I have come out of my retirement to offer thoughts during these trying times for Klal Yisroel in the United States. The timing of these challenges, right before the Aseres Yemei Teshuva – the Ten Days of Penitence – screams the significance of the moment.
This is no time for debate over whether one can eat cheese with vegetarian rennet, Chass V’Sholom, whether women can wear trousers or not, Rachmana Litzlan, or whether one is permitted to keep one day Yuntif when visiting Eretz Yisroel, as absurd at that may sound. Such issues, rooted in Halachic concerns, reflect Chumras that have emerged over the years and speak to the practical challenges of living in the Oilum Hazeh, a world constantly changing and evolving. While I do not personally approve of any of the above practices, they are, in our day, akin to “strong Minhagim”. I would not eat at the homes of anyone engaged in such practices and would discourage my children and grandchildren from entering their homes. Yet I would count such people in a minyan, especially if they are big donors.
However, last week, many core issues were raised to the level of public discourse, critical issues facing Klal Yisroel, issues that are so basic they are existential and may be classified as Yehuraig V’Al Ya’Avor – better to give up one’s life than to make such compromises. For unlike the Halachic questions above, these topics threaten the very future of Klal Yisroel.
I am of course talking about the hateful cover article written by the New York Times, Yemach Shemum, suggesting that the Chassidic Yeshiva educational model should undergo reform, and about the pressure the State of New York is putting on Yeshiva University to embrace Mishkav Zachor, homosexuality.
Klal Yisroel is facing a trial akin to nothing less than Akeidas Yitzchak. Will we succumb to the temptation of “public pressure”, society, or “the left-wing media”, Chass V’Sholom, and ignore the will of Hakadoshboruchhu? Or will we stand strong in our faith in the Melech Malchei HeMelachim and live our principles as defined by our Toirah given to Moishe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai?
The report in the New York Times detailed concerns about the poor performance of a cluster of boys’ schools in the Chassidic community on a series of standardized tests in English and Math given by the state. This data was presented alongside numerous interviews with “survivors” of the Chassidic school systems who have struggled in their adult lives. Also cited were allegations of corporal punishment.
The report also focused on the funds received by our Yeshivois from the government, and suggested that our Chassidic leaders, the intellectual — and often genetic — descendants of the holy BESHT, must be compelled to teach more secular subjects.
As we prepare to bring in the new Yuhr, our people are facing Shmad, utter destruction. As is well known, the genocidal intentions of Haman and Achashveiroish in Persia — recognized by the Yuntif of Purim — are considered to be a lesser evil than the actions of the Yevunim who brought Avoidah Zorah into the Bais HaMikdash, when efforts at forcing Helenism onto Klal Yisroel led to a rebellion that culminated in independence — commemorated by the Yuntif of Chanukah. After all, the Persians, Yemach Shemum, only wanted to kill us, which would deny us life in the Oilum Hazeh; the Greeks, on the other hand, wanted to destroy our Neshamas, denying us our Oilum Habbah. That is what we face today.
The article in the self-hating, anti Semitic New York Times implies that the Chassidic schools are failing because of very poor performance on basic English exams relative to the average across the general population and to every other demographic sub-segment. This claim reflects the cultural biases of a majority population trying to force its world view onto our Torah-abiding children. Do we force Latinos to adopt English as their communal language? Do we compel Chinatown to operate in English? While the boys attending these skills have poor English language skills, I am confident that if there was standardized testing in Yiddish language skills, these students would outperform all other schools.
Underlying the article is the premise that basic English, Math and Science knowledge are necessary for success in life. That is a false premise. Moishe Rabbeinu did not speak English. Reb Yehuda HaNasi did not read English. RASHI translates unclear words in the Torah into Old French, never into Old English. The RAMBAN never studied science. The BESHT never took a standardized math test. And yet they all changed the world.
The New York Times cobbles together numerous anecdotes about individuals in the community who blame their adult struggles on their Chassidic education. And yet there are myriad examples of professional success stories that were never shared. There are many entrepreneurs in the Chassidic community who have built successful business in the worlds of real estate, technology, and auto leasing. A significant number of Chassidic entrepreneurs have developed very successful Amazon stores. There are even large numbers of Chassidim involved in healthcare - In insurance, nursing homes, home health care, home medical supplies, medical billing, speech therapy, and Hatzalah.
Yes, there are almost no “doctors” emerging from Chassidic community, but that title is a misnomer. As is well known, RAMBAM never went to medical school, but learned everything he knew from the Gemara and Kabbalah, and he was renowned inside and outside the Jewish world. Indeed, in the last two and a half years we witnessed the fallacy underlying the biased premise: While the Goyisheh Velt struggled with the Covid epidemic, Chassidic medical experts provided alternate approaches to medical care — such as gargling with salt water, lemon water, or garlic water, using a hair dryer to blow hot air down one’s throat, and changing Mezuzas — and as a result there were no casualties from Covid in the Chassidic community. In essence, the Chassidic community led the country and the world on Covid: Biden recently declared the Covid crisis to be over; but in the Chassidic community Covid was over two years ago. Why was this fact withheld by the New York Times?
Finally, let us pause and consider what we want for our children and grandchildren most of all. That is: To be Menschen. In comparing Chassidic schools to all other schools and demographics, the New York Times ignores key facts about the Chassidic community: There is no drug problem. There are no teen age pregnancies. There is no poverty — reports to contrary notwithstanding. The Chassidic community is self-sufficient. Chassidic families are self-sufficient. There are very few on any form of public assistance be it Medicaid, Welfare, Food Stamps, or Section 8. There is also no crime — when was the last time you heard of a Chassid going to jail for any reason other than being persecuted for being a Jew?
And now we turn to Washington Heights. Yeshiva University is under enormous pressure from the government, spurred on by the Left, to allow the so-called “Pride Community” to host a student club on campus, receive school funds, and be recognized and legitimized despite their commitment to a lifestyle of “abomination” in the eyes of the Reboinoisheloilum. The new “woke” lifestyle unleashed by the Liberals has caused children to go astray and explore the Sitra Achra. Never in the history of Klal Yisrael were there such things as homosexuals. The Toirah never tells us about individuals who engaged in Mishkav Zachor because they did not exist. You won’t find an example in all of TANACH of even one homosexual. Similarly, the Gemara never tells us about any Jew in the time of the Tanaim and Amoraim who was engaged in homosexuality. They did not exist.
Why, when I was growing up in Brooklyn, there were no so-called homosexuals in the Jewish community. They did not yet exist. Homosexuality only began to appear in the Jewish community in the last thirty years, following the return of the Democrats to the White House.
“And yet”, you ask, “if there was no such thing as a homosexual in the time of the Toirah, why does the Toirah warn us of the Aveirah?” The Toirah is a timeless set of teachings, never changing, without a letter being added or taken away. Hakadoshboruchhu anticipated this generation of Sodom in Washington Heights and provided us with His guidance at Har Sinai.
And what of the so-called homosexuals in Yeshiva University? Well, if they insist on maintaining their unnatural lifestyle, why do they want to study in Yeshiva University? There are hundreds of other universities they can attend. YU is a religious institution. They are no more entitled to have their Mishkav Zachor club than if a group of individuals requested to open a Chazer eating club at YU. I imagine that the Chazer eaters, upon being told that they cannot convene their club, will complain about discrimination, about mental health issues, about identity crises, about the high suicide rates of people forced to eat Chazer in secret, and about the broader awareness and understanding of the nature of eating Chazer in 2022. The Chazer eaters may talk about their deep commitment to Klal Yisroel and to Toirah. They may tout their own accomplishments in learning Toirah and in doing Gemilas Chassadim. But if they abandon the faith by eating Chazer, they should be removed from their families and our community. They have surrendered their Yiddesheh Neshamas.
Similarly, so-called homosexuals should be cast away from our community. They should be given the boot, not their own club. They should not be allowed to bring Chazer into the Bais HaMikdash like the Yevanim. While we may feel personal sympathy at an individual level, we must emulate the call that we make to Hakadoshboruchhu at this time of year – We must temper mercy with justice.
The homosexuals – all LGBTQ -- should be sent away so that they can no longer proselytize their destructive alternative lifestyles amongst the innocent and unsuspecting. In fact, from a Toirah-true perspective they have the status of Rodaiph. From a Halachic perspective we have a Mitzvah to kill every Rodaiph. But, Rachmana Letzlan, we cannot put these Roidphim to death because it is against the law. Once again, we are being persecuted by a majority population trying to force its world view onto our Toirah-abiding community.
So what should our communities do if they are pressured by the government to compromise Toirah values?
During these days when we greet Roish Hashana and Yoim Kippur with prayer and penitence, we recite Selichois, constantly. Many of these Selichois were written by early Baalei Toisfois. To cite one meaningful Kapitul recited this week:
“Ooly Yerachaim She’eyris Yoisaiph
Shephalim V’Nivzim, Pesuchei Sheseph
Shevuyei Chinum Mechurei BeLoi Kesef
Shoi’agim Bitfilah Umevakshim Rishayoin
Ooly Yahchois Ahm Unu VaEvyoin, Ooly Yerachaym”
“Perhaps He (the Aibisher) will have mercy on the remnants of Yoisaiph
Lowly and disgraced, torn to shreds
Enslaved without ransom, sold for no money
Who cry out in prayer and plead for permission
Perhaps He will have mercy on a poor, persecuted nation, perhaps He will have mercy.”
This Selichah was authored by Reb Shmuel HaKohain, who lived in the eleventh century in Mainz. He was murdered during the First Crusade, along with his wife and children. The First Crusade was a turning point in Jewish history - when relative coexistence with the Goyim was shattered by hatred rising up from the masses, at times against the will of the Christian and local leadership and residents, many of whom tried to protect Jews from the rabid hoards. During this period of mass slaughter, many Jews were forced to covert or die. And many died the death of martyrs. Rather than succumb to the persecution of the violent masses and accept baptism or be viciously slaughtered, some chose to take their own lives. There were families who took their own lives together. There were even mothers who killed their own children, some reciting a Bracha, rather than surrender their children to forced conversion.
Rather than have the will of the majority population forced upon them, they chose to end their own lives and those of their children. Better to be slaughtered in the Oilum Hazeh than to lose one’s Oilum Habbah.
We must emulate that generation of Tzaddikim. If the United States government tries to force our community to change our approach to education, our community should be prepared to sacrifice our own lives and, especially, those of our children. We are being persecuted by the uncompromising masses - the anti Semites and self haters, who want nothing less than to take away our Toirah. The Toirah tells us that there are three circumstances under which the a Jew is commanded Yehuraig V’Al Ya’Avor, to sacrifice one’s life: Avoidah Zorah, Gilui Arayois and Shephichas Damim - idol worship, adultery, and murder. Kal V’Choimer we should employ the same approach in response to the Sitra Achra teachings such as English, Math, and Science.
As we usher in Rosh Hashana, the Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yoim Kippur, we must hold steadfast as a community to our Toirah values. The Toirah is timeless, not changing even one iota in the 3,500 hundred years since Har Sinai. It was conceived in Shamayim and given to Klal Yisroel long before the world was created.
The Toirah teaches us “U’Vachartah B’Chaim” — we should choose life. But if not, we should choose death.
Ah Gutten Yuhr