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Friday, October 26, 2007


Tear down that wall!

All the usual bloggers have already cited and commented on this story: The Beis Yaakov school of Emanuel has separate classes for Sephardi girls and Ashkenazi girls, and there's a curtain dividing the schoolyard in half - one side for the 'darker' girls, and one for the lighter ones.

Now, I know the media are all anti-charedi. And I'm sure there's some bias to the story. But they have footage of the schoolyard. They have girls who speak on the record. They also have a member of the school's PTA, who looks for all the world like a very religious Jew, speaking on the record. He's even very polite about it. He says, "This is definitely not an educational [decision]. And it might be something worse."

So I, for one, am convinced that there's something rotten in Emanuel. And it is abhorrent and unconscionable. As Rabbi Horowitz is wont to say, "They don't represent me."

The school claims the separation is based on the spiritual levels of the two groups. Almost like the way many yeshivos have "higher" and "lower" shiurim. But a mechitza? Who are you kidding?

In Monsey, mechitzos are all the rage. We have them in shuls, on buses, in wedding halls, at kiddush, at vorts and sheva brachos, at restaurants, you name it. We've also discovered that at certain events, especially shabbos programs where families of different observance levels come together, there are 'mixed' tables where several couples eat together, 'separate' tables where individual families eat without socializing with others, then mechitzos for families that will eat 'together' but won't eat with 'others' in the main dining room, mechitzos for families that won't eat together, period, and mechitzos for single men and single women who won't eat at separate tables in the main dining room. It makes one's head spin, but the organizers do everything they can to make sure everyone's comfortable.

I am against these, naturally. But I think that even if one accepts that we need to separate the genders ALL the time, the case of Emanuel would be seen as mugzam - too much - over the top. Do we need to separate the white girls from the dark girls? When they're both in the same school? With an opaque curtain? Even on the playground?!

I believe, firmly, that this is where the excessive emphasis on separation leads. And if someone doesn't take a stand and say, "ad kan," it's not going to stop.

Several blogs have extended discussions about how some RW Jewish authorities maintain that Muslims have so much success and power (relative to us) because they're so careful about modesty. This is where we're headed, people. Why put up a bunch of mechitzos when we can just drape every woman and girl with a sheet?

Sigh. We need moshiach. That's the bottom line. We need normalcy and tolerance to reign in our communities. I don't think anything short of a direct revelation from G0d Himself is going to change anything. And even then, it won't be a fait accompli. In the meantime, however, all we can do is daven and set a personal example. Good Shabbos.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Wisdom among the nations

I just read an interesting article about the Dalai Lama's visit to New York this week. He's among the world religious leaders who, in my opinion, are doing their part to further G0d's holy work. Rambam is very clear that any man or woman, from any walk of life, can devote his or her life to G0d, forsaking material comforts and living simply, to better devote his or her energies to service. I can't speak for the finer points of Buddhist philosophy, but nobody can accuse the Dalai Lama of being materialistic.

R' Shlomo said, many times, that after the Holocaust, many young Jews felt disconnected from their roots and sought answers among "teachers from the East." The holy teachers, he added, brought their students to a point where they were ready to connect to spirituality, and then instructed them to continue their studies in authentic Jewish institutions. The not-so-holy ones did not turn their students on to yiddishkeit.

If I'm not mistaken, the current Dalai Lama is one of the 'holy teachers' who has returned Jewish seekers to their roots. Interestingly enough, the article excerpts one of the handouts that the Dalai Lama distributed for his three-day teaching session:

Followers of other religions are urged to "practice your own religions seriously and sincerely." To the non-religious, he writes, "I request you try to be warm-hearted."

Good advice, I think, from an inspiring and genuinely holy person.


And you shall love the stranger...

A lot of people have been forwarding this article from last sunday's NY Times. It's an interesting 'inside look' at the wealthy Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn and Deal.

They're shrewd businesspeople. They're successful. They take care of their own. They're very dedicated to family and community - all of that is great. But they're also very patriarchal -- men work while women make sure to look fabulous, take care of the kids, and cook like gourmet chefs.

And, they have a strict policy against accepting converts into the community. No gerim allowed. Ever.

First introduced in 1935, this 'takana' has been re-issued and re-ratified over the years. According to the article, more than 200 Syrian rabbis signed on the most recent version.

I'm not a rabbi, by any stretch, but don't we have a Torah obligation to welcome and love gerim? And most important, to accept them and not hold their past against them? Isn't it a direct violation of several Torah laws to issue and enforce this takana?

Granted, it's not particularly "Torah-true" to emphasize material wealth and superficial beauty, either, but that never stopped anybody on either side of the Ashkenaz/Sefarad divide. Also, plenty of people, families, and communities can have racist attitudes and consider gerim "inferior," but to codify it as law seems brazenly and unrepentantly wrong.

Is this discussed someplace? Because I'd love to get their rationale.

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