The internet and the streets simply must open up the world to Charedim

Here is a fascinating story of the grandson of the Satmar Rebbe who joined the Israeli army. Yes, it’s true, that there is no family that is immune from a child taking a different direction. This is a fact of life.

I don’t like the word blame in the context. I prefer to think that the concept where ‘one size fits all’ and clueless teachers and/or parents cause much of this reality. חנוך על פי דרכו teach according to their acuities, is something harder to achieve in a “my way or the highway” approach.

You should read the article HERE [hat time CMW]

Another article, of interest, describes what appears to be a growing phenomenon is from the Huffington Post, and reproduced here [Hat tip Krakower]

I Escaped Hasidic Judaism and Went From Living on the Streets to Being a Hollywood Actor

In June 2008, exactly three years after I got married, I decided to get a divorce. I didn’t fall out of love with my wife. In fact, I never fell in love with her in the first place. I simply no longer wanted to have the life I had with her and everyone surrounding her.

My wife was a Hasidic Jew, and when I married her, so was I. But that was no longer the case. I was a 22-year-old man with a long beard and side curls (payes) and all the other markings of a Hasid, but I was an atheist. An atheist surrounded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Surrounded by their certainty, their food, their self-righteousness and their minivans.

I hated all of it, so I left and entered a world full of uncertainty and a broad spectrum of ideas about right and wrong.

I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no education beyond Jewish Talmudic studies. I had no friends outside of the Hasidic world beyond a few I met at Footsteps, an organization that supports Orthodox Jews attempting to escape. I had no marketable skill beyond being able to charm your pants off. I had never been on a date. I had never heard of The Beatles. And I thought, “May the Force be with you” meant “May God be with you.”

“For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us.”

After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay. I slept in a tent in Bushwick for several months, lived in a rented Volkswagen Jetta for as long as my credit card limit allowed and crashed with friends. I starved in the harsh street of New York City. When I used my last subway fare to make my way to my sister’s (one of eleven siblings) house for leftovers from Shabbat meals, she wouldn’t let me in the house because I was wearing jeans.

When I went on dates, I had nothing in common with the women. I knew nothing about their culture, and they knew nothing about mine. I thought all shiksas were prostitutes, and they thought all Hasidim were landlords and diamond dealers.

Let me answer some revealing questions about Hasidic Judaism. Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah.

I still have not received anything past a 5th grade education. In fact, since I never attended a regular school, I don’t actually know what a 5th grade education is — I just picked a grade that seemed right. I don’t know what algebra is; I know I can Google it but I wasn’t made to care enough to do so.

“After leaving the Hasidic world, I spent seven years in various stages of decay.”

For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the “next world” if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day.

I have had to transition both out of Hasidism and transition into mainstream culture. I have had to find a replacement for the void left by the lack of community and warmth. I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass. It was hard leaving everything behind but it was even harder to find something to replace it all with.

Thankfully, as an actor, my professional community is very friendly and inclusive (albeit competitive). I’ve replaced my biological family with actors and Footsteps members. I have managed to date, to have my heart broken, to have broken some hearts and to grow because of all of it.

I get asked all the time: “Are you happy now?” The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” I have friends who love me for who I am, for who I was and for who I am trying to become.

“I had to replace my family, my friends and my moral compass.”

Career-wise, it seems I have sought the path of most resistance, deciding to work in a field full of multi-talented human specimens with high cheekbones and jaguar physiques. I’m five foot seven inches, unathletic and have a heavy Yiddish accent. And yet, I’ve been getting work. My latest film, “Felix and Meira,” just beat David Cronenberg at the Toronto International Film Festival for “Best Canadian Feature Film,” and I won “Best Actor” at the Torino Film Festival. Next, I will appear in a recurring role in the upcoming season of “Transparent” on Amazon Prime.

But those achievements pale in comparison to the responses I get from people within the Hasidic community who have snuck out to go see the film. They have been yearning to break away but have been told that if they do, they will end up in jail or in rehab, and they believed it. But now, they can counter that with success stories like mine and those of others like me.

The Hasidic community isn’t what it used to be even five years ago. With the Internet, every person has access to every flavor of every forbidden fruit his or her heart desires, including my story. It won’t be long before the Empire falls. It might not fall completely, but it certainly will be forced to adapt to the 21st century.

The Empire won’t go down easy. The Empire will strike back. For evidence, watch the comments section below.

Follow Luzer Twersky on Twitter:

In my opinion unless subtle changes are introduced into Charedi education this will become more prevalent. It is nigh on impossible to live in a Cocoon these days. I know of schools that redact every book with pen or gluing pages together. The effect is that the students are more certain to find the original text and be exposed. I’m not sure that approach works. Kids are far more connected than they ever were.

Indeed, there has been a new (undesirable) ban now on whatsapp [Hat tip BA]. I surmise this is because the kosher filters cannot filter such messages. whatsapp is wonderful, it keeps families closer and informed, especially when they are spread around the world. Anything can be used for bad or for good. That is the central tenet in my understanding.

Guest Post: on the misrepresentation of pictures

Thanks to Reb Meir Deutsch for his copyrighted contribution.

Why should only women be blurred in pictures? Do not women have HIRHURIM? The whole thing of ERVA originates from SHIR HASHIRIM. The description of the Shepherd by the NOTERET are (her הרהורים ):
דודי צח ואדום

ראשו כתם פז קבוצותיו תלתלים שחורות כעורב

עיניו כיונים על אפיקי מים רוחצות בחלב

לחייו כערוגות הבושם

שפתותיו שושנים נוטפות מור עובר

ידיו גלילי זהב ממולאים בתרשיש

מעיו עשת שן מעולפות ספירים

שוקיו עמודי שש מיוסדים על אדני פז.
Is it less HIRHURIM than the Shepherd’s ( his הרהורים):
עינייך יונים מבעד לצמתך

שערך כעדר העיזים שגלשו מהר גלעד

שינייך כעדר הקצובות שעלו מן הרחצה

כחוט השני שפתותיך

כפלח הרימון רקתך מבעד לצמתך

כמגדל דוד צווארך

שני שדייך כשני עופרים

אפך כמגדל הלבנון צופה פני דמשק – בטח, הרי זה אף יהודי

ראשך עלייך ככרמל

חמוקי ירכייך כמו חלאים מעשי ידי אומן

בטנך ערימת חיטים סוגה בשושנים

Blur them both. Is there an ERVA only in women? Let us see:

בספר חסידים (מרגליות) סימן תריד. “מכל מה שכתוב בשיר השירים צריך להיזהר שלא ישמע קול אישה והוא הדין שלא תשמע [האישה] קול איש, שמכל שהאיש מוזהר האישה מוזהרת. […] וגם אם שער ראשו יפה ואינו נזהר בו לוקה כאבשלום שנתלה בשערו.” 

There are many POSKIM, but I would like to quote Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He writes:

בזמנם [של חז”ל], שלא היו רואים אשה בחוץ שכל כבודה בת מלך פנימה, ובראיית אשה מיד באים לידי הרהור במחשבה שבלב, משא”כ עתה שהנשים עוסקות במשא ומתן, ומורגלות בינינו, ואין האדם מתפעל בראייתן ובשיחתן לבוא לידי הרהור

ומעתה י”ל שגם לענין ק”ש כנגד נשים שהורגלו לצאת לרה”ר בגילוי הראש, וכל אדם העובר ברה”ר יראה כהנה וכהנה, ואין הרהור מצוי כ”כ בזה מרוב הרגלן בינינו, אין בזה משום שער באשה ערוה אע”פ שעושות כן שלא ברצון חכמים, דלגבי דידן הו”ל כבתולות שרגילות בכך. ושו”ר הלום להגאון מהר”ר משה פיינשטיין שליט”א בשו”ת אגרות משה (חאו”ח ס”ס לט), בד”ה ולכן, שכתב: וכבר הורה זקן הגאון ערוך השלחן שבזה”ז מותר לברך ולהתפלל כנגד שער נשים הרגילות לצאת פרועות ראש.

Let us have pictures of landscapes, oceans and famous buildings. Why do we need pictures of people, if they are showing nothing (all blurred), or showing a picture made up and not a genuine one.


More on blurring out women from the world

I had written about this here.

Check this out from Agudas Yisrael.

(from kolbishaerva blog)

and compare to pre-war picture of graduating class of Beis Yaakov

Graduating Class of Beis Yaakov. Clear faces!

This is my comment that the Economist removed

There was this long back and forth about the citizens of Gaza (only) and one person had said we should all be crying for them.

I wrote back

You should cry why your Arafat didn’t sign the Oslo Accords. THAT’s what you should cry about. Did you forget?

You’ve got to ‘love’ the high morals of the Economist. What they didn’t want me to have published is that if Arafat had signed, and there was an enduring peace (I know that’s questionable) nobody would be crying.

Biographies and autobiographies

A clear difference between chassidic and non chassidic groups used to be the importance attached by the former to stories. Whether these were ‘Ba’al Shemsker’ Mayses or ‘Booba’ Mayses, the promulgation of stories about the wondrous acts and מופסים accredited to Rebbes was and remains a powerful ingredient in the glue known as אמונת חכמים

In the other extreme, due to the unreliable nature of many stories, anti chassidic groups often conclude a לא היה ולא נברא approach to any story; they don’t believe any of them.

The Rav used to treat chassidic stories with a large grain of salt. He would even assume a mirthful tone about these. In Brisk, there was a general feeling of derision towards describing the mundane. There was no room to read about someone’s יחוס or similar. They disdained the concept of biographies or תולדות אנשי שם. If there was something to learn about another person this was achieved through learning Torah. If they had not published Torah, then learn Torah. In Brisk, Torah was everything. Torah subsumed Mussar, and there was not even a Mussar Seder as part of the curriculum (let alone Chassidus).

Ultimately, Briskers would say למאי נפקא מינה, why do you need to know? If you seek inspiration, derive this from Torah itself.

Times have changed. Whereas once upon a time, תולדות אנשי שם was the purview of Chassidim, this is no longer the case. Stories and Biographies of Gedolim are no longer limited to Chassidic Rebbes. The emergence of Artscroll and Feldheim (in response to the needs of the masses) has meant that the non and anti chassidic student can now derive similar חיזוק from stories about the life of an arch Misnaged. Gone are the days that מופסים only happened among Rebbes. Now we have stories which are “moredik” among the misnagdim and non chassidim. We read about R’ Aryeh Levin ז’ל and are inspired. He wasn’t a Rebbe. We read about R’ Kook ז’ל and are inspired, and he was derided by anti Zionist elements common to Chassidim and Misnagdim. Books about R’ Shlomo Zalman ז’ל and others abound. Do they do any harm? I doubt it; as long as they tell the whole truth and only the truth.

Ironically, large volumes are written about people like R׳ Velveler Brisker ז’ל, the Rav’s own uncle, a scion and paragon of Brisk. It is difficult to see R’ Velvel approving of volume 1, let alone a volume 2, about him.

There have also been the so-called controversial books, such as ״the making of a gadol” by the now maligned Rosh Yeshivah, R’ Noson Kaminetzky. From the episode of banning his book, we see the opposite effect: as long as books never ever show a gadol in a human or fallible way, they are kosher. If they also tell the whole truth, this can mislead or deflate readers and the book then gets shelved in the Apikorsus Cabinet or burned.

Applying the yardstick used in our day and age towards the Torah itself, one might well imagine many sections would be banned. Who would publish the story of Moshe Rabbeinu and the rock, or the pilegesh B’Givah or indeed Shir HaShirim? Luckily, these were authored through Ruach HaKodesh and stay unimpeachable and impervious to bans.

This brings me to my point. It is one thing for the students or followers of a Rabbi or Rebbe to write a biography about him (or her, as was the case with Nechama Leibovitz and ‘Tales of Nechama‘) but what about an auto biography? Biographies, especially today, are sanitised and homogenised so that the subject of the biography is painted in only a positive (and often unrealistic) light.

Autobiographies are much rarer (see “Jewish Autobiography: The Elusive Subject,” Jewish Quarterly Review 95:1 (Winter 2005): 16-59 by Mosely). There is the well researched edition of R’ Yehuda Aryeh of Modena‘s auto biography, Chayei Yehuda. More recently, there was the scandal surrounding the editing of the second edition of R’ Kook’s (first) father in law, the Aderes‘s autobiography, Seder Eliyahu. Questioning the “real audience” of the auto biography, family members contrived to edit and remove crucial elements of the auto biography.

Recently, I finished reading R’ Ya’akov Emden‘s autobiography of 1896, Megilas Sefer. My copy was the new translation.

R' Ya'akov Emden

Some have claimed that this wasn’t an autobiography written by R’ Emden, as seen in this book. Serious researchers, however, pay no credence to that attempted besmirching.  Indeed, as I understand it noted historian, R’ J. J. Schacter (not to be confused with R’ Hershel) is completing a scholarly work on Megilas Sefer in the not too distant future. The Ya’avetz, as he was commonly known, was a famous son of the equally famous Chacham Tzvi. R’ Emden is known for his fierce opposition to the alleged neo-sabbatean R’ Yonasan Eybeshutz. What struck me, though, about the autobiography was how human R’ Emden was and yet, how much of a Tzadik and upright example he was despite the revelation that he was a fallible human being, albeit a Rabbinical Giant. To give you a feel for what I mean, I’ve copied a few random pages from the translated version. Ask yourself when the last time you read a biography from Artscroll or Feldheim which basically told the whole truth. Does our generation need only sanitised versions of human beings? Are we likely to have less יראת שמים if we read that someone was angry, jealous, sad, moaning, groaning, in pain, in fear or the like? Our generation is crying out for more אמונת חכמים. We do ourselves a great disservice if we don’t tell the whole truth and instead portray them all as מלאכים.

 כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא

is not a statement of weakness! It is a statement of human condition.

Against Bans, Harassment and Threats

A little over a month ago, a number of rabbis signed onto a ban that forbade advertising on or otherwise working with the website VosIzNeias. This ban singled out one website without addressing other websites or public forums like newspapers or magazines. The singling out of a solitary website raises many questions, particularly when newspapers in the same community regularly publish arguably libelous stories and online discussion forums for the community are essentially unbounded by civility. Additionally, VosIzNeias has publicly stated that it has already raised its standards and is willing to do even more with rabbinic guidance, provided the same guidelines are applied to its competitors.

Bans of this nature are generally brought into fruition by activists and this one is attributed to a specific activist who seems to have business and political interests in this ban. He ignored VosIzNeias’ request to meet with the rabbis in order to explore ways to satisfy their concerns. With this ban, the activist is threatening the commercial viability of the VosIzNeias business.

We have now received reports of continued harassment by this activist, who is threatening to publicly denounce people, companies and charitable organizationswho continue to cooperate with the website. He has also reportedly threatened to remove the kosher certification of companies that fail to adhere to the ban. However, on being contacted, the activist behind the ban denied all knowledge of this harassment and attributed it to someone acting without authorization. We are, therefore, making no formal accusation as to who is conducting this campaign of harassment.

To the best of our understanding, this activity is illegal. One individual told us he reported that harassment to the police.

Harassing good people with threats is illegal and inexcusable. We call on rabbis and people of good faith to denounce this behavior, and we encourage victims to respond to this activist as follows:

If he calls or e-mails you or your organization, thank him for bringing the ban to your attention and say that you will decide how to proceed after consulting with your rabbi or other advisor. And because there are rumors that there is harassment involved in this matter, add that if he contacts you or anyone else in your organization again, you will have to report him to the police.

There is a copy of an e-mail forwarded  by people involved, which includes a pseudonym and phone number, and we have been told of intimidating phone calls. Note that at this time we are withholding this activist’s identity. If he continues harassing people, we will have to be less discrete.


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