Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Children: National Assets or Liabilities? - The Child Allowance Fallacy

Sam Ser is a longtime buddy of mine and so I am on his email list as he is on mine. I think he is a very talented writer and a keen analyst. Okay, he's not a chareidi - but nobody's perfect. (Of course, he will say that I am a charedi - but nobody's perfect.) Most of what he writes does not cross paths with my subject matter. Still I respect him as a free-thinking person who can look at an issue objectively and not be taken with the ignorance of the masses. At least most of the time.
One recent blog post, however, says to me that his analytical prowess needs to be sharpened or his objectivity has shifted to off-mode. In this article, Sam demonstrates that he has fallen for or may even be actively perpetuating every fallacy and misconception that the child allowance pundits have pulled over the eyes of the ignorant public for decades. Eh tu, Samus?

The article was posted on March 25 and is entitled It Must Still be Purim. Though the article sounds plausible, it contains an overabundance of factual flaws. Let's have a look at an excerpt. I will colorize the flaws and discuss them in turn:

What a week of reversals this has become! First, Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to raise child allotments by a whopping NIS 1.5 billion over the next three years. Then, Ehud Barak won an internal Labor poll to join his party to Netanyahu’s shaky coalition.

This is rich — Netanyahu as Robin Hood, taxing the rich to rain money on the poor, and Barak playing the sidekick to Netanyahu. It must still be Purim.

Netanyahu reversed his own policy, from his time as finance minister under Ariel Sharon, of limiting child welfare payments. This policy, it is now generally agreed, was one of the key financial reforms that drove the country’s economy forward. Backtracking on this policy now runs counter to Netanyahu’s stated economic aims of cutting welfare payments and encouraging productivity.

It also undermines the social ideology behind the original move. What he had originally corrected was the inexplicable discrimination in payments that provided more money for the third and fourth children, and so on, than to a family’s first and second children. Obviously, this arrangement is desirable to haredim, who have large families. But it is indefensible on so many levels — because it attaches a higher value to one child than another; because it discourages the heads of large families, haredi and Arab alike, to seek employment; because it punishes small families with smaller payments per child.

Sam is making the following assertions:

  1. Child Allowance increases = more taxes on somebody
  2. Those being taxed will be the rich
  3. The amount proposed is a "whopping" "rainfall"
  4. Only the poor receive child allowances
  5. Child payments can be construed as "welfare"
  6. Limiting the payments drove the Israeli economy forward
  7. The "large family" bill is inexplicable discrimination
  8. She'ar yerakos

Each and every one of these assertions is inherently flawed and my friend Sam has either bought into the fallacies or is actively selling them. Now, let's find out what makes these flaws flaws:

1. taxing [the rich] -

With this term, Sam suggests that there will be additional or special taxes to cover child allowances.
This is patently false.
Child allowances come out of the till of Bituach LeUmi - National Insurance Institute (NII) - the Israeli equivalent to Social Security. Just as the American Social Security tax, the Bituach LeUmi tax has always taken a sizable bite out of everybody's paycheck. It's a little under 5% for mid-salary. Nevertheless, this percentage has been fixed for quite some time (at least as long as I have been here) and the notion of changing the amount - up or down - has never been up for discussion. Thus, there is none and will not be any taxation beyond what is already fixed.

The issue of child allowances is only how much BL money gets recirculated into the economy and how much just sits there in their coffers. Raising the child allowances would only have the effect of slightly reducing BL's year end surplus which probably gets spent anyway on less socially beneficial issues such as advertising, new furniture for their offices, "administative" costs, or "bonuses" for NII employees. As long as the child allowances do not exceed the BL intake nobody is being taxed, poverty is reduced and money is reinfused into the economy, much of it comes back in the form of VAT taxes on goods and services purchased with the money and personal income taxes of providers of those goods and services.

Bottom line is that giving more BL money for child allowances will cost us no additional money and is better for the economy and all concerned than not giving it and simply hoarding the money that we are paying.

2. the rich -

As I just wrote, the percentages of BL taxes will not change for high earners. What may happen is that, to compensate, the minimum earnings brackets for the higher percentages may be lowered as well as the minimum requirement from non-earners. In other words, currently the higher percentage kicks in at around NIS 4400/ month. If you earn less than that you pay a smaller percentage. If BL wants more money, they can't raise the high bracket. What they can do is lower that threshold to, say, 4200 /month thus making low earners pay more. Likewise they can (and will) raise the fixed minimum payment to BL from the current approximately NIS 130/ month to, lets say NIS 150 / month. Only non-earners pay the fixed minimum. Thus, it is actually the poor who would be taxed and not the rich.

3. rain money -

I don't really think that the increase or NIS 93 (currently $20) can be called a rainfall. Not even a windfall. And, like I said, the low earners may actually need to pay in more per month. Sam should stick to the news and forget about the weather. Incidentally, here is where I will take issue on the highlighted line in his opening paragraph which may be a fact rather than an assertion - "a whopping NIS 1.5 billion over the next 3 years..." Did you say over 3 years? Well that brings the annual amount down to a mere 500 M/ year, doesn't it? (Why didn't you up the ante and say NIS 3B over 6 years?) Are we forgetting that child allowances are not just for some children. They are for ALL children! So, if we assume something like 1.7 M children nationwide, we are talking about a "whopping" NIS 300 (or $75) per child yearly increase.

I don't know about you, but somehow this figure doesn't "whop" me.

4. on the poor -

I suppose we can substantiate this by acknowledging reports that most Israeli children are beneath the poverty level, but still, the rich are a minority in every society. Nevertheless, they get just as much, don't they, Sam?

5. child welfare payments -

Here Sam pulls one of the niftiest sleight of hand word tricks I have ever seen. We English speakers define "welfare" as "governemntal assistance to poor people because they are poor". So Sam has us thinking that this is what is happening here as well. Sam is banking on the fact that most Americans do not have an inkling on what child allowances are. This is because in America we have a different kind of child allowance. It is called "tax exemptions for dependents". In America somebody earns lets say $96,000 ($8000/ month) and he has 5 children. The government likes the fact that he has a nice brood of productive citizens and they recognize that these tykes are not cheap to raise. So they allow everybody - I mean everybody - to reduce their taxable income by $3500 per kid. If he is still above $78K, he pays 28% on what's left (I am making this very simple). Thus he saved 28% of 3500 - or $980 for each kid. This comes to $81.67/ month per kid which would be about NIS 335 today. So in the US, an average head of household ends the month with an allowance of 81.67 / kid in his pocket because the government doesn't take it away. At lower brackets it's less (lowest possible is $30 /mo /kid) and higher brackets it's more. Note that this deduction applies until the age 24 as long as the child is a student for which all you have to do to verify is say so.

This is not welfare. It is not government assistance to the poor. It is everyman's entitlement that applies equally to every citizen.

Here in Israel the system works differently. There is no such thing as an exemption for any children for any working man. thus a man such as me with double digit children pays exactly the same taxes as a bachelor (there is a deduction for women which was implemented only as an incentive for women to work). The Israeli government also recognizes, though to a much lesser degree, that children are an important and positive fact of life and they are not cheap to raise. But, instead of giving the working man a break in taxes which would serve to make more lucrative work more rewarding, the government, in it's infinite wisdom, works in reverse and gives a flat rate allowance to make it look like it is assisting childraising as well as to make it look as if the governmet is giving people handouts.

Bituach LeUmi money is not a handout. It is something that we all pay for!

Child allowances are not welfare. They are not assistance to the poor. This is not a handout. They are an entitlement to every parent rich and poor, religious or secular, jewish or non-Jewish in place of tax breaks which do not exist and in compensation for the BL payments that every citizen must pay. Every citizen - even a non-earner like a kollel man. Even if you don't work, you pay! Incidentally, I am a salaried man and I pay Bituach LeUmi from my monthly earnings. My wife does not work so she is exempt. But, do you see that Kollel guy down the block? Not only does he need to pay the non-earner payment, but his wife who is working pays BL out of her pay check. It may emerge that the Kollel guy pays more into BL than I do!

So child allowances is a universal benefit that we pay for! And nobody gets special treatment. Every citizen gets the same as every other citizen for kid #1 and every citizen gets the same as every other citizen for kid#2 and every citizen gets the same as every other citizen for kid#3, and for kid #4 and #5, and so on. Regardless of rich or poor, religious or not, etc. Yes, there is a slight increase for larger families of 3 or more kids and every single citizen is equally eligible to it (chorus-regardless of... ). Whoever takes advantage of this increase gets it and who does not does not (chorus - regardless...)

Now, I know Sam and I cannot accept that he is as ignorant as everybody else. He most certainly meant welfare as the word means - physical and emotional well-being. The allowances are indeed for the welfare - or physical and emotional well-being - of the children so technically he is not wrong in calling them welfare. He knows that, his readers don't.

Slick move, Sam.

6. it is now generally agreed, was one of the key financial reforms that drove the country’s economy forward -

Now let's see. 2 developments have been presented in recent years. One development is a claim that the economy has gone forward. Strange unintelligible numbers have been presented to "substantiate" that claim. The second development is statistical proof that poverty has risen dramatically in recent years as has unemployment and prices have risen dramatically. Now, I am quite skeptical there is general agreement that limits of child allowance payments are a key factor to the first development or even if the economy has indeed gone forward at all. What I am certain is there is unanimous agreement that it is a key factor to the second development.

Incidentally, if the economy is indeed up since the reforms, which would indicate that incomes are up, then it means that BL has been taking in larger amounts of money since that is where BL money comes from at the same time as it has been doling out less. If this is what "moving the economy forward" means, count me out (I already am)!

7. inexplicable discrimination -

Allow me to explain the inexplicable. As a first step, it pays to examine why this phenomenon is considered inexplicable to begin with. And the answer is that this is an outgrowth of the increasingly popular misconception that BL is a not-for-profit charity organization and the beneficiaries of the "handouts" are all urchins who take but do not give and are actually a social burden. In other words, the general impression is that children are a financial liability. Consequently, it is inexplicable that the more liabilities that one produces, the more he is supported for it.

But lets imagine for a minute - and I know it's hard for most of us, or at least for Sam, to do - that children are actually a financial asset. Would it not be wise to encourage and even reward those who generate more assets?

Now people seem to have an intellectual time warp where they imagine that adults were born adults and that children are born children and remain children forever. Let me assure you that my observations prove otherwise. Children turn into adults. All of them. And they are adults for longer than they were children. More than twice as long.

This says that each citizen should eventually do more than twice as much adult inputting into BL than he does child outtaking. Remember that we said that everybody pays. Even Kollel men, even students between 18 and 24. Only non-working housewives and soldiers are exempt. Note that very few kollel men stay in Kollel indefinitely. Most eventually go into chinuch, kashrus, retail business and such. Obviously some people pay in more and some pay for longer and in some cases the lifetime surplus may be somewhat higher in one sector than in another, but in general, the average person, no matter who he is, pays more into BL over his lifetime than he takes out. This is how BL stays afloat. Incidentally this is how Social Security is supposed to work even if it doesn't. Thus, here in Israel, every single additional citizen represents additional profit for BL.

So if you agree that in the long term every BL payment toward child support is an investment that will bring back profitable returns, it pays to encourage and even reward those of us who take the responsibility of producing these assets.

One other explanation to the increase for larger families revolves around simple economics. It is a fair assessment that the cost of raising a child (food, clothes, health, and education) comes to about NIS 500-1000/month . For argument's sake, let's settle on NIS 759. Child allowance for the first 2 kids is about NIS 159. Perhaps 20%. The parent needs to cover the difference. This means for one kid he is NIS 600 short. For 2 kids he is NIS 1200 short. By 3 kids, he is NIS 1800 short and you can see where this is going. The parental burden increases in multiples of an 80% shortfall. If we agree that a child is a national asset, I don't see what is inexplicable about bumping up the miniscule assistance from 20% to a "whopping" 25%.

8. She'ar yerakos -

This refers to the other arguments that Sam introduces on the "discriminatory" nature of the large family increases which I will deal with shortly. Before I do, I must note that Sam is taking us for a ride with this entire paragraph. This whole paragraph is totally irrelevant.

Why? Because all of the current debate within the coalition parties about increases in child allowances is for across the board increases in the amounts allocated. There is no focus or push on increased amounts for larger families versus smaller ones. Sam bamboozles us again by suggesting that the thrust of child allowance increases was to give or increase the large family discrepancy. Sam certainly had one too many. The push is to increase what each child gets based on the current formula. From what I have read, nobody is asking to change the 3 and up increase and, indeed, Shas and UTJ have purposely steered away from it. They are focusing on getting more money to the parent. Period. Ni-ku-da.

But now, let us deal with these

8a. higher value to one child than another -

Uh, Sam, can you explain this to me?? Child allowances are paid to parents for the amount of children. Say you have 4 children Avrohom, Yitzchak, Moshe, and Aharon (all born before 2003). For one child the amount is NIS 159. For 4 children the amount is NIS 862. That is NIS 226 more than 4 x 159. Evidentally, Avrohom is only worth 159 and so is Yitzchok. Moshe is worth NIS 191 and Ahron is worth a "whopping" 353. Talk about favoritism! You can bet Avrohom and Yitzchok are going to grow up with inferiority complexes.

Or will they? Hey, wait! In 5 years Avrohom turns 18 and the amount goes down to NIS 509. Apparently Avrohom is worth NIS 353 and Ahron needs to get the inferiority complex, or is it Yitzchok?

Now, if this bothers Sam, I have no problem if each kid (in this example) would just get NIS 216 from the beginning to end and I think neither would Shas or UTJ. Hey, we don't want psychologically maladjusted kids, do we?

Sam, I honestly expected a lot better from you than this.

8b. it discourages the heads ...to seek employment

This may have a grain of truth to it if the child allowances were benefits for the unemployed as is the American welfare system that Sam is fond of comparing this to. But, this is not welfare and it is not linked to employment. Further, as i said, child allowances barely cover 20% of average child raising expenses on a good month. A haredi or arab with a large family is facing a tremendous deficit and the 80% per child deficit will not discourage him from sseeking employment nor will the house full of whining kids. What will and does discourage the child heavy father from seeking employment are the heavy percentages that he must pay to BL as well as Mas Hachnassah and Mas Briut out of his earnings with no compensation for his parental burden.

Sam, trust me on this one.

8c. it punishes -

After complimenting Sam for some nifty new tricks, I have to groan for his using one of the oldest tricks in the book: saying that not qualifying for a reward equals punishment. This is nothing new. All democrats think this way.

Come on, Sam, we used to listen to Rush Limbaugh together. Here's how he would say it. Suppose I send you a bill for $1000 due in 30 days for goods that are worth $1000 with a note that if you pay within 5 days you can take a 3% discount. You don't feel like paying within 5 days so you don't get the discount and you have to pay the actual price. Are you being punished???

Well maybe you are if you consider children to be financial liabilities to BL. You should be rewarded for having less than 3 kids.

Personally, I think that Netanyahu is finally starting to sober up. But I am a bit worried about Sam. Lay off of the hard stuff, Sam, Purim is over.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Absolving the Casualty - The Torah's Perspective of Victimhood

Well, I suppose I let the genie out of the bottle. My comments section is still bare and my site-meter is still crawling but I couldn't leave that post unfinished.

The post is my response to the material posted by Emes Ve-Emunah and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz entitled Blaming the Victim. It assumes a twisted position that only the perceived aggressor (meaning the one who "won the fight") is eligible to be judged and that the victim/accuser is totally immune. It implies that everything is black and white - the "good guy" is 100% blameless and the "bad guy" is 100% guilty.

I vehemently reject this position. We do not live in such a black and white world.

I wrote the post in Word with color formatting so I will post in in iPaper to preserve the formatting.

Absolving the Casualty
Absolving the Casualty binhersh Essay on the technical differences in political language and the Torah's perspective on what is a true victim.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Posts that I Haven't Published - (Updated from March 23)

It looks like the frequency of my posts is tapering down. Coincidentally, so is the traffic on my site-meter though I am not certain which is the cause of which. After all, if the "velt" is not interested in what I write (and can I blame them?) there is really not much point in writing it.

Of course, there are other reasons why I haven't been posting much lately. One is that quality writing requires a lot of time and concentration and there is just too much going on - Purim, Pesach, "work", learning sedarim, family issues (all those birthdays), simchas (including the one I am making), and income taxes - to afford me that kind of unfettered time. Unlike some very prominent bloggers, I do have a life outside of this blog (or at least I would like to). Also, unlike some very prominent bloggers, I do not beg readers to buy my book but I am starting to reconsider this policy.

Another issue is coming up with timely, relevant, and original subject matter that can inspire and interest my readers. Heck, anybody can plug in video clips of Kuni Lemel. Now, it's not that there isn't good subject matter. In fact some important topics are constantly being addressed by my "competitors" now and again (and again, and again, and...) but by the time I can formulate a potent post on the chareidi "spin", the topic is yesterday's news. This says that behind the scenes there are actually quite a few half-written posts on (formerly) hot topics that have never seen the dark of night. Some recent examples:

I was looking forward to Parshat Ki Tisah for months to discuss a very controversial subject but it got past me. I did not take into account that the week of Parshat Ki Tisah is usually the week of Purim and that I live in Yerushlayim. You see, the difference between Yerushalayim and the golus is that in the golus you have 2 days of Yom Tov and 1 day of Purim. Here in Yerushalayim we have 1 day of Yom Tuv and 2 days of Purim. So Purim on Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday is rehab and - shoin! - it's already Shabbos.

And what was my topic? The topic, which is little discussed and little understood, is based on the pasuk: כל העבר על הפקדים מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה יתן תרומת ה and the topic is:

What is the Halachic draft age?

This question is not as easy as it looks. I have done a good deal of research on this but not as much as I need to so I am not really prepared to give this subject it's full due (has Hirhurim ever discussed it?). From what I have found so far I have reached the following conclusion:

There is no Halachic draft age.

What do I base this on? Simple. It's not anywhere in Halacha! Go find it. The Rambam does not breathe a word about it. And why not? Didn't he codify all of Shas? Yes he did!

You don't mean...?

Yes, I do. It isn't anywhere in Shas. Not even in the eighth perek of Sotah (I reviewed all 2 1/2 blatt).

But, what about Rashi in Shmos 30:14?

Rashi may not be saying what you think he is.

Stay tuned. I hope to write about it eventually, perhaps when it comes up again in Parshat BaMidbar (that won't be easy because the wedding is on 2 Sivan, IY"H). Incidentally, if anybody is actually reading this and has any source material, I would be very grateful to know about it.

A second recent post that hasn't been published was meant to address some of the discussion that appeared in 2 widely read blogs (here and here) about the Elchanan Bizaglow affair. In my assumed role as defender of the Chareidi position I cannot afford to shy away from addressing these matters. In this case I will address them to Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Rabbi Harry Maryles who are much more outspoken than I.

Firstly, unlike Harry Maryles and Rabbi Horowitz, my policy is not to formulate judgments about controversial events and individuals unless the incriminating details are verified. This can only come from two sources - an objective observer at the scene or a voluntary confession from the accused.

Consequently, I will (and did) pass judgement on Bernie Madoff because he confessed to his scheme and pleaded guilty in an American court. I will not pass judgement on Yisroel Valis because he did not confess to anything (or, you may say, he does not confess that he confessed) nor were there any objective observers to the incident during or after. I will pass judgment on Naomi Ragen and Miriam Shears for their actions because they supplied a first hand account of their respective incidents. I will not pass judgement on the people who confronted them because they did not supply first hand accounts, nor are the accounts of their actions given by their counterparts objective (nor objectionable, in my opinion).

As far as the Bizaglow incident, beyond the fact that he pleaded guilty in a third world Israeli court, I don't know any other detail to be factual because I have not seen an account; not from him, nor his accuser, nor from anybody who observed the incident. As such, I am hesitant to judge it.

That said, I unfortunately can see the broad outline of the incident as being believable and , assuming it is factual, I, like Rabbi Horowitz, have no inclination to defend his actions. A vilda chaya is a vilda chaya.

Note - Speaking about half-finished posts, I am not done with this one but my writing time is up. I don't know when I will have time to get back and finish this post but I decided to push the Publish button on this anyway.


In the time since I first published this post on March 23, I have done a bit more research. One development is that I need to spell this fellow's name Buzaglo. The second development is that I saw a few other write-ups and one of which, at Yeshiva World News, indeed gave a partial first hand account from the accuser which gives me more leverage to be judgemental. I don't think I need to lend my voice that this is not the proper way to deal with a breech of modest behavior.

Nevertheless, what drew my attention was the title of Emes Ve-Emunah's post which was actually the title of a response written by Rabbi Horowitz in the comments of his own post - Blaming the Victim. It conveys a very deceptive impression that there was no breech of modest behavior. While we may all agree that the response in this case was inappropriate it is wrong and irresponsible to suggest that it wasn't a response to something and that there was no breech of decorum at all. At least 2 commenters on Rabbi Horowitz's post said it straight out and I am thirding the motion:

Nothing, but nothing, occurs in a vacuum.

When somebody gets hurt, in most cases they crossed somebody's red line and in many of these, they knew they were crossing somebody's red line. The problem is that many of us do not respect other people's or a community's red lines. This is exactly what Miriam Shears did and it earned her the distinction of being the only person to ever get in a fight on a bus going to the Kotel for netz. Despite what the good Rabbis think, there is no Tznius Patrol in Har Nof and certainly there is none on the Number 2 netz bus to the Kotel at 4:30 in the morning. It doesn't need one - as long as Mrs. Shears is not in town. And this is exactly what Naomi Ragen did as well. For this, she got the publicity she was looking for.

Crossing a red line is a passive-aggressive action - with the accent on the "aggressive" side. Aggressive actions foment aggressive reactions.

Inapproriate behavior triggers inappropriate responses.

And although, like Rabbis Maryles and Horowitz, I do not condone the reactions, unlike them, I do not either condone the behavior that triggers them.

Whitewashing the "victims" does just that. Making out the "victim" to look "whiter" than he or she actually is serves to make the "aggressor" look blacker than he or she actually is. And I do not accept that. Though this may not be so relevant in the Buzaglo incident, it is very relevant in many other incidents and on a general scale.

So I set out to write a post to discuss what is and isn't a victim and what is and isn't a thug. From a sense of logic and from the point of view of the Torah. But, before I was done, the headlines moved on. It is close to being a finished product and I still may post it, but based on who got more stars on Rabbi Horowitz's comments column and who got less, I do not expect to find many willing readers.

Please tell me if I my expectation is wrong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ad Meah V'Esrim!

Chodesh Adar is birthday season at the Hirshmans. One of them, at least. We have 3 birthdays clustered around Purim and 4 birthdays (including mine) clustered around Chanuka. Also 2 at the beginning of Ellul and one just before Pesach and a few other scattered ones, ken yirbu.

So after vinching uhn Yaakov on 10 Adar we have Shloimie on 22 Adar (starts tonite!) and then Chani on 26 Adar הבאים עלינו לטובה.

This is for everyone in Klal Yisroel who has a birthday (in lieu of a present) no matter when:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Docutherapy: The Power of the Pen

Mrs. Weiss had just about all she could handle with her two prepubescent sons. These guys couldn’t find enough space for themselves if they were marooned on an aircraft carrier. This one’s making too much noise. He keeps the lights on too late, he shuts them off too soon. Why should I clean his mess? Whaddaya mean my mess…? Biff! Boom! Pow!... Mommmmm!!

Yes, it was time for an after-hours call to her “therapist”, her sister-in-law. “How do I keep these boys from hailing Armegeddon?”

Calm as a knaidle, her sister-in-law responds, “The next time they come to you with a quibble, tell them to put it in writing.”

Sure enough the next quarrel began right on schedule – three hours earlier than expected. “I had the book and I just put it down for a second…”

“Just put it in writing.”


“You have a complaint, submit it in writing.”

“Then what?”

“Then he’s going to have to respond in writing.”

“You mean I also have to write it down?”

“You bet!”


“So get writing.”

More silence. In fact the silence prevailed for quite some time – right up until the next quarrel.

Mrs. Weiss was employing a technique that I call docutherapy. (Well, this case may not actually be docutherapy, but rather a variation that I call docu-phobia therapy, but the principle is the same.)

For the complete article, see the embedded document:

The Power of the Pen: The Case for Docutherapy

Monday, March 9, 2009

Will Not Kneel and Will Not Bow - Part II: Yefes in the Tents of "Shame"

Yefes in the Tents of "Shame"

There is an interesting discussion going on over at Emes Ve-Emunah. The discussion revolves around an entity that I had never heard about until I tuned into blogs: the Orthoprax.

If you are not sure what that is, you are not alone. Last I checked there were 76 comments posted to the initial piece many of which are debating the proper usage of the term. So after reading the post and perusing the comments, I for one, am still plenty confused. But the confusion does not start here.

We Jews are so-o-o creative! We always like making up new discriptive terms (see my post about chareidim and wings). Reform, Conservative, Traditional. Those are pretty easy to understand because they are in plain English. But here's a really hard one one: Orthodox.
Where did this term come from?

The Greeks, for Heaven's sake. It came from the GREEKS! (As does the term Hypocrite).

So what does it mean? Well, it's Greek to me.

Our sages were not very fond of the Greeks. The first step of Hellenization was when we translated the Torah into Greek. This is one reason why we fast on the 10th of Teves. The next step is when we refer to our hashkafas in Greek terms. First there is Orthodox. Then there is Heterodox and Conservadox. (These last 2 are just one plain pair-a-dox) and now there is Orthoprax.

But getting back to the term Orthodox, I think I have finally figured out what it means. It means: keeping the Torah like a Greek. How so? Consider the following about an "Orthodox" Jewish female NCAA basketball player at the University of Toledo. This comes from a recent Jerusalem Post article entitled Holy Toledo:

Shafir is not only a leader on the team, but she has become a role model in the Jewish community as the first female Orthodox Jewish athlete in the NCAA Division I competition, the top level of American collegiate athletics.

"One thing that we figured was to get in touch with a rabbi in town to find out what was most important. We then spoke to her uncle and father, who gave us a list of what Shafir would need. This included access to kosher food, a T-shirt under her jersey, not riding in a motorized vehicle on Shabbat and not practicing on Saturdays," says Cullop. "The list was not long, and we knew she would observe the holidays. Luckily the calendar works out in our favor. They were more concerned with school and appreciative of everyone finding solutions."

The Rockets have postponed all of their Saturday afternoon practices to Saturday evenings after sunset. However, Rabbi Chaim Bogonski and Shafir worked out a deal four years ago allowing her to play games on Shabbat. When Shafir was on the Israeli National Junior Team, she was the only Orthodox player. Bogonski ruled that since practice was work and games were fun, it was acceptable to take part in games that fell on Shabbat. This was important, since a majority of the games for Toledo are on Saturday afternoons.

So this is Orthodox? An Israeli girl coming to Chu"l to play basketball in public on Shabbos!? Oh yes, she is acting under complete Daas Torah a la Rabbi Chaim Bogonski. And, certainly, she wears a tee-shirt under her tank top and from the waste down she wears gym shorts just like the Kohen in the Bais HaMikdash! And she is a role model because she is an "Orthodox" Jewish athlete?

This may be Orthodox but it is Greek Orthodox. Antiochus would be proud. But I have my doubts about Mattisyahu (NOT the rapper!!!).

This is kneeling and bowing!

In a book entitled Where Heaven Touches Earth by Rabbi Dovid Rosoff, in the Glossary on page 611 he has the following entry: Chareidi: Orthodox.

I don't think so.

If this is Orthodox, then please do not call me Orthodox. In any case, I don't speak Greek.

What's a better term? Well, Yeshaya didn't speak Greek either. Not to us, at least. And he has a term for the Jews who do the right thing. You know what he calls them?


He actually coined the term. He certainly must have been referring to somebody. He had a term for Orthoprax, too. But not in Greek. You know what he calls them? He calls them מִצְוַת אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה (Yeshaya 29:13) - those who perform mitzvos by rote.

So the Orthoprax are actually nothing new. They've been around for quite some time. Just like the chareidim.

G-d fearing Jews don't need to act like Greeks. And we do not need Greek terms to describe ourselves. We do not need to bring Yefes into the tents of "Shame". And we are forbidden to kneel and bow.

For us, there are many old Biblical or Talmudic terms in Hebrew. Terms like tzaddikim, yesharim, anavim, yereyim, chassidim, kedoshim, perushim, chaveirim, chareidim or...just plain Yehudim. Like Mordechai HaYehudi. I'll take any one of them.

The bearers of any of these terms have one thing in common. They will not kneel and they will not bow. They will not send their daughters from Eretz Yisrael to Eretz HaAmim to play basketball on Shabbos in front of men wearing shorts and T-shirts.

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר

Will Not Kneel and Will Not Bow - Part I: The Jewish Problem

The Jewish Problem

King Achashverosh had a great problem. It was the Jewish problem. You see, King Achashverosh ruled over the entire civilized world - from Hodu to Kush. Everybody paid homage to him as the supreme king. The entire Middle East was Dar al Achashverosh. He could subjugate the whole world and he didn't even need nukes. But these Jews were a pain. It was one thing that they paid homage to a Higher Being. There were many ethnic peoples and each one had their deities. Let the Jews have theirs.

No, the problem was that the dhimmi Jews wanted a piece of the kingdom for themselves. A Dar al Yehud. They used to govern a small province south of Mesopotamia. And they still say it is their land. They plan to resettle that province and claim independence. If this happens it would usurp the totality of the king's dominion and set the stage for an opposing world superpower. That would be a disaster for the king and for the newly established Persian empire.

The Jews haven't been independent for just about 70 years now. They foolishly cling to their tradition that after 70 years their commonwealth will be divinely restored. Utterly ridiculous. Their G-d is as impotent as everybody else's. They are hallucinating. But some hotheaded nationalistic youths are stirring. They want to "manually stimulate" this fictitious repatriation.

The king decides to take matters into his hands. He will put an end to this nationalistic dream and he will do it with cunning. Although the Temple was only destroyed 59 years ago, he will date the apocalypse from an earlier phase and announce that the 70 year interim period has expired and no national restoration has even begun to form. He will commiserate with the Jews that their "G-d" has abandoned them forever. And then he will throw a big celebration welcoming the Jews as loyal and permanent subjects of the Persian empire. All state rights and privileges are open to them. Just forget about your nationalistic fantasies.

Achashverosh was a Persian. He was a son of Yefes, a cousin to the Greeks and the Hellenists. The sons of Yefes thought that the Jews can be won over by acceptance, lavishment, and acculturation. And as King Achashverosh saw the Jews participate in his celebration en masse, he knew his plan was successful and he withdrew into complacency. Yet, some years later he appointed a minister who hailed from the sons of Shem, an Aggagite. He alone knew the stubbornness that was the heart of the Jew (as is the nature of all the sons of Shem). He questioned the loyalty of the Jewish people to the Persian culture. So he devised an even more calculated plan.

He would enact a law that all the peoples of the kingdom must bow down to him. He knew that the Persians would readily comply, they are a very earthy people. But he wanted to test the Jews. If it transpires that each and every Jew will kneel and bow, then we may assure ourselves that their Jewish identity and nationalistic dreams are dead. And mankind need never again feel constrained by the morals of the Torah. BUT...If so much as one Jew will refuse to kneel and bow, then the Jewish cause has not died. For this one Jew may reignite within his fellow Jews the lost spark of the Torah and subdue the dominion of mortal men.

As such...if but one Jew refuses to kneel and bow, all Jews are a lethal risk...

ומרדכי לא יכרע ולא ישתחוה

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Zachor Ess Asher Assah Amalek -The Root of All Hatred

About 3 months ago on Parshat VaYeitzei I wrote a post entitled The Biblical Psycotherapist that discussed a proposed introductory chapter to Book Two of 1A7B and contained an excerpt. This chapter was an overview on the root causes of social hatred in the form of anti-semitism and chareidi-phobia. This actually began as a term paper for an adult education class I was taking in psychology and counseling.

Since that time I have discovered the wonders of iPaper (in case you never noticed) so, due to the timeliness of the subject, I have decided to release the entire chapter in iPaper. This can be found at the end of this post.

In the spirit of Purim, I have extracted the routine about the Biblical Psychotherapist for those who have not read it and reposted it out of context into the body of this post. It still maintains its place in the chapter for the idea it was meant to illustrate.


The Biblical Psychotherapist

Therapist: Miss Lillith, please admit the first patient! Well-l-l, if it isn’t his majesty King Nimrod! What seems to be the trouble, O Mighty Lion? You don’t seem your chipper self today!

Nimrod: The Mighty Lion has a thorn in his paw.

Therapist: And who might this thorn-in-the-paw be?

Nimrod: A disloyal subject.

Therapist: An oxymoron, your Highness. Who could even think of defying you?

Nimrod: He calls himself Abram of the Opposite Side.

Therapist: Not a team player, is he?

Nimrod: Not in the slightest.

Therapist: What’s his game?

Nimrod: He claims there is an unseeable almighty G‑d who created the entire universe and basically runs the whole shooting match.

Therapist: Ridiculous! Well, if this “G‑d” is unseeable we can simply ignore Him, can we not?

Nimrod: Not really. This fellow’s been acting up lately.

Therapist: How so?

Nimrod: His father went on a business trip and left him minding the store. By the time poppa got back, every idol but one was in bits and pieces. Kid claims that the big one smashed the rest of them. Poppa kinda slipped up and remarked that the idol can’t do that. Kid says, “Ah-ha! So you admit these things are powerless!” Now people are talking. If this thing gets around, you know, no good for business.

Therapist: So, his Majesty is not interested in competition, is that it? How do you usually handle competitors?

Nimrod: Never had one.

Therapist: Well there were those fellows that didn’t cooperate on that tower project weren’t there?

Nimrod: Oh yeah, these guys were missing the team spirit; it was like they were talking a different language. In any case, these guys didn’t follow the safety rules. Most of them got involved in ‘work accidents’. Quite unfortunate.

Therapist: What about those towns out West that stopped paying their taxes.

Nimrod: They are just a bunch of ignorant boors who cannot seem to understand the social value of the tax system. For that reason, I am sending a specially trained group of tax collectors. These fellows have a way of explaining things.

Therapist: So I’ve heard. Does this Abram fellow pay his taxes?

Nimrod: On time.

Therapist: What about following safety rules?

Nimrod: Except for the first two.

Therapist: Correct me if I am wrong, your esteemed Majesty, those would be (1) the Mighty Lion is the King and (2) there is no other King. So, our thorny friend refuses to acknowledge these two unshakable principles?

Nimrod: He seems to have a slightly different version.

Therapist: Well then, perhaps there will be no one to fault but himself if he were to encounter a ‘work accident’. What line of work is he in?

Nimrod: Education - not an accident prone field. Besides, an accident would not be in my best interest. People may misunderstand and others may take his place.

Therapist: You could cut off his state funding.

Nimrod: I’d like to cut off a lot more than that. But he’s got a privately funded institution; doesn’t take a dime.

Therapist: But even so, he must comply with the state’s curriculum.

Nimrod: He assures me that he spends a great deal of class time discussing everything about our wonderful King. Now, I have a real strong hunch that he doesn’t mean me, only it’s been impossible to prove.

Therapist: Well, haven’t you sent him some ‘students’ from the Nimrod Knowledge Verification Department?

Nimrod: You mean the NKVD? Yes, I’ve sent throngs of them. Next thing you know they are all at the camel stations handing out candles and kerchiefs to the women and tying up the men with black leather boxes. Not one ever came back to report.

Therapist: But is he not required to abide by the rules of the Teachers Union?

Nimrod: He’s been turning down the membership. Says he doesn’t need the benefits.

Therapist: What does his Royal Highness’s union chief usually do with people who refuse to be a member?

Nimrod: He dismembers them.

Therapist: So, why not now?

Nimrod: Like I said, people are talking. We can dismember him but that won’t take care of his unseeable G‑d. I want to see his entire ideology go up in smoke.

Therapist: Perhaps his Eminence oughtn’t be so dominating. Maybe it would help if you showed him a little warmth, if you try to meet his ideas with a bit of fiery enthusiasm.

Nimrod: Yes, you’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t try to force him to see things my way just because everybody else does. Maybe I should leave him alone in a well-lit quiet spot and see how things heat up. The more I think of it the better I feel.

Therapist: Well then, O Great One. That sums it up for now. Please come back next week and let me know how things went. And, oh, as usual, this session is on the house.

Next patie…What is that Miss Lillith? Urgent call on Line 3? Sounds a bit frantic? Alright, I’ll take the call. Hello! – Yes, Mr. Caine. How are you? – Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. – Your younger brother, huh? – Yes, you already told me that you think he is just so much hot air. - Yes, I see. You just couldn’t manage to get your offering to score points and – Ah-ha. He could do it and you just weren’t Able. – Please, Mr. Caine, you must calm down and try to relax. Perhaps, if you only improved the way you… – Uh-huh. Others have been telling you that lately? Well, maybe… – OK, OK. Just please calm down. What if you just had a nice talk… - You did? What was it that you said to your brother? – Nobody is supposed to know? Well, your secret is safe with me. Now, now, please, try to control yoursel… - What was that? He makes you want to just mur… – No, Mr. Caine, you can’t be serious. That will solve nothing. You must consider the conseque… – Mr. Caine, I beg of you, let’s not start a mutiny, please just take a deep breath and relax. Even if you were to “get away with it”, as you say, you must realize that you would be ostracized from society. You would become a drifter, marked for life - Mr. Caine, may I suggest an emergency appointment? Can you be in my office at 4:00? - Very well. In the meanwhile, just lie down and rest and don’t speak with anyone, especially your brother. You need not be your brother’s keeper. See you at 4:00, then? - OK, good-bye.

Miss Lillith, this client is quite distraught and I am concerned that he may do something irrational. Please alert the proper authorities and you may admit the next patient.

Ah yes, Mr. Lavan deCheat. It’s been what – about six years since you came to me last? And, how are you today?

Lavan: Not as good as yesterday!

Therapist: And what seems to be the problem?

Lavan: It’s my son-in-law, again. He ran off on me just when I was trying to get the upper hand.

Therapist: Would you like to tell me about it?

Lavan: Well, you know how it’s been these past twenty years. Just like I told you, this fellow comes to visit me without a dime. He didn’t even bring a bottle of wine for Shabbos. Now, I see a great opportunity here. I’ll get this guy to run my business, do the dirty work. You know, work myself up on his shoulders. I was just afraid that right after I show him the ropes, he’ll bolt on me and go into business for himself. So I had a great plan to pin him down for a while: promise him one daughter for seven years of labor, then, when the seven years are up, I’ll pull the old bride switcheroo and get him to put in another seven years for his beloved. I figured that by then he’ll forget all about his home town and he’ll be my personal sheep dog. I even threw in two extra daughters to make sure he stays put.

Therapist: Yes, yes. I recall you told me all that at our last session.

Lavan: Well, would you believe that after the fourteen years the ingrate wants to pack up and leave? After all I’ve done for him! He says, “What do I have to stick around for? You never even gave me a share in the business.” Come on, four wives aren’t enough? Now, I’m a bit worried because my boys who have been partying around all this time don’t really know how to run this business, they would just run it to the ground.

Therapist: Of course, Mr. deCheat. There is no need to go over the details from six years back. We did set a strategy then, did we not?

Lavan: Yes we did. We decided that I should give him a piece of the business, just nothing to get excited about. He’ll get all the freaks and rejects, which there won’t be many of cuz all of my sheep have been coming out white as snow. That’ll keep him in the fold without a controlling share.

Therapist: So how did that work out?

Lavan: Not like I expected. All of a sudden, freaks and rejects were in high demand. Nobody wanted a white sheep anymore. And - would you believe it? – all the first bred sheep were coming out speckled and striped and only the second litter was white. He was making a mint on my account.

Therapist: So what did you do?

Lavan: Like any self respecting businessman, I demanded to renegotiate the terms. I thought that would rile him up.

Therapist: And what did he say?

Lavan: He said, “No problem. You just call ‘em.” I said, “How about you just taking the patchy ones with striped feet.”

Therapist: And?

Lavan: The guy didn’t flinch. Three weeks later he’s walking around with a whole flock of patchy ones like that. I told him that I didn’t really mean patchy like that, I meant speckled ones with patches on the ankles. Three weeks later – Voila! A new flock just like we said. I changed the deal again but now I’m getting a bit suspicious so I send some of my boys to spy on him. They tell me that he’s been taking wooden sticks and putting stripes and spots on them and sticking them over the troughs. Ah-ha! So now I really give him a tough one – brown sheep with white patches at the shoulders, stripes on the legs and a speckled tail. Let’s see him do that with those sticks. All he says is, “No problem.” And three weeks later, there they are. Man, I must have done this 100 times. He’s got the craziest looking sheep that anyone has ever seen and I get all the white ones. Just, for some nutty reason, people are willing to pay five times more for his freaky sheep than for my normal ones.

Therapist: So your sheep don’t have much market value?

Lavan: No, I wouldn’t say that. My sheep still bring in big bucks. I’m the chief exporter of sheep to Canaan; they got no one there who knows how to raise them. You know our mottos: “Let deCheat and Sons Pull the Wool Over Your Eyes” and “There’s Nuttin’ Like Our Mutton”. I’m still raking in a hefty profit (of course, that’s not what my accountant tells the tax people). No, I ain’t goin’ hungry.

Therapist: Then why such a long face?

Lavan: Well, as rich as I kept getting, this lazy good-for-nothing son-in-law kept getting richer - on my stock! This really burns me up. I’m having bad dreams. I asked him if he ever gets bad dreams. He says, “No, I hardly ever sleep at night.” No wonder! He’s too busy counting sheep. They ought to be my sheep. This guy’s got my sheep and he’s got my daughters and he’s got my grandsons and all I have is this miserable mansion and all of these…

Therapist: Now, Mr. deCheat, get a hold on yourself. If you don’t like this fellow, why do you miss him?

Lavan: Because, as much as I got, he’s got more. And now he wants to relocate and open up his own operation down in Canaan. I had the market cornered there. He’ll blow me out of the water!

Therapist: Now, now, Mr. deCheat. I am certain that you can open new markets. I think that you would do splendid in Midian.

Lavan: I don’t care if I get Midian, Moab and the whole East Bank. If this guy is headed to Canaan, that’s where all the action is and I want it.

Therapist: So, what do you have in mind?

Lavan: I’m gonna go after him and see if I can’t uproot every last shred. Nobody gets the best of Lavan deCheat.

Therapist: Mr. deCheat, I am a bit less than optimistic about your chances for success, but if you feel that this will achieve your noble aims, then I wish you all the best. Please get in touch with me in, say, another six years and let me know how things are going. Oh, and, I don’t mean to be pretentious, but you still have an outstanding balance for our previous sessions.

Lavan: No problem, I’ll have one of my boys drop off some striped and speckled sheep – soon as they’re born. Thank you ever so much.

Therapist: Next patient, please. Ah. A new face. And to whom do I attribute this honor?

Patient: I didn’t really want to come but my wife kind of talked me into it.

Therapist: You must be a very devoted husband Mr…?

Patient: Hamdatha. Ben Hamdatha. My friends call me Haman. And I’ve got lots of friends.

Therapist: And a caring wife. Now, in what way can I be of service, Mr. Haman?

Patient: Well, I’m a pretty important guy. Got a top government position, friends in high places, you know. Lots of sons and a good deal of wealth and, you know, all of this is barely worth a cent to me just cuz of one guy who sits by the palace gate and I can’t get him to…

Root of All Hatred_Scribd Edit

On Chachmas Nashim and Offshore Bank Accounts

Yep, she finally did it. My first-born princess finally found herself a frog -- I mean, a prince. This daughter is the one I was lamenting about last summer. Well, b'chasdei Hashem, we got the job done without shelling out $15,000/year and without long distance web conferencing.

I am still for the web conferencing.

Last night was the vort and, as all my readers know, when I have a vort to say, I say it.

As a public service, I am posting the main portion of my address in an iPaper file. In my speech, I addressed many important issues that most people do not give adequate attention to. these include:

  • Where do we see a reference to Vashti in the Torah?
  • Who was a better wife for Achashverosh - Esther or Vashti?
  • Did Achashverosh's taxes include accounts in Off-Shore investments?
May all of the singles in Klal Yisrael find their true mates בקרוב !

א פרייליכן פורים

Iyei Hayam Basic

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A King Whose Decrees are as Harsh as Haman's

The gemara in Sanhedrin (97b) tells us:

ר' אליעזר אומר אם ישראל עושין תשובה נגאלין ואם לאו אין נגאלין אמר ליה רבי יהושע אם אין עושין תשובה אין נגאלין אלא הקב"ה מעמיד להן מלך שגזרותיו קשות כהמן וישראל עושין תשובה ומחזירן למוטב

Rabi Eliezer says: If Israel repents they (we) will be redeemed and if they don't they will not be redeemed.
Rabi Yehoshua said to him: If they (we) do not repent they will not be redeemed? Rather, HKBH will appoint over them (over us) a king whose decrees are as harsh as Haman's and Israel will repent and he will return them to good standing.
Haman was a Persian of Amaleiki descent. He was arguably the most powerful man in the Persian Empire at a time when the Persian Empire dominated the entire civilized world. Thus he rose to be world superpower and his battlecry was short and bitter: "Death to Israel." And when he said it, hundreds of thousands of loyal Persians echoed it after him. And he got the Jews to sober up from that wild party mighty quick! (Okay, it was 9 years later, but who's counting?)

Well - he's ba-a-a-a-ck!!!!

About six weeks ago, the Jerusalem Post distributed in their Friday (weekend) edition a free supplement. It was a DVD disk that contains a fascinating historical documentary about the history and beliefs of Islam. A co-worker lent me the disk but I did not have time to watch it until last night (I didn't get to bed until well after 3:00 am).

The title of the film is Farewell Israel. The film has been out since the end of 2007 so it makes sense that many people may have heard of it and seen it already (I am typically a bit behind the times), but I only discovered it now. That said, I was absolutely amazed at how quickly and accurately the picture that it forecasts in 2007 is unfolding now in 2009.

For anybody who has not seen it - do so!

For the Western-oriented liberal-minded folk out there, this film is an absolute eye-opener that will blow you away. But even for those of us who are Orthodox and are not so naive about the underpinning of the Arab Islamic mindset will still learn a thing or two from this film. It really lays down the cards. For example, many of us just cannot conceive that the word used for "peace" in the Arab world does not mean the same thing as it does in the Western world. To the Arab, the word means cessation of hostilities - be it long term or short term - but it does not mean mutual understanding and recognition. So, even when an Arab entity (such as Egypt) offers "peace", it merely means "I will try to leave you alone for now - no promises, though". And nobody is even offering us that!

One thing is clearly shown. There is nothing being modified when people employ terms with modifiers such as "Radical Islam" or "Militant Islam". The modifiers are totally redundant and don't mean a thing more than just plain "Islam".

All of the information plus the trailer are available on the film's web site. In addition, i will embed the You-Tube clip of the trailer below.

This is no game of shesh-besh. The modern day Haman is as real as ever and the words of Rabi Yehoshua are truer than ever.

I just wonder if one day Ahmedinajad's great-great-grandchildren will teach Torah in Bnei Brak! (Sanhedrin 96b)