March 31, 2016

Existentialism

Caught between alternative moral positions, how does a thinking person determine what to do?

Of course, your average person cares more about drink, sex, and sport and couldn't care less about value thinking. For those of us who do, however, the process of self-analysis constantly forces us to examine. If you were a philosopher you would want to think the process through rationally. If you follow, a religion the answer should be simple: Do as you are told. Except that in both rational and non-rational cases there are alternatives within the very structures you chose. Every religion, indeed every movement, has its extremes and variants in both directions. The challenge is to decide where one stands on the spectrum and which of the alternative approaches, rational or non-rational, one feels more comfortable with. And I am a firm believer in choice!

Variations existed and continue to exist in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Over time the pendulum swings from one approach to the other and back, from one thinker, exponent, or sect in fashion to another.

We are currently in the midst of an important paradigm shift. On the one hand the rational and scientific, on the other the mystical and emotional. For some the material is the only one that counts. For others logic is anathema. The sad fact is that most people think they have to chose one or the other. And there is another contrast, that of strictness and insularity (although the two do not necessarily always go together) as opposed to leniency and universality. All these different positions tug at our consciences, if we have them.

The Renaissance introduced the idea of humanism into the Western world. The idea that instead of the Church or religious authority deciding for you what to do and think, human beings should be able to decide for themselves. Initially humanism was seen as being anti-religious for challenging its authority. Slowly it began to morph into the assertion of human responsibility for uneasy coexistence alongside the old.

The pendulum began to swing during the nineteenth century. Science undermined the idea of anything special about human beings. We were just sophisticated animals. Marxism undermined our ideas of how a state should act. Freud told us how unaware we really were of our own minds. And nationalism taught us that nations mattered more than individuals.

Philosophy too went through fundamental changes. The great theoretical thought systems of Spinoza, Hegel, and Kant (attempts to explain it ALL, to find THE solution) were challenged by the empirical ideas of Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. It seemed that the world of thought was divided between abstract continental thought and practical Anglo-Saxon realism.

The twentieth century introduced two important philosophical movements that opened up new vistas for the thinking person. The catalyst for innovation was the culture of the German speaking peoples. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was the genius of Linguistic Analysis. Born in Vienna, he argued that philosophers had become preoccupied with theories rather than the meanings of the words we use to explain them. Whether in a religious or secular context, words and terms like God or Society, Good or Evil can signify different things to different people. How could one have a debate if one could not agree on what exactly one was talking about? WE are still arguing about what we mean by “belief” or “faith.” Besides, words do not have meanings. They have uses and usages may vary and be beyond definition or category. For instance, what do we mean when we say something is a game?

In Vienna the Logical Positivists thought that sentences and statements that could not be verified were “meaningless.”This consigned all talk about emotions, mysticism, and abstraction into meaningless statements. The realization that thought and language were inevitably interconnected led to Moral Relativism; that anything could be right or wrong depending entirely on how I or you might decide.

Parallel with this stream of philosophical development, the European continent gave birth to another—that of Phenomenalism, and through it, Existentialism. Starting with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) Phenomenalism focused on the individual and how he or she experiences the universe. We only know for certainty what we experience ourselves. We extrapolate and assume that others feel and think the same way. Such a personalized way of looking at the world left it open to distortions.

Jean Paul Sartre, a brilliant, complicated French thinker together with Simone De Beauvoir were regarded as the prime movers of Existentialism and a tradition of disregarding and rebelling against authority. Sartre flirted with Communism, but eventually repudiated it. He was also a staunch defender of Jews (see his Anti-Semite and Jew, 1948). His philosophy inspired a whole generation to justify personal self-expression and attack convention and expectations. Of course, such idealism conflicts with many of the norms societies impose simply to protect one person from another. Nevertheless, it offered an alternative to overarching grand theories of how people ought to behave.

This dichotomy between systems or norms of different kinds and individuality is now the ideological battleground of the world we live in in the twenty-first century. We are caught between those who want to impose their orthodoxies on us ( right or left) and those who want complete freedom from almost any limitation.

Those of us who love religion (with qualification), struggle to hold the middle ground between the extremes. Yet in Judaism today this is the very core existential struggle. Here, of course, existentialism has another meaning—that of survival, existence of a people, as opposed to the validation of one’s own private freedoms and experiences.

In ultra-Orthodoxy (and ultra-nationalism) total obedience is required. Knee-jerk acceptance of nostra with no questions. In reform movements, autonomy, the right to choose, is the password. Anything one doesn’t find convenient one can jettison. For people like me, a balance between them is the Golden Mean. I would argue it always was.

I fear intellectual inflexibility wherever it is found. I accuse the vast majority of the thinkers of Western Civilization as being inflexible and doctrinaire, too. Just look at academic life.

I claim that religion has no business giving absolute and definitive answers to abstract issues. It can posit what it sees as crucial. But many of such points are simply not open to debate. The role of religion is to recognize a spiritual dimension which is not subject to material, scientific enquiry. That is why philosophy has never challenged my religious faith. However religion does try to provide a way of life, a framework for living that recognizes obligations, patterns of behavior, and physical boundaries. To do, more than to theorize.

As the Mishna says, “It is not the mental activity that counts, but behavior.” And, “Do not (spend your time) asking what is above and below, behind and ahead.” It's the present and how we deal with it that is the challenge.

I appreciate Existentialism for its validation of individuality and I value religion teaching us how to live and cope.

(If you are interested in exploring existentialism in a not too heavy way, I heartily recommend At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell.)

March 24, 2016

Why I Don’t Criticize Israel More

Once again I feel the need to defend my position on Israel.

I do not identify with the political climate in Israel today nor with its government. I do not approve of occupation or discrimination. I find extremism of any kind repulsive and offensive. I believe that risks need to be taken for peace, though not irrational ones, and Palestinian rights should be validated. I also believe that if there can be Christian countries, Muslim countries, and countries of other religions, there can be nothing offensive in having a Jewish state. But I find the rising tide of condemnation excessive, unobjective, ideologically animated, and undermining of our rights as Jews to exist within the safety of our own borders.

As in the USA and Europe, in Israel there are right-wing and left-wing extremists. There is aggression and caring humanity. There is discrimination that must be combatted, irrational hatred, and dysfunction, and gross materialism. These things do not necessitate delegitimizing a national entity.

I find much of the critical attacks on Israel offensive and a balanced, sane dialogue totally absent. One-sided hatred is an offense to intellectual honesty. As often has been said, much of the bias comes from within. I do not for one minute impugn or dispute the genuine pain that a lot of critics feel at both the occupation of the West Bank and the often aggressive behavior of soldiers. Neither do I like to use such indefinable and vague slurs as “self-hating”. Many opponents are perfectly at ease morally and as Jews with their positions. My issue is balance and objectivity.

The New York Review of Books (not quite as shameless as the London Review of Books) regularly publishes articles by well-known activist and critic of Israel, retired Hebrew University professor David Shulman. I read them because I want to know the other side. My argument is not with his citation of examples of bad Israeli behavior, but with the fact that his pain and justifiable anger leads him to feed misinformation.

In this month’s offering, he writes in support of the Palestinan authority: “No one has been executed in Palestine in the last ten years.” This is patently not true, and a quick internet search will show that. I guess he also thinks there is no corruption, either, or if there is it must be Israel’s fault.

And, “The goal is ethnic cleansing.” Really? Perhaps he can explain why there are still Israeli Arabs living in Israel and millions of Palestinians still living on the West Bank and why the Supreme Court is challenging Netanyahu’s desire to expel certain families of terrorists to Gaza? If Israel was really trying to ethnic-cleanse, how come they are still there after all this time? If Israel is such a powerful and evil adversary, it is clearly a highly incompetent ethnic cleanser.

To use such a loaded expression as ethnic cleansing is a libel. All governments sometimes move people from certain areas for security or development. This is not ethnic cleansing any more than confining citizens to their own quarters until there is a peaceful settlement is apartheid. The only ideological apartheid is the Palestinian authorities insistence that it wants no Jews at all in its territory.

“In September it looked as if Israel was about to change the status on the Haram Al Sharif.”

“Looked” to whom? There is no documentation of any such “look” on the part of Israel. It is true some fanatical activists tried to pray on the Mount in defiance of Palestinian wishes, but there was no government support even for something as innocuous as that. It was entirely a myth whipped up by pseudo-religious agitators to cause trouble.

“Blacklist of books that are to be banned from the curriculum.”

Another lie. The minister ordered that certain books that paint Israelis in a negative light should not be subsidized by government funds and should be removed from the compulsory curriculum. Now, I do not agree with this, but it is certainly not the same as banning, say, in the way that Hitler or indeed the popes used to ban literature they disapproved of and burn books. There was no ban on children reading whatever they wanted to.

“The persecutor of millions of Palestinians entirely without rights.”

Really? What about those millions of Palestinians who are under Palestinian control, ceded by Israel, which only reserves the right to pursue military objectives? Who is responsible if they have no rights or if their leaders corruptly misuse funds and feather their own nests?

He complains about treatment of suspects in Israeli prisons. Indeed he should. Prisons anywhere are ghastly institutions, and abuse of all kinds is endemic throughout the world. In Israel the Right Wing complain just as much that their members detained and imprisoned for terrorism are treated just as badly. My point is that both sides have a legitimate claim, but why only attack the abuses of one side? Attack them all.

There are such oft-repeated canards that Jews and Muslims cannot marry. It is true that Israel has no civil marriage (along with tens of other countries). I deplore this myself, but if that is the choice of most Israelis that is their business. The only marriage for Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel is religious, a system continued from Ottoman days. If a Muslim and a Jew want to marry each other, one of them has to join the other’s religion. Then they can marry in Israel. Indeed, each year many Jews (mainly women, interestingly) do marry Muslims and Christian Arabs in Israel. The people who suffer most are secular Israelis who have to go to Cyprus for a civil marriage (which is then recognized in Israel). But that is an internal political issue that every country has the right to decide for itself.

You might argue that such discrepancies or inaccuracies fade into insignificance compared to the evils of occupation, and that may be true. But occupation itself is only the result of a failure to reach an agreement, of which both sides are at least equally guilty (although I do believe the Palestinians are more to blame for holding out for a better deal).

Yes, Israel is the stronger, when set against the West Bank and Gaza. But one needs to realize that the opposition is not just them but thousands of well-armed, well-financed, and ideological maximalists who declare that they want Israel destroyed and millions who want Israel driven out. Thus is indeed an asymmetrical struggle, but not in the way opponents of Israel frame it.

There are ideological battles. There always have been between different worldviews. Israel itself has always been riven between religious and secular, left and right, and they all fight each other with all the intellectual and political tools at their disposal. That is what makes Israel so great and so frustrating. For those of us who seek honest objectivity, the struggle is to maintain balance and the middle ground. That is why I refuse to allow either extreme to pull me towards it.

March 17, 2016

Purim; Serious or Fun?

There is trend in certain quarters to look at the story of Purim as one of Jewish aggression, the murder of innocent Persian non-Jews, antagonism to outsiders for no valid reason—the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are evil. Some Jewish academics have focused on the “brutality” of killing Haman and his sons and of killing men, women, and children. Elliott Horowitz haswritten one entitled Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence. But if one looks at the text honestly and objectively, it is as far from the truth as black is from white.

The story, apparently, takes place in Persia some 2500 years ago though the historical facts are unclear. The first part of the story is comic. A drunken King Achashverosh spends a good portion of the year partying. He deludes himself that free orgies for his administrators and subjects will keep them loyal and avoid plots. He has civil laws that are frankly ridiculous, like never being able to retract an order once given.

He loses his temper with his tempestuous Queen Vashti who tries to stand up to him (once again we are not entirely certain why). He fires her, but then the poor fellow gets lonely and misses having a wife. Clearly he has deep relationship issues. He cannot act. He needs the advice of his various sets of seven cronies and is so insecure he has to decree that all wives must obey their husbands. The young men about town suggest he gathers as many virgins as possible from throughout his realm. They are submitted to a twelve-month regime of cosmetics and oils before being allowed to spend the night with the king. He has to pick just one to be his queen. The rest are carted off to incarceration in his harem. But even after selecting Esther he continues to gather virgins for his own pleasure (and probably that of his inner circle, too).

There is an undertone of insecurity and the next part is ominous. Jews are reluctant to admit who they are. The Royal Guardsmen want to assassinate the king. And then this mindless sop is so short of cash he gives his approval to genocide. Kill all the Jews, and confiscate all their property. The bad guy who persuades him, and pays him for the privilege, is Haman—another browbeaten macho who is under the thumb of Zeresh, his wife. Thanks to to Esther (is that the new queen, the evil of Haman’s plot is revealed. Unable to retract his initial command, he issues a second decree that the victims can defend themselves, and everything ends happily for everyone. Except he increases the taxes to enable him to go on feasting. You might call that the Persian dimension. Love of wine, women, and a good time are a feature of Persian life, Jewish and non-Jewish, to this very day. And the bad guys are eliminated.

Now the Jewish dimension to the Megilah. Both Esther and Mordechai carry the names of Assyrian deities. Were they so assimilated? Jews, feeling insecure, keep a low profile, even hide their identity. When Esther is taken into the palace, Mordechai warns her not to reveal her origin. Only Mordechai, thinking he is fighting a lone battle, publicly refuses to bow down to the egomaniac prime minister. Although Mordechai has proved his loyalty by saving the king from a plot hatched by his palace guard, he did not calculate on Haman’s ideological anti-Semitism. Haman doesn’t just try to eliminate Mordechai. The case Haman makes out to the king is that Jews are different. They are all untrustworthy, disloyal, and a danger to society. In other words, as totally wrong and irrational as anti-Semitism is today.

Mordechai tells Esther she must act, otherwise all they can do is pray. It is Esther who risks her life to get to the king. She softens him up with alcohol and then reveals Haman to be the real threat to the king (after he has revealed his designs by asking the king to let him ride the royal horse through the capital). The Jews are saved. Mordechai and Esther are the human tools of salvation. But the unspoken name of God lurks in the background, hidden (Esther’s name means “I hide”.) but pulling the strings. Jews survive both through their own efforts and Divine intervention. Purim means lottery, but there are two—the human one that fails and the Heavenly one that succeeds.

To end the book there is a sad reflection on Jewish life then and now. When Esther and Mordechai try to institute an annual festival of commemoration, they cannot succeed in getting all the Jews to agree. We ARE a stiff necked people aren’t we!

But what of the killing of poor non-Jewish Persians? One could take the apologist’s line and say that thousands of years ago life was brutal, it was like gang warfare today. Or indeed the way the Syrian government or ISIS has been torturing and killing children. Or one might understand the natural sense of pain and anger that parents would feel when their children are threatened with death.

The text simply does not support the theory of wanton cruelty. The first decree was to invite everyone in the Persian empire to join in killing the Jewish men, women, and children, and grab their goods on one specific day that astrology determined to be the best. So much for astrology. But the second decree said the Jews could defend themselves. No Persian HAD to go kill Jews. Those who chose to were animated in their clear disregard of the second decree only by irrational hatred or hopes of gain. And when a section of a population is so full of irrational hatred and greed it affects their children too. Children can still be taught to hate and wield knives! What always struck me was that only a minority was infected by the virus. In a population of millions, those who actually were killed because they attacked the Jews amounted to no more than 800 in the capital and 75,000 throughout the Empire who died for their evil cause. This is not a story of Jewish cruelty, but of regrettably necessary self-defense. And the Jews did not take any loot!

It is such a modern twenty-first century story of government and personal corruption, using violence for irrational hatred and gain. Haman is called “Haman the descendent of Agag". Agag was the Amalekite king that Samuel killed (Samuel Chapter 15). The Amalekites first attacked the Israelites coming out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:27) by killing women, children, the tired, and the weak bringing up the rear of the people. Cowards that anti-Semites are. That is why the Bible focused on their cruelty and the need to remember and protect ourselves from endemic hatred.

But those who suggest that violence is an essential part of the story are ignoring the real message of Purim in Jewish law and lore—to celebrate the occasion Mordechai and Esther instituted three law: to give to the poor, to send presents to one’s friends, and to read the Megilah. No violence there, only the importance of history, charity, and friendship. Later came the tradition of dressing up in disguise, to remind us that much in life is hidden, many people do not reveal themselves, and what appears one way at one moment can turn into something or someone quite different the next.

What the Megilah in all its confusing and contradictory richness tells is that his world is a topsy-turvy one. It is complex, fun, dangerous, and made up of many layers. And nothing could be more topsy-turvy than suggesting that we delight in violence. What we do delight in is survival, physical and spiritual.

March 10, 2016

We Will Survive

Last week I received a pained email from a friend and former pupil of mine from England who was worried about our future as Jews. Here is his letter (abbreviated):

“Last week I went to a talk by Tuvia Tenenbom, and it really was a bit of a shock to the system. His point was that Israel was being completing undermined by a massive majority of “self-hating Jews”. He claims to have been in vast audiences of Liberal and Conservative Jews who have "whooped and hollered” when speakers have denounced…the crimes of Israeli soldiers and politicians…How do you see the Jewish community in terms of its support for Israel, and do you agree with Tuvia that the power has shifted dramatically to the left and has become anti-Zionist or at least the self-doubt has muted their voices and affected their views?”

My reply:

Tenenbom is right in that we are seeing unprecedented alienation, amongst many Jews and non-Jews, from Judaism and from Israel. But I am not as despondent as he is, and I certainly do not equate all criticism of Israeli society and politicians with anti-Semitism or self-hate. But neither should the enemy deflect us from admitting our own failings and mistakes or our own extremists and fascists. However, if one is to criticize Israel it should be from the standpoint of commitment to its survival and love for its heritage and history. As the book of Proverbs says, “Better the arrows of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.” And I would rather be alive and disliked than loved and dead. The record of humanity caring about Jews is not a good one.

You seem most worried about the number of Jews who are turning against Israel. The Jewish people has always been divided on matters of religion and, of course, Zionism, usually with regard to degrees of commitment. Let us not forget that once two rival Jewish kingdoms went to war against each other. Anti-Zionism and anti ritualism were the default positions of Reform Judaism at one stage. This is the price of our great tradition of debate and freedom, for better and for worse.

If there was a greater and wider level of support for a Jewish homeland after the Second World War, that was because a generation that experienced an existential threat is likely to feel much more strongly about survival than one that has been privileged and mollycoddled and raised in a secure world on the self-indulgent principle of “me” rather than “we”. The post-Holocaust generation, the Zionist pioneers, fought to preserve the Jewish people. The battle was won beyond all expectation. But history moves in cycles. The present generation does not care so much. That is the reality. Only the minority is passionately committed, either through family, education, or religious inspiration.

We are moving away from the old lukewarm vague affiliations. I never particularly liked the low-level, uninformed Jewish identification of my youth, based on social rather than religious identification. Often characterized as “feeling Jewish” or Chopped Liver and Gefilte Fish Judaism. I much prefer living a Jewish life that demands more, is better informed and more committed to Jewish survival. Today those who survive and thrive in Anglo and American Jewry are far better educated, committed, creative, dynamic, and upbeat than ever in my youth, I assure you.

This trend is reflected in the fact that voting characteristics of Jewish communities are changing. In the UK most Jews used to vote Labour, in the US, Democrat. Hardly any committed Jews vote Labour anymore, and those who vote Democrat have shrunk by almost half. This is almost entirely because the left whether Jewish or not is antagonistic towards Israel; the recent Pew survey supports this. Israel is proportionally more religious, more committed, less cowed by Western opposition than communities living in the diaspora.

Committed Jews do not worry about continuity, because they are busy living it and contributing to it. Throughout the Jewish world, this is the one sector of our people that is growing exponentially. Wherever I look, I see more and more working very hard to preserve our people against unbelievable odds—physically, intellectually, commercially, and publicly—and not flinching from engaging with opposition. It is a little miracle.

Yet I have to admit that ultra-Orthodox extremists and intolerance are also driving Jews away, both in Israel and the diaspora. I regret that so many are abandoning Judaism. I admire those movements struggling to woo or retain as many as possible. But survival does not depend on numbers as much as passion. Assimilation inevitably draws away many in free, open societies where it is easier to blend in with the majority than stick out like a sore thumb.

As for self-hating or disconnected or alienated Jews, that too has always been with us. Under Medieval Christianity and Islam, some of the worst persecutors of Jews were other Jews and apostates. Nothing new. Been there before, and we have survived, not them. Not one of Harold Pinter’s children is Jewish any more, to give just one example from Britain. Hollywood even when full of Jewish émigrés, the New York Times, ignored anti Semitism and the Holocaust. So today there are Jewish actors and actresses who abandon their roots. As for trying to understand the pathology of those who reject or hate their own, I doubt it will help. Where someone was not convinced of a position rationally in the first place, he can rarely be disabused of mistaken views rationally either.

Jews have always rallied when they were oppressed, attacked, or hated. I have heard recently of many cases on both sides of the Atlantic where lukewarm Jews have been provoked into becoming more committed and proactive as they have realized they will be pilloried regardless of what concessions they make to current attitudes. So I do not like or enjoy the current wave of Jew/Israel hatred. But in a way the historical exception has been the past 60 years of post-Holocaust tendency too sublimate Jew hatred.
 
We should not underestimate or overestimate the antipathy directed at Jews by the left, by many (not all) Muslims, and frankly by those infected by the virus of Jew hatred that refuses to disappear. I recall speaking in a debate at the Cambridge Union in 1963 against the motion that “Israel has no right to exist.” This not new. Religion, history, politics, ideology, and human nature have all contributed to the disease.

In the US and Europe, the left-wing, democratic voting, idealistic voters, both Jews and non-Jews, have always tended towards universalism rather than denominationalism or nationalism. Flower Power was always more attractive to the mass than religion. Israel was acceptable so long as it was left wing, a command economy, and not too Jewish. As it has become more capitalist and more Jewish, it inevitably has alienated such people. Let us not forget Marxism hated religion and Jews and Arab nationalism fought against settling in the Holy Land long before Israel was a state. In the end we must use the tools we need to survive.

Quite apart from this, Europe has always had a strong anti-American sentiment, due to jealousy of its strengths and liberties and the superseding of its empires. Israel is a convenient punching bag proxy for the US. And of course the wave of anti-Semitism, regardless of its source, only makes matters worse. The world prefers a pliant, petitioning Jew to one who fights for his rights.

Israel will compensate for those turning against it in the West by increasing ties with India and China. Where one door closes, another opens. The Sunni states are closer now to Israel in their conflict with the Shia than ever before, even if the Arab/Muslim in the street still hates Jews precisely because they seem almost diabolically successful, and have been the scapegoat for generations and the excuse for failure.

I believe with complete faith that so long as we are true to our values (a big “if”) and do not give up the fight, we and Israel will survive.

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March 03, 2016

Education for Immigrants

Ever since the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians, and the Muslims tried to impose their cultures on us, Judaism has had an uneasy relationship with other value systems. It is not that we want to say that ours is the only way and everyone else is wrong. Just that our values and our religion are worth preserving and fighting for.

Yet going back some two thousand years we have always accepted Shmuel’s famous principle that “The Law of the Land is the Law”. There were only two caveats. One was that this applied only to civil law. And secondly, that the law of the land was applied equally and fairly to all citizens. This has been the condition of our flourishing in the free countries we have emigrated to. Even where we set up our religious courts, they always abided by the civil laws of the land.

We now live in a world in which numbers of immigrants into Western secular societies actively seek to maintain values that conflict with those of the host societies. Whereas once immigrants tended to adapt to the host societies, increasingly host societies are being asked either to change laws or not to interfere when their values are flouted.

Naturally there has been pushback. In France notably insisting on its secular division between State and Religion, followed by others, immigrant groups have been called upon to learn about host country values and to accommodate to them. The argument being that if they want to enjoy the benefits of welfare and subsidies, they need either to accept the standards and values or go elsewhere. But in practice both options have been ignored.

We think of it as a mainly Muslim issue, but it affects ultra-Orthodox Judaism too. Ultra-Orthodoxy, unlike much of Islam, has no interest in conquering the world. But it does reject many of its values. It argues that it is committed to Torah education, and anything else is going undermine its spiritual integrity. I have some sympathy for such a position in theory. Why shouldn't there be people who choose to devote themselves exclusively to their religion, as many Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and others do from a very early age? If they are going to happily spend their whole lives in seclusion, there is no good argument against it.

Ever since the “Enlightenment” there has been a battle within Orthodoxy between those who have rejected it out of hand and those who have tried to accommodate to it. Some Jewish institutions in every community actively tried to assimilate and acculturate Jewish immigrants. Others tried to insulate them. And this struggle continues to this very day.

The problem is that so many men (it’s more of a problem for men, because even the most extreme tend to allow women to work, if only to support their husbands) are simply not prepared to live outside their closed worlds and have no way of earning a living to support themselves if they choose to leave. Even if they stay but want to have a career and earn instead of being dependent on family, charity, or welfare, they need skills. Many do not speak English. If one wants to be reliant on government welfare, whether you are Christian, Muslim, or Jew, shouldn't you be prepared to make certain concessions that will facilitate independence?

Many Charedi schools inside and outside Israel tend to ask for state aid in one form or other. Until recently, in the UK you had to accept the national curriculum if you wanted state aid. Most Charedi schools chose not to. But as the costs of education and numbers rose, many of them got caught on the horns of a dilemma. They wanted government money, but not interference. So many of them lied, deceived inspectors and tried to get away with as little as possible. This mentality of deceiving and swindling has sadly become endemic in a Charedi world where not enough of them are equipped to make money legally. 

But there is an internal debate about whether one should “snitch". There are some who see the absence of basic secular education as a serious threat to the longterm survival of their communities and want to do something about it. So they believe that by telling the authorities that they are being flouted, they bring about pressure for change. As a reaction the Charedi establishments seeks to brand them as traitors. Is there a difference between "snitching " on sex abusers, husbands who beat their wives, financial swindlers, Ponzi schemers, and lying school administrators? Should one never tell?

There is an age-old idea of the Moser (Musser in Yiddish)—someone who betrays you to the authorities. It goes back to Roman times. It was reinforced under Christian and Muslim oppression and again under Communism. Where you were dealing with an anti-Semitic, evil regime, it was indeed considered bad to betray your coreligionists. So much so that some even suggested you could kill him to prevent a catastrophe. Yet even in the Talmud there are stories of rabbis who did cooperate, when they thought their coreligionists were behaving badly and such behavior might endanger the community. I accept the principle in Jewish law that you should at first rebuke, warn, see if you can bring about change softly and reasonably. But if that doesn't work, you do have a religious obligation to take steps to force a change. "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor sheds his own blood."

So I do not accept that one should not tell the authorities in a law abiding country where everyone is (in theory at least) treated equally if some recognizably Jewish and religious institution is knowingly and intentionally breaking the law. All the more so, where more and more young Charedi men who do not want to remain cloistered and studying all their lives and do want to earn a living legitimately, themselves protest that they lost out because they got no secular education.

The issue has become more nuanced. Because now governments are demanding more than basic numeracy and literacy. They would like to impose this on Muslim fundamentalists in their Madrassahs. They are also doing the same to Jewish fundamentalists in the Chedarim (yeshivas). They are requiring them to teach such subjects as civics, other religions, etc. If it is government policy, and if one wants to live in Europe or the US, the "Law of the Land" must be obeyed, and whoever does not like it should ago somewhere else. This is not like nineteenth century Russia, when the state was trying to forcibly assimilate or convert Jews. The government is only trying to help them!!! But that is not how they see it.

This issue is being played out around the Jewish world. In the end, politics usually leads to compromise and accommodation. But, to my mind, the principles are as clear as daylight, and we have an obligation to help those who need additional tools to cope with life.
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