Monthly Archives: July 2017

New York State Law Specifies that Arbitrations May Take Place on Sunday

A New law recently passed by both houses of the New York state legislature specifies that statutory arbitrations (that are legally binding on the parties) may take place on Sunday. This new law at last puts to rest a a centuries-old confusion and uncertainty regarding whether arbitrations are considered judicial proceedings and prohibited on Sundays under New York state’s Code of Civil Procedure which states as follows:

A court shall not be opened, or transact any business on Sunday, nor shall a court transact any business on a Saturday in any case where such day is kept as a holy day by any party to the case, except to receive a verdict or discharge a jury and for the receipt by the criminal court of the city of New York or a court of special sessions of a plea of guilty and the pronouncement of sentence thereon in any case in which such court has jurisdiction. An adjournment of a court on Saturday, unless made after a cause has been committed to a jury, must be to some other day than Sunday. But this section does not prevent the exercise of the jurisdiction of a magistrate, where it is necessary to preserve the peace, or, in a criminal case, to arrest, commit or discharge a person charged with an offense, or the granting of an injunction order by a justice of the supreme court when in his judgment it is necessary to prevent irremediable injury or the service of a summons with or without a complaint if accompanied by an injunction order and an order of such justice permitting service on that day. (Code of Civil Procedure, Judiciary Law, section 5)

Among Jewish disputants, who commonly submit to a besdin panel that is legally constituted as an arbitration panel, the law was particularly vexing. The law was intended to protect Christian who observed Sunday as their sabbath day of rest from being forced to cope with secular matters on their holy day. For Jews, not only was the law not pertinent since they did not observe Sunday as the sabbath, but Sunday is often the preferred day of the week for litigants to dispute their case before a besdin since it is the only non-holy day when they are often off work.

And yet, what would often happen in recent years is is that a disgruntled defendant who was dissatisfied with a besdin’s ruling would appeal the matter to the secular court ultimately responsible for enforcing the arbitral verdict on the basis of this ancient law.

History of Sunday Arbitration in New York

As far back as 1827 a NY State Supreme Court ruling (Story v. Elliott) held that:

an award made and published to the parties on Sunday was void under common law rules invalidating a ‘judicial proceeding‘ held on Sunday” (Arbitration – What Is It?, 35 New York University Law Review 1031 [1960]).

In 1909 the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled in “Matter of Arbitration Between Picker and Marcus” as follows:

A statutory arbitration, such as this was, is a judicial proceeding provided for and regulated by the Code of Civil Procedure. The arbitrators sit as a court, or at least perform a statutory judicial function.

In our opinion, to proceed with the hearing of the arbitration on Sunday, in the face of the objections and protest of one of the parties to it, was illegal, and constituted misconduct on the part of the arbitrators which vitiated their award. The cases cited to the contrary are not in point. In neither of them did any party object at the time to going on upon Sunday. In one case (Isaacs v. Beth Hamedrash Society, 1 Hilt.
469) all the parties were Hebrews, who observed their Sabbath on Saturday, and the parties and witnesses attended voluntarily without objection. In the other (Ehrlich v. Pike, 53 Misc. Rep. 333) there were a number of meetings of the arbitrators, and there was no meeting held on Sunday at which the parties and witnesses were required to attend. It merely appeared that “the award was discussed and practically agreed upon” on that day.

By “judicial proceeding” the court meant a proceeding that involved adjudicating between a complainant and defendant. In contrast, injunctive hearings and a hearings to determine whether an accused should be arrested or released are permitted by the Code of Civil Procedure.

In that case the defendant had expressly requested that the arbitrators not hold the proceeding on Sunday and the arbitrators had denied the request. Also, the court implied that if both litigants were “Hebrews” (a.k.a. Jewish) and voluntarily chose to hold the arbitration session on Sunday, then such a Sunday ruling would stand. Lastly the court established the vitiatory precedent that because the arbitrators acted in bad faith by denying the defendants request to postpone the hearing to a weekday, the resultant ruling is “vitiated” (=faulty) and void.

The 1909 decision was fair and reasonable, consistent with the intent of the original statute that prohibited court session on a day of rest. But in subsequent decades some undiscerning judges wildly extrapolated from it and took it to a whole new level.

In 1940, in an arbitration dispute that was heard and decided by an arbitrator over the radio on a Sunday, the Appellate court (in “Matter of Arbitration Between Brody and Owen”) objected to the frivolity and the entertaining manner in which the hearing was conducted, but it also invalidated it on the basis of it having been conducted on Sunday:

Arbitration is a judicial proceeding and arbitrators perform a judicial function…. The proceedings were, therefore, in violation of section 5 of the Judiciary Law, which prohibits judicial proceedings on Sunday, with certain exceptions not pertinent here. . . . The statute expresses the public policy of the State, and cannot be waived.

The 1940 ruling interpreted the no-Sunday-hearing law to be rigid and applicable even if both parties expressly waived their right to object to the hearing being conducted on Sunday. This is highly dubious. The original statute allows non-judicial hearings (in which there is no defendant –one who might have been forced to attend on his day of rest) and it also prohibits sessions being held on Saturday if the defendant is Jewish. These provisions, and the general historical context of the original statute, suggest that the no-Sunday-hearing rule was not intended to be comprehensive and immutable. It suggests –though it doesn’t state so explicitly– that in a context where the defendant clearly doesn’t mind, let alone prefers, that the session is held on Sunday, the judge is permitted to do so.

Finally, in 1959 a Queens Supreme Court for the first time dealt specifically with a Jewish besdin arbitration session in which a dispute was heard and rendered on Sunday. The judge, relying on all the precedents, especially the Brody and Owen ruling, vacated the award granted the plaintiff by the besdin.

But the 1959 case seemingly was not published, nor widely promulgated in the legal community. The Sunday-hearing objection, at any rate, is not known to have been invoked again for more than half a century, until 2014, when a NY State Supreme court judge in Brooklyn by the name of Edgar Walker vacated a Sunday besdin award in “Bauer v. Bauer”. In recent years multiple such motions to vacate besdin award were made at the Supreme Court level in various jurisdictions. Some judges followed the 1959 precedent to vacate; others ignored it.

The 2014 case involved a $42 million dispute between siblings over an inheritance that was heard by the besdin ???. The judge’s ruling was appealed to the Second Division Appellate court which ruled in 2016 to uphold the no-Sunday-hearing objection. By that time some New York judges were throwing out besdin rulings even if only some of their sessions were held on Sunday.

Agudas Israel strongly objected to the no-sunday-hearing basis to vacate a besdin-issued award. It had filed an amicus brief with the court in 2014.

Leopold Gross, a prominent hasidic lawyer, filed a similar brief against vacating Sunday besdin verdicts in the 2016 case of  Stark v. Rubel. He construes the law to associated with other “Blue Laws” enacted by many states and locales that are intended to establish and maintain Sunday as a day of rest by prohibiting businesses from operating on Sundays. Such laws have been ruled unconstitutional since they force non-Christians to observe Sunday as their day of rest in violation of the First Amendment that protects one’s freedom of religion.

The new law does not overturn or even modify the existing law. It merely elucidates section 5 of the judiciary law to NOT prohibit voluntarily consent to Sunday arbitrations. It nominally requires such consent by the parties to be in writing but it also allows the besdin tribunal to determine “by clear and convincing evidence, that such party has affirmatively consented to such proceedings on a Saturday or Sunday as the case may be” even when the consent-granting document was not prepared by the party itself. In effect the tables have now turned such that a party wishing to object to a Sunday-held besdin session must prove that it had stipulated for Sunday sessions not to be held, AND that the besdin then held it in their absence AFTER they had signed the original arbitration papers. Such a sequence of events is virtually impossible since besdins do not hold ANY arbitration sessions in the absence of either of the parties; they merely issue a siruv if the defendant fails to respond and appear upon reasonable notice.

Additional Links

The Yeshiva World

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The Campaign to Rescue The French Children by Satmar-Zalman

Satmar-Zalmanites are at present engaged in a campaign to “rescue” French children from the Zionist snare that allegedly seeks to lead them into apostasy (shemad). It is the latest spiritual rescue initiative in a string of many spearheaded by Satmar over the past half century.

Such rescue campaigns are premised on the belief that Jewish immigrants to Israel become less observant of religion and tradition as they become absorbed in Israeli society. The Satmars and other haredi sects believe that this is due to a deliberate malicious campaign by the the Israeli government to eradicate religion from its midst. But critics and psychological experts attribute the attenuation of religious observance to a change in the immigrants’ ethnic identity self-concept following their resettlement in a country where everyone identifies as Jewish: whereas observance of at least some religious practices are necessary in the Diaspora in order to feel Jewish, in Israel Jewish identity manifests itself through political and civic attitudes. With the possibility of asserting a Jewish identity through speaking Hebrew, eating falafel and serving in the military, going to the synagogue is no longer critical for Jewish identity.

At any rate, there is a very strong precedent for the Satmar activism in this field. It started with the “yaldei teiman” (Yemenite Jews) who emigrated to Israel soon after its 1948 establishment. Tales abounded of peios and beards being cut and children being snatched from their naive observant parents to be raised by secular Jews. R. Joel Teitelbaum raised the alarm at what was happening and founded religious educational institutions for the Yemenites in Israel and America.

In later years Satmar opened Rav Tuv (much good) and Yad Leahim (a hand to brothers) to help Iranians and Russians, respectively, resist their assimilation into irreligious Israeli society, for the most part through diverting them to the U.S. instead of Israel. Although the rescue in these subsequent immigration waves was not targeted towards children any more than adults, the phrase “children of….” stuck; hence, the name of the present rescue effort: yaldei tzorfas (French children).

Background to the Present Campaign

Muslim immigration to Europe in general and France in particular surged over the past two decades until France became home to the largest Muslim population in Europe, with an estimated 5-6 million Muslims out of a total population of 66 million.

With the French Jewish population of 465,000 being likewise the largest of any European country –indeed being the third largest (after Israel and the U.S.) in the world– the eruption of rancor between the Jewish and Muslim communities was inevitable. A spate of “anti-semitic” (not a technically correct term since Arab Muslims are also semitic) violence and vandalism followed, exacerbated by the Second Intifada.

Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration naturally stepped in to welcome French Jewish immigrants in accordance with the country’s Law of Return which promises a safe haven in Israel to any and all Diaspora Jews who seek it. Moreover, French immigration was especially coveted since its Jewish population had a high proportion of professionals, including doctors, dentists and the like (unlike many of the previous immigration waves that originated in Arab countries). Israel went to great lengths to encourage and accommodate its French immigrants, including the construction of entire neighborhoods replete with new housing, the offering of bilingual education, and the recent validation of French-issued medical degrees despite their being based on a different curriculum from that which is taught in Israel’s medical schools.

Israel’s immigrants who receive an education in Israel do so under the same terms offered to longstanding citizens: they choose between a “state-religious” (mamlakhti dati) education or a mere “state” (i.e. non-religious) education. It is noteworthy that the “state” education still includes a rigorous tanakh course in its curriculum as well as a civics course that is reverent of tradition and instills ethnic-political pride in its pupils. State-Religious schools go a step further by including direct instruction in “halakha” in the spirit of the Mizrahi-Zionist movement.

The Sephardi community in France is traditional, as they all are, and is inclined to keep the bulk of core orthodox practices when not too difficult. Moreover, Chabad is very active among them in France, having established institutions of learning, synagogues and mikvaos, and generally promoting Jewish pride and practice. Upon arriving in Israel, however, many of the sephardi immigrants assumed a new sort of Jewish identity –the “Israeli” one– that obviates Judaic studies and traditional practice as a sine qua non to a Jewish identity. Even in mamlakhti-dati schools, it seemed, Orthodoxy appeared to attenuate.

Kalever Rebbe Identifies the problem and suggests a solution.

Moshe Taub, the Kalever Rebbe from Hews Street in Williamsburg, had for many years engaged in kiruv (outreach) toward the sephardi sector. Independently wealthy from well-timed real estate investment, he devoted much of his time and resources to visit sephardi communities wherever they were, and lecture, advise, and inspire them on Judaism. He is known among them as a hakham (wise man) and placards could be seen plastered in neighborhoods where he stayed for shabbos announcing to the community that a “righteous man is coming to town”. In Williamsburg he is a petty rebbe with but a small schtiebel and few followers, but his kruv endeavor toward sephardim has been highly successful and has made him a renowned and revered personage among many sephardim. He is now retired and mostly home-ridden due to an infliction of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). He is the one who introduced to Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg, the problem presented by the secularization trend of sephardic immigrants after arriving in Israel.

The solution they came up with was costly, yet simple and straightforward with ample precedence: Independent Education (hinukh atzmai). An educational system that was independent of the Israeli government and thus free to adopt a haredi curriculum is a long-standing institution in Israel. The Israeli government initially agreed to fund 40% (later increased to 55%) of the budget, with haredi parents and donors footing the remainder of the bill, on the condition that certain practices be observed, e.g. the teaching of Hebrew and some secular courses, in addition t0 the characteristic haredi curriculum of humash, rashi, talmud, at al.

Independent Education had been a core bone of contention between Joel Teitelbaum and his Satmar-aligned sector on the one hand and R. Aaron Kotler and the Agudas Israel-aligned sector on the other. R. Teitelbaum had prohibited the acceptance of financial aid from the Zionist government to support education and was irked by other Rabbis’ dispensation on the matter. He, nevertheless, recognized that it was far superior to the alternatives of “state” and “state-religious” institutions. While he envisaged a completely sovereign system as the ideal, he acknowledged that many people who sought an Orthodox education could not afford the high costs and tuition associated with the foregoing of government funding and would thus be lured into the state systems instead if hinukh atzmai were not available to them (in which at least a substantial portion of the budget is government-funded). R. Yoelish therefore quietly wrote out checks to support Independent Education even as he engaged permissive haredi Rabbis in polemic against it and even as he publicly decried it.

About two years ago, therefore, R. Zalman Leib Teitelbaum was persuaded by the Kalever Rebbe to spearhead a major campaign to raise funds for Independent Education so that newly arriving sephardi families would send their children to it instead of the tuition-free state schools.

Fundraising for Yaldei Tzorfas

Whereas previous Satmar fundraising campaigns to “rescue” children from the evil grips of the Zionists had been limited to Satmar’s own community, recent developments among Orthodox Jews had shown that such a constraint was no longer necessary and hence was undesirable. Chai Lifeline, an organization that supports ill children, is the trendsetter in this regard: it started within the haredi sector but was soon expanded to the MO (Modern Orthodox) sector once it was discovered that MO’s wealthy donors were eager to partake of haredi-led fundraising events in exchange for the honor and recognition they received from a hasidic sector that had thitherto thumbed their nose at them having labeled them pejoratively as “modern”.

Passage from the author’s book, tentatively titled “Hasidopedia”, scheduled to be released in 6-8 months.

Accordingly, previous child rescue campaigns and other anti-Zionist campaigns were markedly not supported by any modern Orthodox elements, and often not even by other haredi sects and the Lithuanian community. The current campaign, by contrast, has succeeded in scope and effect in an unprecedented and unanticipated way. Campaign leaders have adopted a two-faceted approach: Moral support for it is elicited from Satmar hasidim who dig its prima facie anti-Zionist bent of rescuing children spiritually from a raging and evil force that seeks to deliberately lead them astray (shemad); whereas to the affluent Lithuanian and Modern Orthodox element a decidedly different pitch is intoned in order to coax contributions –support for a Torah education.

Indeed, lavish fundraising parties have been organized in prestigious 5-star hotels, as befits the sensibilities of the MO sector. Philanthropists there are willing to pledge extravagant contributions for the honor, prestige, and good feelings engendered by the fundraising dinner and the knowledge that one’s funds are being used to channel innocent children toward a Torah life in lieu of a secular one.

Aaron Protests

As with many other contentious matters (e.g. eiruv and conscription of yeshiva boys), once one of the Satmar Rebbe brothers assumes a position on an issue, the other feels compelled to oppose it. The Independent Education campaign for “French children” (yaldei tzorfas) is no different. Aaronites cried foul at the impudence that a Teitelbaum had to champion the detested hinukh atzamai that the old Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, had expended so much of his energies in opposing. The check that the old rabbi once wrote for hinukh atzamai, they contended, was a surreptitious act. The Rebbe would not have done it publicly, let alone embarked on a campaign to fundraise for it.

The Pivot

And so Zalman recently decided to pivot. Instead of supporting the continued French immigration to Israel where they would be routed toward hinukh atzmai, he is now advising French jewry to stay put. The exorbitant sums of money that have been raised in the campaign are now ostensibly being directed toward the establishment and maintenance of haredi educational institutions in France.

Criticism

For all the effort and glamor associated with this campaign and the unusually large sum of seven million dollars that it has putatively raised, it doesn’t do anything new, critics argue. Chabad has had a presence in France for decades. Its missionaries have lived there and operated there for many years for God’s sake without any fanfare and despite financial straits. All French sephardic Jews who seek to take their observance level up a notch know to turn to chabad for advice and help. With the chabad institutions so well-established and so immensely effective, even on shoestring budgets, why not simply augment the existing institutions through a fresh infusion of funds so that they could do an even better job at what they have proven to be so good at.

But then again, the Messianic bent that the Chabad mission in France demonstrates is alienating to mainstream haredim and other hasidic sects. Perhaps that is why a new set of institutions are needed to offer French sephardim a taste of non-messianic ashkenazi-style haredi Judaism.

 

In Defense of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans

R. Shlomo Helbrans, Rabbi of the Lev Tahor yeshiva in Monsey, NY, drowned to death this past Friday while ritually bathing in a river in Mexico. While conspiracy theories do exist that implicate such elements as the Israeli Mosad and aggrieved family members of his adherents, circumstances at this preliminary juncture don’t seem to corroborate anything other than an accidental drowning, perhaps after being swept up by an unusually strong current.

Shlomo Helbrans was born to sephardi secular parents in Israel but was attracted in his early teens to haredi Judaism, a harbinger of a sephardi haredization trend that was fully realized in the 1990’s with the Shas movement and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. He took the additional radical step to oppose Zionism on religious ideological grounds, akin to and inspired by the one held by the Satmars, but amplified even further.

Eventually he ran into trouble with the authorities in Israel, initially for alleged collaboration with Israel’s Muslim-Arab enemies and later, after he fled the state unlawfully along with some of the teenage students of his Yeshiva, for kidnapping, since the families of his yeshiva students were often opposed to the haredization of their children and to the radical mode of living that he and his disciples embraced.

His trouble with the law doggedly and incessantly pursued him from that moment in the 1990’s until his death last Friday. He was deported from the U.S. back to Israel after serving a short prison term for kidnapping and he then obtained refugee status in Canada, but after a decade or so he was forced to flee from there too after being accused of various abusive acts against his students (corporal punishment, withholding food, protracted isolation, and no secular education). In Guatemala, where he reolcated from Canada, he was once again accused with kidnapping crimes under pressure by the Israeli ambassador there. That prompted him to flee to his final abode in Mexico.

At first blush the accusations against him seem substantive. They appear to be all the more credible with the cachet of multiple official state reports indictments and convictions. Critics who knew him personally, however, contend that he was not a violent man, did not hold views that were substantively different from mainstream American haredi sects such as Satmar (on which he modeled his own), and did not engage in anything that would intuitively strike a haredi observer as extraordinary or abusive. (Let us not forget that corporal punishment was de rigeur in the 1990’s in all haredi heder’s and yeshivos, not just Helbrans’.)

The root of hostility toward him stemmed from the same phenomenon that radicalized him: a trend in the 80’s and 90’s for Jewish youngsters to be attracted to haredi forms of judaism against the wishes of their parents (perhaps an alternative to other forms of hippyness popular with the baby boom generation). R. Helbrans likely elicited even greater pushback from his young followers’ families due to his mystical kabbalah-based teachings: they were likely to have appeared to family members as irrational hogwash that their children could only have internalized through “brainwashing” by a charismatic “cult” leader.

The truth is that kabbalah (from which the immensely popular hasidic movement drew and continues to draw much of its ideas and practices) and its mystical, irrational constructs of the universe, is a half-millennium old if not more, and has been followed by tens of millions over the years; it still has the allegiance –albeit nominal in some circles– of hundreds of thousands of haredi Jews. To exemplify, R. Helbrans maritally matched up boys and girls from among his followers on kabbalistic grounds as he perceived them. He would say “this boy has the soul of Abraham and this girl has the soul of Sarah; therefore they are meant to be together”. But his espousal of the kabbalistic worldview and ultra-Orthodox Jewish practices should not have been grounds for criminalizing him any more than it is to criminalize the entire haredi sector that is likewise remiss in teaching secular subjects and basic reasoning skills to its young charges as well as being antipathetic or hostile toward Zionism.

The first criminal charge leveled against him, by the Israeli government in 1988, that he “kidnapped” his students out of the country to America after he and his students departed Israel on fraudulent papers, is tendentious and unsound. Adolescent teens are not “kids” (perhaps we can call it “teen-nabbing”?) and Helbrans did not use physical force or even coercion to ferry them out of Israel; the boys followed him of their own free will, albeit –Helbrans’ detractors allege– after being beguiled and brainwashed by him.

His kidnapping conviction in America is even more dubious. The allegedly “kidnapped” thirteen-year-old boy, Shai Reuven, had been enrolled in Helbrans’ pre-bar-mitzvah course by his mother, a divorced non-religious sephardic immigrant to the U.S., but the boy then refused to return to live with his family, staying instead with Helbrans’ followers in Monsey and becoming observant. In court testimony the boy declared that hates his mother and his father and that he would “run away” again if he were forcibly returned to them. Nevertheless, the judge instructed the jury, under N.Y. State law aiding a minor escape from his parents constitutes kidnapping and the jury convicted him after hearing an emotional plea for revenge from the boy’s mother.

What we had, then, in essence, was a battle of wills between the secular parents and the devout sectarian Helbrans, and the respective worldviews and values that they represented. The proper way of fighting back was for the parents to ponder their own shortcoming in conveying the value of their secular lifestyle vis a vis the ultra-religious one adopted by their children, and to remediate that by learning how to communicate that message effectively. Failing that, they ought to have accepted the consequence of their own failure to perpetuate their secular heritage and not have sought the intervention of the state in their quest to scapegoat Helbrans, the mere bearer of an idea.

Haredi Jewry in America in the 1990’s, when the American kidnapping case against Helbrans was being tried, was more cohesive than it is nowadays. Even though Helbrans was running his own brand of hasidism, he was operating under the auspices and of Satmar and in consonance with the Hungarian-Hasidic zeitgeist it had established in post-WWII America. Dozens of haredi tehilim-muttering men and women showed up at the court on his trial day to show support and pray for his exoneration. His conviction at the time smacked of vindictive secular desperation at the vacuousness of its lifestyle and its inability to compete against the righteous and trendy haredi movement. It was redolent of the infamous Yossele Schumacher kidnapping case.

Over time, however, Helbrans’ quiet sympathizers in haredi jewry receded, and his few but emboldened enemies –now that he was convicted and served prison time– took center stage. He had made enemies by “poaching” a few families from mainstream hasidic sects into his “cult”. Kashau was furious at its loss of Rosner (a son-in-law of the Kashauer rav) to him and Satmar lost Teller to the cult. When Rosner’s wife –estranged by his defection to Helbrans’ Lev Tahor– refused to accept a get, Helbrans purportedly arranged for a contentious hetter meah rabbonim (dispensation by a hundred rabbis) for him to remarry.

Helbrans and Family

His holier-than-thou attitude didn’t help his cause either. He opposed Zionism even more than Satmar and the women in the sect veiled their heads and dressed in black only. He encouraged young marriages so as to preclude “ejaculation of sperm in vain” on the part of boys and the prompt fulfillment of the procreative duty on the part of girls.

By the late 90’s he was considered beyond the pale to mainstream Satmar-aligned folk. Satmar bohorim in Monsey, for example, –normally eager to patronize any available petty rebbe– considered him anathema and would not attend his shul, tischen, or the like.

By alienating Satmar he had lost a vital patron and ally. An adherent of the Shopron hasidic sect in Williamsburg, for example, operates under the patronage of Satmar and is able to access aid from government programs through mechanisms that the Satmars have developed and perfected over the years as enabled and protected by their political bloc vote. When an adherent of the sect goes to “kolel” he gets a government stipend by being officially enrolled in the Satmar-run U.T.A. school network since Shopron is too small and inept at managing such a government program on its own. When the government is contemplating charging a Shoproner with child abuse or even a traffic violation, it must fear the ensuing punitive consequence from a politically empowered community that can and does lash back at hostile statesmen and the government arms that they control by voting them out of office.

Helbrans’ big sin was that he did not pay tribute to haredi leaders around him. He was not unduly swayed by their opinions and he did not play the game. He was fiercely independent in ideology and he secured a core of supporters who were eager to aid him financially and morally in his quest to establish a utopian haredi community in America that did not compromise at all with modernity. By the new millennium, he had lost his haredi immunity and had fallen prey to the indignance of mainstream society –including, over time, that of the OTD (off the derekh) community– over his peculiar ultra-religious conduct.

More serious charges of child abuse were leveled against him in Canada. It was alleged that as punishment he beat his students, deprived them of food, and kept them in isolated confinement for an extended time. Such actions, if true, are indeed condemnable and arguably justify government intervention. But in a well of public opinion so poisoned against him it is easy to imagine that such charges would have been highly exaggerated if not outright fabricated. Let us remember that in the popular witch hunt against “satanic ritual” abusers of children in the 1980’s (a witch hunt that similarly involved accusations of child abuse by a “cult” leader) it turns out that there was absolutely no substance whatsoever to the accusations. The person who initially made the accusation in the Mcmartin Preschool Trial turns out to have had a mental illness, and the psychologists and prosecutors who subsequently interviewed the children had used leading questions to extract bizarre highly-damning reports from the children that did not have even a kernel of truth. The medieval blood libel and the Salem witch trials likewise were premised on complete falsehoods despite wide popular outrage over what they perceived at the time as real. (Psychologists now know that children are very suggestible and have learned from this case.)

The problem with the credibility of the Canadian allegations of child abuse is similar to the problem with the Mcmartin Preschool Trial: the prosecution and the public become so enthralled with the horror and obvious evil with the allegation that nobody bothered looking for a motive, not to speak of investigating the mentality of the individual and his or her subculture that gave rise to the condemnable alleged act. In Helbrans’ case –outside of his brazen outspokenness and his alacrity for forging a sect according to his personal religious ideology without regard to prevailing haredi sentiment, though much inspired by it– he was not a doozy. He did not conduct himself any different from dozens of other haredi “rebbelech” in Monsey and elsewhere. His dress, his schtiebel, his tisch, his yeshiva, all operated according to prevailing hasidic norms. Marrying off children at a young age –such as age 16 for the girl and age 17 for the boy (though not younger than that)– was common among mainstream hasidic sects at the time. Regarding secular studies, Yeshivas Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, operated by the Lubavitch-Chabad movement, still to this day illegally does not teach any secular studies to its pupils. In other American hasidic schools that do nominally teach secular studies for a bare two hours per day, they do so perfunctorily and only because they are required by law. Children commonly treat the secular studies time as play time and are not much transformed by anything acquired in the course (e.g. haredi graduates cannot read nor write narrative English and are mathematically innumerate at anything more than basic arithmetic). Why, then, is Helbrans singled out from the herd? How is he qualitatively and conspicuously different from the rest, even if we grant that he is so slightly by degree?

When it’s all said and done, Helbrans was a courageous man of great originality, fortitude and conviction. He successfully forged his own sectarian movement that attracted Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike. He was not deterred by the naysayers and detractors. He acted out of genuine conviction in the rectitude of his path consistent with a bona fide interpretation of Jewish religious tenets he had learned, processed and brought to bear on himself and those who would follow him. A man of lesser perseverance would have succumbed much sooner than the forty-odd years during which he stuck to his guns.

It behooves us to realize that fundamentalist ideals and institutions should not be assaulted by urging the state to intervene, but by popularizing positive modern progressive ideals in their stead and impressing them upon the youth. The true reason young people are attracted to fundamentalist “cults” and mystical movements is that they perceive the secular world to aimlessly occupy a moral vacuum. If we ponder the timeless humanist and rational ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment, if we internalize them and appreciate them, if we recognize their constructive effect on modern society –then we ought to easily be able to impart that sentiment to our progeny either directly or in loco parentis. There should be no need to unjustly channel our anger on the Helbranses of the world.