Monthly Archives: October 2006

“Religion is the opiate of the masses… In low doses it is tonic. In overdoses, it is toxic.”

Most quotable comment ever left on this blog:

"Religion is the opiate of the masses (including me). In low doses it is tonic. In overdoses, it is toxic."
                             Yochanan Lavie

I would make it read like this:

"Religion truly is the opiate of the masses. While in extremely low, controlled doses it may be tonic, in anything more than that it usually is toxic."



Filed under Religion

Morality May Be Genetic, Not “God-Based”

The NYTimes reports:

… Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously.

Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others’ work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.…

And this makes perfect sense. So, here’s the question: What will "Yiddishkeit" do when its foolish arguments, like those proposed by Rabbi Avi Shafran, are rendered not simply foolish, but moot? The Brooklyn-Mea Shearim cabal continue to paint Judaism into a smaller and smaller corner. But, perhaps this is a good thing – the more irrelevant these people make themselves, the better.

[Hat tip: Sheyna Rofeh-Filosof.]


Filed under Haredim, Religion

Is Rabbi Avi Shafran Sane? I’m Not So Sure …

Agudah-hack Rabbi Avi Shafran writes:

It is a point as straightforward as it is unarguable. If we are mere products of random evolution, than any repugnance we feel at, for examples, incest, child-molestation, stealing or murder is meaningless (no, not less meaningful but meaningless). Just as we don’t think to judge non-human animals through a moral lens, no true atheist has any justification to judge fellow humans through one (any one).

What is this, Shafran? Your defense against all the haredi child molestation charges? The rampant theft and welfare fraud? The real estate scams?

Haredim – especially hacks like you – have no business lecturing anyone else, atheist or not. Clean your filthy house first.

You think there is no morality without God? I think there is an equally strong argument to make – there is no morality with Him. Why? Because of the behavior of rabbinic creeps like you.


Filed under Crime, Haredim, Jewish Leadership

The Lies of the Rebbe, cont.

In his infamous 1983 letter to me responding to my pleas to help Ethiopian Jews, the late Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote:

Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you
mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the
activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or

Of course, this was complete bullshit. Chabad had long been involved in using these same methods to save Iranian Jews. (So, to be clear, had Satmar.) But Chabad’s operation had come to a halt early in 1982. And it was no state secret. Iranian Jews saved this way were very evident in Crown Heights and LA, and they didn’t hide how they were saved. Many had moved from the US to Israel, as well.

Many of you questioned me on this point, claiming Chabad had not used student visas to save Iraninan Jews. Well, just to keep the record clear, here is why you were so very wrong:

One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

"I was courageous," he said. "I had the purpose to save Jewish children."

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of [Chabad’s] Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.…

Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, "There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America."

The Rebbe lied. Ethiopian Jews died. Period. End of story.


Filed under Chabad and Ethiopian Jews, Chabad History, Chabad Theology, Chabad: Rebbes and the Abdication of Responsibility, Ethiopian Jews

How Frum Is The Reform Movement? More Than Most of You Think

Sue Fishkoff writes for JTA:

… According to two recent studies, more Reform Jews are putting their mouths where their values are. In a 2000 survey that was never published, 344 congregations — about half the movement’s affiliates — showed a surprising adherence to kosher laws.

Ten percent reported that their synagogues have kosher kitchens, 80 percent ban pork or shellfish and nearly half won’t serve milk and meat on the same plate or platter.

“The majority of our congregations keep some elements of kashrut, and that’s very interesting,” Wasserman says. “It represents a change over time.”

Wasserman wasn’t surprised at the ban on pork or shellfish. That’s “deeply culturally” ingrained in many Jews, she says, who may eat nonkosher food in restaurants and even bring it into their homes, but expect higher dietary standards in Jewish communal settings.

But separating milk and meat, she says, is “going to another level that I didn’t expect to see 46 percent of our congregations going to.”

Another survey conducted last November at the movement’s biennial revealed that individual Reform Jews are becoming more kosher-friendly.

More than 500 conference participants, about one-quarter of the total, answered online questions about their dietary practice. At home, 62 percent say they ban pork, 46 percent ban shellfish and 35 percent don’t mix meat and milk. In restaurants, however, just 51 percent avoid pork, 34 percent won’t order shellfish and 29 percent stay away from dishes that mix milk and meat, such as cheeseburgers.

Some 38 percent said they eat vegetarian in restaurants, compared to 28 percent who do so at home, reflecting a significant number of Reform Jews who presumably are avoiding kosher questions entirely by eschewing meat when eating out.

The survey, which has not yet been published, asked about dietary practice rather than kashrut. It included actions such as eating matzah at Passover — nearly 71 percent said yes — and saying motzi, the blessing over bread — 48 percent do it on Shabbat — that Wasserman explains are expressions of Jewish identity that would be lost in a survey only on kashrut.

“The connection of the table to something holy and sacred, the notion that what we eat is connected to an expression of being Jewish that is appropriate in a Reform Jewish context, is bubbling up within the movement,” she says.…

At the same time, Fishkoff notes that a group of Reform rabbis are planning on developing their own kosher supervision. The OU’s Menachem Genack is, no suprise here, opposed:

Setting up your own standards “is too amorphous,” Genack says. “It’s very subjective — people can agree or disagree philosophically.”

What will those standards be? Rabbi Richard Levy explains:

Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, promotes the idea of Reform kosher certification. He says it actually would be more stringent than traditional kosher laws because ethical considerations would be added to existing dietary prohibitions.

“I would like to see it as an extension of halachah,” or Jewish law, he says. “It would expand what dietary practice means in a Jewish setting to include a concern for the people who harvest our food, bring it to market and sell it, a concern with the pain of living creatures, which has led people not to eat veal or foie gras, to look for free-range poultry and beef, or more humane methods of slaughter.”

Levy thinks such a system could emerge in the next decade.

“It’s not a pipe dream,” he insists.

It is not a pipe dream. It is in large part a reaction to Orthodoxy’s handling of the Rubashkin animal abuse scandal. And Orthodoxy is going to get what it most deserves – real competition that will cut the margins of their own kashrut supervisions. Why? Because most people keep kosher for non-Orthodox reasons, and soon they’ll have people to rely on who don’t torture live animals for a living. This cannot happen soon enough, or to a more deserving bunch of rabbinic criminals.


Filed under Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Religion


Leap of Faith
©Shmarya Rosenberg

A child
would not  cross empty streets
without looking

or talk to strangers,
no matter how inviting.

He grew up.

He opened his gates
just a little

and they entered,
these men in black,
priests of ba’al in the clothing
of Maimonides,

and he walked with them
slowly at first, then faster and
faster still,

deceived by their charms and
the talismans of their lies,

until he stood with them at the edge,
too far to cross.

"We will fly as our forefathers
to the other side," they said.

And as they watched, so he did,
jumping into unknown air,


arms flailing,
deep in the void,
dashed on the rocks,

grasping for the promises of men
looking down
who themselves
would never
have taken






Filed under BTs, Poetry

Rabbi Shafran and the Atheists

Agudah hack Rabbi Avi Shafran, troubled by attacks against a column he wrote attacking atheism, attempts to rebut his detractors with the following logic:

As to the essence of my argument, though, there was no credible counter-argument whatsoever, no claim that right and wrong can somehow have inherent meaning without recourse to Something Higher than ourselves. That, too, was telling — of the truth that atheism, in the end, cannot assign any more meaning to right and wrong than to right and left.

This is an absurd argument to make. First of all, a society can set norms for acceptable and unacceptable behavior and rank those anyway it sees fit, using its best logic. For example, one may be confronted with a life threatening emergency that requires your immediate attention to help a victim on one hand or the opportunity to buy the last remaining tickets for the Super Bowl on the other. One can do one of these acts but not the other. Societies can and do legislate in areas like this. Not helping in the life threatening emergency is a crime in many jurisdictions. Conversely, if a frum Jew is confronted with the same situation, except the victims are non-Jews and the Super Bowl is replaced with a one-time kiruv opportunity, many very religious people commenting on this blog have seen nothing wrong with ignoring the suffering of non-Jews (or even safek Jews!) to do once-in-a-lifetime kiruv with one lone Jew. The first set of choices and penalties are non-religious but just and fair. The second are religious and profoundly immoral.

Which leads us to the other flaw in Rabbi Shafran’s argument. Religious societies often do great evil in the name of God. One easy example of this is modern day Islam, which has done unbelievable horrors in the name of Allah. But history is not short of these examples. The point is, these societies believe they are doing the will of God, and that their actions, no matter how heinous, are moral.

And, yes, there are Jewish examples of this as well, although they are fewer, largely due to fewer opportunities. Until 60 years ago, we did not have a state apparatus or demographic dominance and were largely living at the whim of others. Even so, one can find early pogroms against Christians and other sectarians, along with scattered incidents of violence directed at the Other. More prevalent is the common Orthodox Jewish refusal to help non-Jews in times of need.

Atheism is not provable. Neither is its opposite. Believing laws are given by God sometimes ensures great morality. Other times it causes the exact opposite.

Shafran represents a religious group that has covered for some of the greatest abuses in the haredi world, including the molestation of children. Some of that molestation is alleged to have occurred at Agudah’s own summer camp. This coverup (one that Rabbi Shafran denies even as he perpetrates it) is done for a decidedly religious reason – to protect God’s name, to prevent hillul hashem.

In our day, it is not the morality of atheists alone that needs questioning – it is the morality of the mullahs of Afghanistan, a Church that allowed rampant pedophilia, and a haredi world that does the same.


Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership