Thursday, April 28, 2016

Binah Magazine writer criticizes the view that authority must not be questioned - even if corrupt and against halacha

I just came across the letters section in the current Binah magazine. It clearly is relevant to the Kaminetsky- Greenblatt Heter for Tamar Epstein. A reader strongly attacks  Binah for publishing a story in which the school principal was corrupt and did things against the Torah - and the heroine was the school secretary who obtained guidance from her rav how to deal with it. This reader's point  being that one does not raise the possibility in students minds that the principal can make mistakes that one needs to do something about it. Furthermore she asserts that it is
wrong to question the system - but rather we must ignore these
corrupt deviations.[disclaimer - I did not read the story]. I was very impressed by the response of the story's writer - and for Binah for publishing the original story and the author's response presented below.
Sara Wiederblank responds:

Dear Fellow Teacher,

I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss my intentions when writing The Secretary. The point I was trying to make is this: When
someone in authority fails to live up to his or her sacred charge, what are the bystanders to do? For some of those among us who have experienced the tragedy of failed leadership, the trauma of these discoveries is so great that they are left doubting the entire system. This serial was intended to show the responsibilities and potential of the average bystander, and also to demonstrate that when the halachic process is followed, the community's good can be served and we can all emerge from the experience whole and proud. 
 You claim that what the principal did was "quite minor" and perhaps "grossly blown out of proportion." I disagree. Lifnei iver lo siten michshol charges an advisor to only provide advice that is in the best interests of the seeker. Mrs. Hertzberg failed to do that most egregiously. Not only was she swayed by her own negios, she actively lied to pursue her own agenda. This is unacceptable in a leader and is not mitigated by her many years of outstanding service.

In fact, the Torah warns us against the likelihood that we will be hesitant to approach wayward leaders because of their history of impeccable service. In the topic of navi sheker, the false prophet, the Torah warns us not to be swayed by the man's Illustrious history of prophecy (see Ohr  Hachaim on Devarim 13:3).

Moreover, I take issue with your claim that it is terrible to allow the possibility for students to ever question authority.

I agree with your concern that people might rush to issue such judgments on their own educational leaders. This is a legitimate concern that I have kept in mind throughout writing this serial, and because of its seriousness I worked in close consultation with Binah's content director.

I hope that no one uses this story as an excuse to declare open hunting season on their own mechanchos. However, that concern is one side of a coin; the other side is passively standing by while corruption rules. That, too, is a tragic situation that this serial addresses.

You suggest that the goal of the serial was to please people who would think, "Good! Finally someone is putting the principal in her place." I certainly hope that there weren't many readers who felt this way. Indeed, I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who sympathized with Mrs. Hertzberg, and realized that she was not an evil person, merely a complex person with a mixture of good and bad, as most of us are. She is not a villain whom we rejoiced in trouncing. However, she  needed to be checked - and she was.

You also claim that going to the Rav was inappropriate and made the situation a bigger deal than was necessary. However, Ariella behaved correctly. Lo saamod al dam rei'acha demands that if you see something, you say something, to the appropriate  party, as Ariella did, 

I would like our readership to be aware that Ariella's actions were guided by my consultation with two Rabbanim, and Rabbi Eisen's response was based on their explanations of how a Torah leader should handle claims such as Ariella's. I included his detailed explanation to show readers that this is a Torah matter and has to be handled by daas Torah.
Certainly, Rabbi Eisen acknowledged the possibility that nothing untoward happened - this was no witch hunt - but the Torah demanded that he properly investigate, to avoid innocent people being hurt , I don't see how going to a Rav with a serious concern could ever it be construed as "over-responding"': it is the responsible thing for a Torah Jew to do when faced potentially serious concern.
The fact that Ariella is the heroine of this story should not detract from the daily heroism of our teachers and principals. To point to one failed leader is not to condemn them all. Is is because we so revere our leaders that we need guidance as to live with the possiblity that one of their members is perhaps not what we had hoped.
May we always maintain our respect for our leaders, and maintain our discernment for retzon Hashem 

Sara Wiederblank

Mindfulness therapy works as well as anti-depressant drugs, major new study finds

Therapy based on the controversial concept of ‘mindfulness’ works as well as some anti-depressant drugs, according to a major new study.

Inspired in part by Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness involves training the brain to deal with negative emotions using techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and yoga.

Some critics have claimed mindfulness techniques can bring on panic attacks and lead to paranoia, delusions or depression.

But the new study – the largest-ever analysis of research on the subject - found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helped people just as much as commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs and that there was no evidence of any harmful effects.

People suffering from depression who received MBCT were 31 per cent less likely to suffer a relapse during the next 60 weeks, the researchers reported in a paper in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

House committee votes to require women to register for draft

The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure Wednesday requiring women to register for the military draft, a move that comes just a few months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.

In a twist that presages how contentious further debate may be, the author of the amendment voted against his own measure. It passed the committee by a vote of 32-30.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t support drafting women into combat and he’s opposed to opening infantry and special operations positions to women. He said he offered the measure to trigger a discussion about how the Pentagon’s decision in December to rescind gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted. [...]

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she supported Hunter’s measure.

“I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” she said. [...]

Hunter’s amendment will be included in the defense policy bill that authorizes the defense budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The full House will take up the bill soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pesach- Acharie Mot 76 – Aaron and the 4 Keys of Well-Being by Allan Katz

For some, happiness and well-being is a goal in life. For Torah Jews, this is in a sense a preoccupation with the ' self' and that happiness and well-being should rather be viewed as a vehicle for becoming greater, kinder and more compassionate human beings. Dr Richard Davidson says that neuroscientists show that we can change our brains –due to the plasticity of the brain – by creating more, new and stronger neural circuits by using the keys or skills for well- being in a deep and emotional way. The 4 keys are Resilience, Outlook, Attention and Generosity. It seems that Aaron the High Priest is the Torah's role model for these well-being keys.

Resilience – Resilience is the rapidity with which people recover from adversity. People who show a more rapid recovery in key neural circuits have higher levels of well-being. The problem is that our brains have a negativity bias to cope with threats and avoid danger. The brain sucks in negative interactions and their impact on the brain is said to be 5 times more powerful than positive experiences. We don't only suffer from negative experiences, but we tend to self –inflict, brood over it for the rest of the day, becoming more negativistic, stressed out, depressive, pessimistic and self- critical. Self-compassion is a skill that helps people recover and get back on track. People who see mistakes, falling and failure as opportunities for growth turn these negative experiences into positive experiences and when they repent and do Teshuva they can transform negative actions into positive actions. Aaron lost his 2 sons during the inauguration ceremony of the Tabernacle. Moses consoled Aaron and Aaron's response was to accept the Divine decree and remain silent- וידם אהרן. In order to deal with painful situations, we have to first accept the new reality. This liberates us emotionally – and instead of fighting reality, we are now in a position to be creative in handling the new situation.

Outlook – This refers to the ability to see the positive in others, their innate basic goodness, the positive side of situations and events and the ability to take positive facts and convert them into deep emotional experiences which people savor and enjoy. We also see the ' hidden miracles ' in our personal and national worlds as the Ramban explains – the great and open miracles particularly those from the exodus from Egypt teach us to look for the hidden miracles in our lives. Aaron had a compassionate approach to people. He had the ability to see the good in each person, convey it to others and also ascribe more positive attributes and motives to people's negative actions. In this way, he was able to resolve conflict, make peace between people and in this way he engaged people during Golden calf episode.

Attention. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Instead of being mindful, connected and attentive, a large amount of people's waking life is spent not paying attention, going through physical motions in an automatic way, doing things just to get something else - reach a milestone or pass a test as there is nothing intrinsically valuable in what we are doing, and therefore we are not connected to what we are doing etc.,. The Mitzvoth we do become – מצוות אנשים מלומדה - without any emotional input, automatic and in a rote manner. When it comes to our personal interactions we should focus on deep listening and being present with the other person, and also read their non-verbal messages. Paying attention and being mindful are skills that were never taught to people. But what makes the situation worse is routine and doing things out of habit. Aaron is warned – ואל יבוא בכל עת אל הקודש – not to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur at all times of the day but only when he carries out the sacrificial service of the day. The Divine spirit rests there and Aaron should not make entering there, a habit, but be mindful of the holiness of the place and the presence of the Divine spirit. The same idea is expressed by the commandment that on the festivals people should not leave temple using the gate that they entered the temple. Familiarity breeds contempt if we are not careful to invest in relationships and quality of our actions.

Generosity –When individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being. These circuits get activated in a way that is more enduring than the way they would respond to other positive incentives such as winning a game or earning a prize. The Rambam says something similar -– we experience true joy and happiness, when we act in a generous and altruistic way and have needy people at our festive meals. Aaron not only promoted peaceful relationships between people, but was very generous in the way he approached and received people, which changed their self-worth and self-esteem.

When we interact with our children, we should be aware that we are building the neural circuits for well –being or enhancing neural structures that are negative and aggressive. By giving our kids the 4 well-being keys Resilience, Outlook, Attention and Generosity we are helping them to become better and happier people who are also concerned with the happiness and well-being of others.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Investigating child abuse in Chabad schools - The Leonard Lopate Show

Arsenic, rice and your baby’s diet

Ask any mom or dad to name their baby’s first food. The likely answer? Rice cereal. What’s a common go-to “healthy” snack for toddlers and kiddos? Rice cakes.

Yet a growing amount of scientific evidence is pointing to an alarming connection between inorganic arsenic in brown and white rice and harm to children’s immune systems and intellectual development.

Concentrations of arsenic were twice as high in the urine of infants who ate white or brown rice than those who ate no rice, according to research published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. Arsenic levels were highest in babies who ate rice cereal, often given several times a day to introduce babies to solids.

In April, the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. That proposal is still in the public comment phase. The European Food Safety Authority has already moved to limit inorganic arsenic in rice products to that level.

“Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can influence risk of cardiovascular, immune and other diseases,” said Margaret Karagas, an epidemiologist who studies the effects of toxic metals at Dartmouth College, and the lead researcher on the new study. “There’s a growing body of evidence that even relatively low levels of exposure can have an adverse impact on young children.” [...]

Arsenic is a natural element found in soil, water and air, with the inorganic form being the most toxic. (“Inorganic” is a chemical term and has nothing to do with the method of farming.) Because rice is grown in water, it is especially good at absorbing inorganic arsenic and, according to the Food and Drug Administration, has the highest concentration of any food. [...]

And in this case, brown and wild rice are the worst offenders, because the bleaching process used to create white rice removes the outer hull, where much of the arsenic concentrates. [...]

Pediatrician Tanya Altmann, author of “What to Feed Your Baby: A Pediatrician’s Guide to the 11 Essential Foods to Guarantee Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kids,” said she’s changed her guidance on first foods. She recommends “tossing white rice cereal, as there is little nutritional benefit and it simply primes young palates for a lifetime of eating white carbs, not to mention the arsenic issue, which this study confirms.”

She echoes the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advises parents to offer a wide variety of foods including grains such as oats, barley, wheat and quinoa.

“Best first foods for infants are avocado, pureed veggies, peanut-butter oatmeal and salmon,” Altmann said. “They all provide important nutrients that babies need, help develop their taste buds to prefer healthy food and may decrease food allergies.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier resigning, reportedly under pressure

Rabbi Marc Schneier, one of New York’s higher-profile spiritual leaders, is resigning from The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach after 26 years, with one report saying he was leaving under pressure.

Schneier, 57, went public with his decision to step down this summer from the Orthodox synagogue he founded in a letter emailed to congregants earlier this month. In the letter, the rabbi said he “wants to dedicate more time and resources to my work to strengthen relations between Muslims and Jews.” The New York Jewish Week published the letter on its website. [...]

However, the New York Post reported Sunday that Schneier resigned "under pressure from well-heeled synagogue members threatening to withhold pledges and payments until he was off the pulpit."

Last June, Schneier was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America following an ethics inquiry into his behavior prompted by reports in the New York tabloids that he had had an extramarital affair with a woman, Gitty Leiner, who in 2013 became his fifth wife. [...]

Saudi family therapist gives advice on wife beating

Arutz 7   Saudi therapist, Khaled Al-Saqaby, claims women's desire for equality causes marital strife.

Saudi family therapist Khaled Al-Saqaby has provided strange advice on marital strife, in an online video footage salvaged and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

According to Al-Saqaby, beating one's wife should be intended as a means of discipline, rather than to vent one's anger, and should be carried out not with a rod or a sharp object, but with a tooth-cleaning twig or a handkerchief.

"Unfortunately, some wives want to live a life of equality with their husband," he said. "This is a very grave problem."

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Torah was concerned that the holy cohen gadol at the holiest moment of the year would lust for a married women and pray that her husband die

As we have noted a number of times before - the baalei mussar make a point of saying that the sins of great people are minor things which are described in an exaggerated manner because they are held to a more severe standard than everyone else.

Rav Silberstein notes a case which seems to strongly go against this view and in fact fits in clearly with the statement that the greater the person - the greater is his yetzer.

The Torah (Vayikra 21:14) tells us that a cohen gadol can not marry either a widow or a divorcee. The question is why? He notes that this question was asked by the Baalei Tosfos [the only source I could find is an attribution to Rav Yehuda HaChasid but I couldn't find it in Sefer Chasidim]. The answer they give is astounding and it illustrates the power of the yetzer harah.

"Because the Cohen Gadol would mention the special name of G-d, there was a danger that he might have lust for a married women and he would use the opportunity to wish for the death of her husband. Consequently the Torah prohibited him from marrying a widow and only allowed a virgin"

These astounding words have to be fully understood. We are talking about the holy cohen gadol who was more holy than all the other Jews. He is now standing in the most holy part of the Temple at the holies part of the year - Yom Kippur. And it is specifically at the time that he is mentioning G-d's special name. Is there any situation which surpasses this holiness?

Nevertheless the Torah is concerned  that he is lusting for a married woman at such a time and such a place and that he will take advantage of his situation to use G-d's special name to kill the husband. It is incredible to see the extent of the power of the yetzer harah.

Furthermore we see something else - how great the power of prayer is. That G-d is prepared to listen to even disgusting prayer such as this - whose whole nature is to cause evil to another who is totally innocent.

The Rav Avigdor Miller zt’l Hagaddah Shel Pesach - On Divorce

pp. 38-39

Now when we say hashta avdi – this year we’re slaves, l’shana haboah bnei chorin, what are we asking for? More liberty? We get more freedom to go and ruin more lives? We want more liberty, but only to be forced to do what’s right. Liberty is when you learn Yiras Shamayim, you learn Mesilas Yeshorim, and you learn good middos. Now, the good middos force you to move into a good neighborhood, to move out of the suburbs. When you move into a good neighborhood among frum Jews, and you join a kehilla of frum Jews, you’ll be ashamed to divorce your wife. It’s people who live out in the suburbs where one in five divorce. When they would come to a good neighborhood, they think, “What will my enemies say, the people in the shul who know me are enemies of mine. They’ll laugh at me, and therefore why should I give them an opportunity to ridicule me, when getting divorced.”

And therefore the sviva rescues people from tragedies. 40 years ago people were ashamed to divorce, and they lived off their years, and they took their grandchildren to the Chupa together and they’re buried together in the cemetery and if they were zoche to Olam Haba, they would live together in the next world too. But people have liberty today, and so if she doesn’t like her husband, she says “get out of the house,” and he says “why should I get out of the house?” And she goes and gets a writ of protection, calls in the police, and drives the husband out of the house.

Now she’s all alone. Now she’s “happy,” and now she has “liberty.” Now she has ruined her life. I met a girl like that. A girl came over to me on the street, I never saw her before. She came over to me and said, “You know Rabbi Miller, 20 years ago I demanded and got a divorce. I made a very big mistake in my life,” she said. Divorce is ruination, and that’s why women didn’t have the right to divorce according to the Torah. Only men, because women are excitable and if women can give gittin, they’ll give gittin all the time. No matter why, but the facts are the men are slower, more deliberate. It’s important. What kind of life would it be if women could give a Get? “It’s slavery” she said. That slavery is good for you. You’ll live long with your husband. You won’t have tzoros, and eventually, in the end you’ll see that it was the best thing for you to be together with your husband. You’ll grow old together and when the time comes he dies, you’ll weep and collect insurance, and you’ll be a happy person.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Israeli government threatens to hold chareidi parents accountaable for failure to give children secular education

Arutz 7

The State says that if a particular suit against if goes through, it will sue hareidi parents and yeshivot in turn.

The story is that 52 ex-hareidim have submitted a lawsuit against the State of Israel for the fact that they did not learn mathematics and English in their hareidi elementary schools, thus allegedly harming their ability to find work.

The State has now submitted its defense, the bottom line of which is this: "If the suit against us is accepted, we in turn will sue the parents and the schools."

The State's defense states, "The plaintiffs studied in schools chosen by themselves and their parents, and if they believe that their studies there caused them damage, it could have been expected that they would direct their complaints towards their parents or their schools."

The State acknowledges that the level of studies in haredi schools in comparison to public schools is relatively low, but that this is due to the preferences of the haredi public.

It would seem that the suit has no basis in fact, given the top scores of haredim who take rushed courses in math and English. As reported here a number of years ago, "A class of 30 haredi men scored overwhelmingly better than the national average on a recent psychometric exam - despite, or because of, their lack of general studies schooling

In September 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that haredi high schools need not teach core secular subjects. The plaintiffs had claimed that the situation "harms the ability of haredi students to integrate in society and the work force, and thus harms their constitutional rights to dignity and freedom of occupation." The hareidi schools thus continued to receive (only) 60% of the national budgetary allocations that other schools receive.[...]


קבוצת יוצאים בשאלה תובעת פיצוי מהמדינה על שלא למדו לימוד ליבה • המדינה מאיימת בתשובה לתבוע את הוריהם 


המדינה תתבע הורים חרדים? פרקליטות המדינה הודיעה כי תתבע הורים של 52 יוצאים בשאלה, שהגישו לפני כחצי שנה תביעת נזיקין נגד המדינה, כך מדווח 'הארץ'.

כפי שדווח לראשונה ב'בחדרי חרדים', קבוצה של יוצאים בשאלה, תבעה את המדינה בשל הנזק שנגרם לחבריה. לטענת חברי הקבוצה, המדינה אפשרה למוסדות החינוך החרדים לא ללמד את מקצועות הליבה, דבר שלדבריהם פגע ביכולתם להשתלב בשוק העבודה.

בתגובה לכך, הודיעה המדינה, באמצעות עו"ד מירית סביון מפרקליטות מחוז ירושלים, כי במידה והתביעה תתקבל, היא תתבע את הוריהם החרדים של התובעים, וכך גם כ-90 ישיבות ובתי ספר חרדיים שבהם הם למדו, זאת משום שלטענת המדינה אין לה אחריות למצב שמתארים היוצאים בשאלה, אלא להוריהם ולישיבות בהן למד