under persistent grilling by the media. She now no longer proclaims “KJ, a murder is in your midst” as originally reported in her blog but rather claims she is merely repeating what her husband had told her as the events were unfolding.
MURDER THEORY REBUTTAL BY HELLA WINSTON
While she was incurring the wrath of the haredi community and many OTD’ers –who for personal grudges are determined to discredit her– Hella Winston (author of Unchosen) took it upon herself to “investigate the allegation” and subsequently reported her “findings” in The Jewish Week.
To summarize Winston’s findings:
- The whole story is either fabricated of whole cloth by Feldman in her sordid quest to vilify the community in exchange for fame and money, OR it’s mere rumor (she does not account for how such a rumor may have started).
- The boy was 19, not 13 as reported by Feldman.
- A death certificate does exist and it indicates that the boy committed suicide.
- She quotes the one Mr. Witriol –a KJ official– and a member of the family reaffirming that the rumors are untrue and the boy died of suicide.
- She is unable to obtain a comment from State police officials who allegedly have a report on this incident. The officials have not returned her request for comment.
Alas, not only are her findings faulty but her investigation never got off the ground in the first place.
Obviously, since Feldman’s allegation is that cover-up has been orchestrated, what good does it do to quote village officials or family members? That’s like calling on a suspect in court to testify to his innocence. In an allegation such as this, IT IS CRITICAL to obtain the perspective of people who would NOT have any direct interest in a cover up, if it exists, such as State or county officials.
Feldman never claims in her book that a death certificate was NEVER issued. She reports that at the time of burial –on that fateful friday afternoon– there was no death certificate issued; which would contravene the law, which required a death certificate be issued before burying the body.
Upon HasidicNews.com’s request that Winston produce the death certificate, Winston cited “anonymous source” protection and refused to make it public. She also declined to disclose the date the certificate was reportedly issued or other essential details. Thus, it is entirely conceivable that the certificate was issued AFTER the corpse had been buried, after village officials would have pleaded that they were in a hurry to bury the body before the Sabbath and couldn’t wait for state examination of the case and issuance of a death certificate before the Sabbath. It isn’t far fetched that county and/or state officials would give them a pass under the guise of religious liberty.
Moreover, note that under New York State law death certificates are not available to the public under the FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) provision except upon a court order calling for its release. Thus, if Winston is truthful about having a copy of the document in her possession, it could ONLY have been legally obtained through the cooperation and consultation with blood relatives of the deceased. This would clearly indicate friendly collaboration between the “investigator” and the investigated, perhaps on condition that only information favorable to a suicide theory be released and presented. Without the release of the certificate, her “investigation” is a sham.
Additionally, Winston didn’t bother to interview peers of the deceased to try to mine details from them and has given short shrift to her coverage of official sources outside the realm of KJ officials or family members who are accused by Feldman of being part of the conspiracy. She seems to be happy to report that the state police officers contacted for comment did not get back to her. Is it possible that she didn’t want them to get back to her? Is it at all conceivable that as part of the cover-up, KJ officials had kindly asked state officials not to discuss the case with the media –what would seem a reasonable request, on the basis of privacy of the family, if the deceased indeed died of suicide, as claimed by KJ officials?
Winston’s report in The Jewish Week reeks all the way from KJ to HasidicNews.com headquarters in New York City. In fact, it begs the question of what prompted such a one-sided “investigation” in the first place and who stands to benefit from its tendentious findings? I dare ask: has she been contacted by members of the community to repudiate the allegation and is accordingly doing their bidding. Recall that Winston secured extensive collaboration of some elements in the community as part of her doctoral dissertation and the authorship of her magnum opus, Unchosen.
WHY FELDMAN’S ALLEGATION HAS EMERGED AS THE LINCHPIN TO HER CREDIBILITY
There is a robust coalition of elements determined to discredit Feldman. It goes without saying that the haredi community is furious over the revelations she has made in her book and the bad light in which they are consequently cast.
However, in a rare twist, the people who should have been standing beside her have largely deserted her. One popular website among many in the OTD community, Unpious.com, convened a “roundtable” supposedly representing the range of voices in the OTD community to elicit their reaction to Feldman’s book. Mysteriously, however, there is no praise from anyone, the panel’s reaction ranging from neutral to bad to awful. This, despite the absence of any compelling reason to impugn the overall tone and message of her book, which essentially is that the Hasidic culture is repressive, treats women unfairly and some crimes go unreported.
According to pundits in the field, the reason for this strange phenomenon is that Feldman isn’t playing ball. She has sought to circumvent the usual rungs in the ladder toward recognition in the OTD world and has not been sufficiently obsequious to the unofficial top brass in the movement. She has dared assume the epithet of “trailblazer” and “spokesperson” and had the unparalleled distinction of achieving a level of published success that others only dream of.
With the lack of support from the OTD top brass, on whom she would ordinarily rely to corroborate her message, her Penis-gate allegation has become the catnip around which to discredit her completely. “People are mad at her for making up such a grizzly story; it also puts in bad light the whole OTD community” as one OTD Facebooker put it. The insinuation here is that if this allegation is unfounded then her whole book is by extension mere fiction — all made up in order to sell; ergo, all OTD’ers are intrinsic losers with no valid substantial grievances.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ALLEGATION
The truth of the matter is that the rumor about a boy being found dead with a severed penis did in fact circulate at the time. The name of the deceased boy is Johanan Cohen and he was about 20 at the time of his death.
Cohen was born and raised in the Satmar community in London. At age 15 he relocated with his family to Kiryas Tosh in Canada and lived there for approximately 4-5 years. His family then relocated once more, this time to Kiryas Joel, another hotbed of ultra-religious practice. The father of the boy found employment in the community as a melamed, a teacher in the elementary school system.
Winston claims the boy was mentally disturbed (which fits well with the suicide theory) and Feldman claims the father was disturbed (which is in step with the homicide theory). Neither seems to be borne out from the preliminary examination into the event. An peer of the boy and alumnus from the KJ Yeshiva, which the deceased boy attended at the time of his death, described the boy as introverted, withdrawn and socially awkward. But he demurred from labeling him or his father as mentally deficient. He does, however, confirm that the family wasfarfrumt (ultra-ultra-religious). This observation may explain how a father would be driven to such a insanely gruesome act in a moment of passion, if true.
As I hinted at in a previous editorial, punishment in kind is an established principle in contemporary Hasidic Judaism. My Rebbe in cheder repeatedly warned us that if we say bad words he will put soap in our mouths to cleanse them. (He never followed through on his bluster, however). It is POSSIBLE, to envision that a radically religious fundamentalist would run into a dear son committing what he believes to be the gravest sin in Judaism, the pegam haberith (the tainting/abrogatiion of the covenant, in allusion to the circumcised penis as a sign of God’s covenant with Israel). In a moment of extraordinary fury at such a cardinal transgression he would have grabbed the jigsaw laying nearby in the cellar and activated it while rebuking the son that his penis should be cut off for such a grave transgression. Perhaps he then made motions toward him only as a mere concretization of what the boy deserves, but he then inadvertently went too far (this would have been easily executable while the penis was still erect). Subsequently, since the stigma and infamy resulting from the lack of a penis and outward signs of manhood would have been unbearable in the Hasidic community, the father may then have decided that it’s best to put the son out of his misery altogether and delivered the coup de grace to his throat while the boy was writhing in pain from his severed limb.
All of this is speculation. Again, I don’t claim to know what happened down there on that fateful Friday. But the readiness with which some are willing to utterly dismiss Feldman’s “allegation” and not tolerate even the notion that such an event is possible is very troubling. I’m not sure if this is one element in their animosity towards her, in which case the rebuttal of the murder allegation is merely a pawn serving the greater cause of maligning her; or perhaps this is done upon the initiative of the Hasidic leadership in KJ who are intent on defending the cover-up at all cost.
The possibility that such a horrendous act could have been committed by a very father himself is almost unthinkable. But we must think! If this is true, then we have an entire cultic religious system complicit in it — a system that demands of adolescent boys an impossibly stringent level of abstention from sexual self-satisfaction and is thus capable of triggering such a horrendous crime!
Frenzied Consumption of Unorthodox by the Orthodox
In a typical society, if its leaders proclaim a particular product anathema or ineffective, there will be a marked decline in its consumption. Not so in the Ultra-orthodox world of Haredi Jewry. Often, the very ban of an item could catapult its use to stratospheric levels, IF members have an effective way to consume the product without being spotted.
The website VIN (vosizneias.com) is a case in point. It was at one point banned by community leaders, only to see its readership skyrocket. Evidently, hordes of Williamsburgers who had previously never heard of the website were now intrigued about the matter: what does VIN say or preach that makes them more evil than the devil himself? let me be the judge myself! And with the proliferation of semi-kosher Blackberries (Blackberries have become acceptable more than any other smart phones, due to their incomplete support for multimedia), there is is ample means of access to the website, all under the guise of simply phoning and texting (for business).
Leaders of Haredi Jewry know better than to give Feldman official attention. But the unofficial attention she is getting is doing the trick just the same. The ill repute she has garnered in Hasid Land for what they deem a malicious polemic against them, draws members to her book en masse. They all want to know: What is she saying? Why is she so bitter? How did her book become such a bestseller (#7 in the combined print and e-book non-fiction in the New York Times bestseller list).
THE REASON FOR SEEKING OUT THE ILLICIT
Why do the Satmars seek out the illicit with much greater gusto than the population at large?
It’s because in Satmar Land, life is very strictly controlled. In a liberal society, if a recognized leader or expert in a field advises the masses that a particular book is not worth reading or a movie is not worth watching, sales will most assuredly suffer because crowds have a plethora of alternative entertainment options available. And after all, the condemned item is not “prohibited”; it is merely touted as a waste of time. In Satmar, however, most entertainment options have already been banned a long time ago and the very appetite for them quashed in the process. There are very few legitimate discretionary outlets remaining, some of which have shifted somewhat into the domain of the recommended, as fitting in a black-or-white society.
Now that a book about them is cascading through the many layers of Jewish society and into the mainstream, Satmars want to know what others “know” about them. Despite the rampant “lies” and calumny hurled at them in the book, they are balking at the suggestion that reading it is a waste of time; they want to judge it for themselves.
This explains why in the NYT e-book non-fiction category, Unorthodox has risen to #2 while she lags at #16 in the hardcover non-fiction category. According to some sources, Feldman sold 100,000 e-book copies in the first day alone. Who are all those e-book readers? A large segment of them is –no doubt– Haredim who are ashamed to openly carry her book around. With an option to read her book discreetly on the digital screen, her popularity among them who seek to get a grip on an outsiders’ perspective on them (as formulated after reading the book) is soaring.
Makhnifke Rebbe Photoshopped beside his Cousin, the Belzer Rebbe
After Aaron’s overtures of peace to Belz on last week’s historic first-ever Satmar-Belz dialogue since 1982, Belz feels impelled to extend the pursuit of peace in the Belz-Makhnifke domain as well.
The Makhnifke Rebbe is a cousin of the Belzer Rebbe, R. Yissachar Dov Rokeach. They have not been on speaking terms for decades, however, in a rift that is largely in response to Belzer dissidents disliking R. Rokeach and preferring the Makhnifker when the Belzer Rabbinate throne was last vacated. Three years ago three representatives from each party met in conference to hammer out terms of a reconciliation, but talks subsequently broke down, seemingly after makhnifkeclaimed it was unable to carry out one of its clauses: preventing its followers from referring to themselves as “belzer hasidim”.
Now, Makhnifke wants to invite the Belzer Rebbe to a grandson’s wedding that will take place in several weeks and in Belz they are eager to accept. However, Makhnifke’s refusal to comply with the categorical abjuration from the title “belz” is still standing in the way. Who will be the one to give ground remains to be seen in the weeks to come.
The Satmar world held their breath yesterday and counted the minutes towards Aaron’s scheduled to return to the States. His return had been extended by a day amid rumors that he may, after all, pay the “Jerusalem Rav” (title of the gavad/president of the edah haharedith among his core base) a visit, as would normally have been the proper thing to do.
Aaron is very disappointed with the president of the Edah Haharedith (=The Pious Community, name of both the community and the Rabbinical court championing traditional Jewish belief and practice, dating back to the 19th century) R. Yitzchak Toviah Weiss.
Upon the most recent vacancy for the presidency, Aaron’s supporters plucked R. Weiss from relative obscurity in Beligum and nominated him for Gavad in the face of stiff opposition from the Zallies who preferred the Dayyan of Williamsburg, R. Yisrael Haim Menasheh Friedman. The Aaronim ultimately won the bout and R. Weiss was confirmed as President. The tacit understanding in this arrangement, however, was that R. Weiss would distribute the spoil to the victor by siding with the Aaronim. The Aaronim, therefore were beside themselves when on a recent trip to America, R. Weiss paid a visit to the KJ dissidents, Bene Joel, and their Zallie allies — who by some accounts constitute 40% of the KJ demographic.
On Aaron’s just-concluded trip to Israel he thus faced a dilemma: pay the proper respect for the Jerusalem Rav, and you’re letting him get away with “disloyalty” to his patron; snub him, and raise the ire of the staunch core of Edah Haharedith zealots –known as Sikrikim.
It is noteworthy that R. Weiss himself isn’t all that much of a zealot. If he had been, he may never had been picked for the job; that’s because the Edah Haharedith knows that in order to maintain a semblance of balance and representation of the entire haredi sector, it must moderate its zealotry, at least in the persona of its premier leader and spokesperson. Aaron’s snub to the Gavad is, therefore, as much –or even greater so– a snub to the zealot skiriki party in Jerusalem. They see in it a personal rejection.
AARON: WHAT ARE THE “SIKRIKIM” GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Aaron’s proponents are saying “we’re gonna teach you a lesson; don’t expect unqualified financial and moral support from us if you don’t play ball! You choose, you want our checks to continue flowing to your institutions, you better support Aaron”. The question is: did Aaron overplay his hand? Will his tactic backfire? After all The Zallies also have wealthy backers. What if the Zallies take it upon themselves to fill the gap in expected funding from America? What if the Old Yishuv (=settlement) says: “screw you; we don’t need your support”?
ZALLIES ARE ELATED!
The Zallies feel that this latest rift between the Edah Haharedith and Aaron bodes well for them insofar as it reflects poorly on Aaron. Aaron is now portrayed as uncouth, querulous and conniving. He is seen as jettisoning the long-time alliance between Samar and Edah Haharedith for the sordid benefits of an artificial pact with Belz, a sect that is inherently incompatible with Satmar due to the doctrinal disparity with regard to Zionism.
The Repercussions from the decade-old Satmar-Zalman feud are pervasive and unmistakable. A number of new alliances have been formed by the brothers in their attempt to shore up their base of supporters, harking back to that fateful “election day” when Mr. Kahana and Mr. Friedman fought tooth and nail to win the presidency of KYL and with it control of its valuable property
It is ironic that a bitter rift between brothers would ultimately be the trigger to enable peace to develop between decades-old archenemies of Satmar such as bene-Joel, Belz, and now the latest: Klausenburg. Each of those instances will be enumerated below:
Bene Joel: In the early 80′s, soon after Moses Teitelbaum’s appointment as the new Rebbe and his installation of his son Aaron as Rav in Kiryas Joel (KJ), rumblings of revolt were heard. Some people were bitterly opposed to this radically altered terrain where a shrewd businessman is held up to be as saintly as the previous Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum. They politely requested that Moses not implant his son in KJ, but the Rebbe balked. One thing led to another and after a while the dissidents established not only a rival synagogue but full-fledged educational institutions called Bene Joel (after Waldman’s children were expelled from the KJ institutions).
The Bene Joel have now been legitimated in the Zalman faction. They still have their own institutions but they consult each other and coordinate their communal activities. The alliance seems borne out of Bene Joel followers’ intense hatred of all things Aaron and also their insistence on hewing closer to the zealotist line championed by the original Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum.
Belz: The Samar-Blez rift in the early 80′s rocked to Hasidic world. It was sparked by the Belzer Rebbe’s Motzai Simhat Torah sermon in approx. 1982 in which he supposedly disparaged R. Joel. The satmar’s were furious — this young Rabbi, an Aggadist, how dare he spurn the Holy Rebbe right after his passing. R. Moses saw it as his duty as the Satmar Rebbe to crush was he saw as the Belz insurgency. Signatures were gathered from leading Rabbi’s affiliated with Satmar in America and Israel and R. Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe was ostracized.
R. Aaron Teitelbaum happens to be a brother-in-law of the Belzer Rebbe (their wives are sisters), and the fact that R. Moses was entangled with this Aggadist family always loomed large on his conscience as Satmar Rebbe (perhaps that’s why he so strenuously denounced Belz to disavow accusations of disloyalty to the “shittah” — Satmar doctrine).
In his recent trip to Israel, R. Aaron has now turned a fresh leaf. After Belz “apologized” by sending a delegation to R. Joel’s grave, R. Aaron is now ready to talk again and establish “diplomatic relations” between the courts.
Klausenburg: The Klausenburg rift if the oldest of the three. It hearkens back to the 1950′s when R. Joel Teitelbaum himself was not yet fully established as the undisputed leader of Hasidic Jewry in America –or at least in Williamsburg. The Klausenburger Rebbe, R. Yekuthiel Yehudah Halberstam –who in his prewar marriage had been a son-in-law of the atzei chayyim, R. Joel’s brother– also settled in Williamsburg and tended to “compete” against his Uncle, R. Joel. There are reports, for example, of Satmar lads tossing orange peels on the Klausenburger and other petty harassment. In the end, the Klausenburger realized that Satmar had gained the upper hand and was forced to cede the Williamsburg turf to the enemy, relocating to Israel ultimately.
Now R. Shmuel David Halberstam, son and successor of the previous Klausenburger Rebbe in America, spent last Shabbat in Williamsburg (on the occasion of his brother from Natanya, Israel visiting in the former’s Borough Park home base). R. Zalman utilized the opportunity to arrange a meeting between the two, supposedly to admonish the Klausenburger over the halakhic illegality of the eruv as per his father R. Moses responsa. In turn, the Klausenburger Rebbe reportedly responded that the distinguished Klausenburg Dayyan in Wiliamsburg, Fishel Hershkowits, had issued the imprimatur for the eruv and his cachet is recognized enough to hold is own against any detratctors.
Pundits claim, however, that the real purpose of the meeting was not to regurgitate the decade-old eruv dispute but to open talks with the Klausenburger; it was an overture of reconciliation. Zalman needs allies to countervail the new allies Aaron is scoring such as Belz and Vizhnitz (Aaron even visited the Seret-Vizhnitzer in his recent trip to Israel).
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In Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum recent visit to Israel, he conspicuously did not pay a visit to the chief rabbi –known by the acronym gabad, gaon av beth din– of Israel, Rabbi Isaac Tobiah Weiss, despite his deteriorating health from terminal cancer.
Rabbi Teitelbaum paid homage to many rabbis who were traditionally despised or even ostracized by Satmar such as the Belzer Rebbe, R. Issachar Dov Rokeach and the Seret-Vizhnitzer Rebbe, R. Eliezer Hager. The principal ally of Satmar in holy land, however, was deliberately not included in R. Teitelbaum itinerary.
When the previous chief rabbi of the Edah Haharedith, R. Israel Moshe Dushinski, passed on several years ago, the two Satmar factions scuffled over the nomination of the future Chief Rabbi. Ultimately the Aaronim (those who follow R. Aaron) had their way and their choice, R. Weiss won over the Zalloni nominee, R. Hayyim Menasheh Friedman, the Satmar Dayyan from Williamsburg, a Zalli endorser.
In a recent visit to Kiryas Joel (KJ) in Orange county, NY, R. Weiss paid a visit to the Benei Joel institutions, which are nowadays allied with R. Zalman Teitelbaum, R. Aaron’s brother and adversary. Even though, R. Weiss was merely exhibiting even-handedness, the Aaronim were infuriated, which explains the current deliberate snub to R. Weiss upon R. Aaron’s recent visit to Israel on his “peace mission” to reconcile with Belz.
R. Weiss, on the other hand, has been impartial in his conduct toward ostensible adversaries, as illustrated by a visit he paid to R. Elyashiv, the acknowledged leader of Haredi non-Hasidic Jewry in Israel, who is known as a Zionist collaborator and Kuk sympathizer. What a contrast!?
But what’s most outrageous of all is R. Aaron’s visit to the Seret-Vizhnitzer, who served in the Israeli military. This exemplifies how far Satmar-aaron has veered from the doctrines and exhortations of non-association with Zionist sympathizers championed by R. Joel Teitelbaum, the founder of Satmar in America.
The Zallonim are thus asserting that R. Aaron’s trip to Israel was not about appeasement. Its goal, rather, was to disparage his adversaries.
Opponents are Gearing Up in the Perry Reich Custody Battle
The battle between Penina “Pearl” Reich and her husband Sinai Meir Susholz we reported on last week has only just begun. Both parties have throngs of sympathizers and are gearing up in preparation for the fateful court date on which it will be decided whether Ms. Reich gets to retain joint custody of her children or will be forced to reliniquish custody to Mr. Sucholz.
What got this couple entangled is a beth din decision to which both parties agreed to submit for binding arbitration of their dispute. The beth din ruled that the couple should share custody by alternating weekends and some weekdays. A special clause stipulated that Ms. Reich must raise the children religiously and that a beth-din-appointed therapist shall evaluate her periodically to ensure conformity with this clause.
In the meantime, Ms. Reich, who is a successful model and actress, was found not be observing the religious modesty laws prevalent in her Lakewood, NJ community. She was accused of “wearing pants in public and failure to don a wig”. The court-appointed evaluator hence ruled that she must surrender custody completely, which prompted Ms. Reich’s suit in NJ family court to have the evaluator’s pronouncement overturned.
HasidicNews.com has not been able to obtain a copy of the beth din’s verdict and the relevant parties have not responded or declined requests for an interview. However, it is believed that the basis of Ms. Reich’s suit is that she was intimidated or coerced into the allegedly 15-year beth din binding agreement without having a clear understanding of the ramifications and terms of her action. She is now tearfully pleading that “having one’s children torn away from home is more painful than death”.
Another possible argument she may use in court is that her conduct does indeed conform to religious standards. After all there is no explicit law in Orthodoxy that forbids wearing pants or exposing hair in public. In fact the Orthodoxy of the interwar years in America (mostly in New York City) was marked by a wholesale violation of this traditional Jewish modesty standard. In addition, in contemporary America, most in the Modern Orthodox community do not follow the “no pants in public” rule.
At any rate, the dispute between them, seemingly a private affair, has been thrust into the limelight of Haredi Judaism in metropolitan New York. While Mr. Susholz is well-funded and politically connected –the judge presiding over the case is a “right-wing” Orthodox Jew– he has far from unanimous support within the Haredi community in Lakewood. Many women, especially, see this as a struggle for the rights of women in custody battles and argue that children’s connection with their mom trumps secondary religious violations such as pant-wearing in public, especially when it does not carry over into the way the children are being raised and indoctrinated — the children are getting a traditional Lakewood education and their mom is fully cooperative in this regard.
With extensive support from a wide coalition of liberals within the Lakewood community, haredi defectors and women’s rights advocates, she has been immensely successful in her campaign to sway public opinion on her side and is thus hoping to tip the scale in her favor in court. Her Facebook support group has surpassed the 2,000 membership mark since being launched on February 12 — a mere 5 days ago. She is also soliciting funds for her cause via a Facebook app and is asking her supporters to sign a public petition on change.org advancing her cause.
Mr. Susholz claims that Ms. Reich is confusing the children and creating an unstable environment by bringing boyfriends home and kissing in front of them. He is withholding the granting of a religious divorce until Ms. Reich agrees to surrender her custody claims.
The case has is commanding considerable publicity within the Haredi community at large as well. Surprisingly, many in he community are siding with her despite her allegedly lax religious adherence. In a recent poll conducted on HasidicNews.com, Ms. 62% of voters were in favor of Ms. Reich retaining custody of her children; some voting so on the condition that they be raised religious, which they reportedly are.