Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Drop by Drop – Another Look at 1A7B and the Yom Kippur Connection

When I first opened this blog, I wrote a post to explain the connection of the concept of One Above and Seven Below – אחת למעלה ושבע למטה – that we have in the avoda of Yom Kippur to the theme of my book, which is the single level of Im Bechukosai Telechu – One Above (אחת למעלה) versus the seven levels of V’Im Bechukosai Tim’asu – Seven Below (שבע למטה).

In short, the seven lower drops represent the seven levels of sin in the tochacha in Parshas Bechukosai. I credited this connection to the Chizkuni in Vayikra 16:14.

I have just found another connection.

Last Motzaei Shabbos before selichos at Kehillat Bnei Torah, Rav Yitzchok Rubin, Shlita, gave his regular pre-selichos schmooze and he brought down the words of the Rem”a in Toras HaOlah 59. The Rem”a says that the One Above drop represents the Neshama and the Seven Below drops represent the seven names that the Yetzer Hara is referred by as stated in Sukka 52a: Rah, Arel, Tamei, Sonei, Michshol, Ehven, and Tzefoni.

He says that each of these names represents seven steps (levels) of the Yetzer Hara one above (below?) the other and they bring the person down. Each level is stronger than the previous.

On the “other side” the Neshama drop stands alone and it is the intellect and the Yetzer Tov. This is “One Above” and it does not fall below this number (I think he means that it is not subject to a quantity more than One). And this drop can overpower any of the seven names (levels) of the Yetzer Hara.

This is as much as the Rem”a says explicitly. He does not explain exactly how the Neshama can overpower the seven levels – or names – of the Yetzer Hara. But other scholars such as Ben Yehoyada, not to mention Harav Rubin, fill in the blanks. The gemara in Kiddushin 30b tells us: I (HKBH) created the Yetzer Hara and I created the Torah as its antidote.  Further it says: If this vile one (the Yetzer Hara) meets up with you, pull him into the Beis Midrash.

The Rem”a says that the Neshama is the intellect. The Malbim in Mishlei (20:27) tells us that the Human was given this intellect for one purpose: to study and master the word of G-d. This is why we begin the central part of the standard shmona esrei with “Attah chonen l’adam daas…” Without this daas, we will fall prey to our Yetzer Hara and fall into the Tahom Rabbah.

This drop is the “ameilus b’Torah” that is required to achieve Im Bechukosai Telechu. The One Above – Achas L”Maala. The Seven Below is ushered in by neglecting to use one’s intellect for Torah study. The first level of the Seven Below – the first drop – is for one who neglects to study Torah (lo lammad – Rashi) even though he is meticulous in performing mitzvos!

This is because, even though he does mitzvos, he has no defense against the Yetzer Hara. In fact, the first thing that the Yetzer Hara will do “for him” is to let him convince himself that he is a gold standard Jew by virtue of the fact that he keeps mitzvos.

The next step is to let him convince himself that certain altruistic activities - that aren’t truly mitzvos – are the greatest of mitzvos. And then he will let the person convince himself that his concept of mitzvos is more accurate than those who do indeed study the Law. He knows better than the Rabbi or the Shulchan Aruch (which he barely knows at all).

And after this, the Yetzer Hara lets him convince himself that he doesn’t really have to do mitzvos at all. After all, he is a “Human Being” a mentsch, and this is all that HKBH really wants. The only purpose of doing mitzvos is to help one become a mentsch, but for people like him who are already a mentsch, there is no need. It is better to be a “Human Being” than a “Rabbi”.

So, now, he has descended to level 2 and, before he knows it, he is at levels 3-4-5-6…of the slippery slope. Way down under.

Drop by drop.

TeshuvaTefillah – and Tzedaka will save us, but the Tefillah and Tzedaka will only buy us time. It will not take us to where we need to be. Only the Teshuva, which corresponds to Torah, can enable us to beat the Yetzer Hara and bring ourselves into the One Above camp. This is where the Neshama is.

כי נר ה' נשמת אדם

HKBH is waiting there – and He’s keeping the light on for us.

Gmar Chasima Tova

Bonus post: Click HERE to see what we need to atone for most of all - the most terrible crime that a Human being can commit!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Parshat Nitzavim – Going Down Under to a Whole Nother Level

I was checking in with my friends in the RCANZ and RCV in Australia and the prognosis isn’t good. I glanced at their charts and saw some bold WNLs. Not "Within Normal Limits" and not "We Never Looked". It seems they have gone down under to a "Whole Nother Level".

In this week’s Parsha (Nitzavim), the Torah – via Moshe Rabbeinu - warns us about deviating from the mitzvos. It warns us not to be over-secure and to think “I will be okay even if I pursue my heart’s desires” for “Hashem will not be willing to forgive him…”

Right in between these two phrases, Moshe throws in a strange comment: למען ספות הרוה את הצמאהso to be adding the satiated on to the thirsty”.

What does this mean?

Rashi tells us, based on Onkelus, that it means he (the sinner) will be “including the involuntary sins together with the willful ones” on his rap sheet.  Satiated” really means inebriated and “thirsty” means sober.  When one is inebriated he is not in full control of his faculties so he has some kind of an excuse for doing inappropriate things. When one is sober he has no such excuses. 

Rashi goes on to explain that if one commits sins due to involuntary circumstances or duress (inebriated), HKBH is willing to be lenient (forgiving) when judging him. However, once he commits the same sins willfully and when there is no duress (sober), not only is he punished for these willful transgressions, but all the involuntary ones are tacked on to his rap sheet. So in this case, the involuntary (inebriation driven) sins are added to the voluntary (sober) ones.

He has upped the ante and has brought the sinfulness WNL – to a Whole Nother Level.

A perfect example is that it is very common for young men who are unmarried to be unable to withstand natural temptations and they fall in shmiras habris. We hope that HKBH will be very forgiving of this iniquity being that there is basically nowhere to go. But, once the young man marries, he can be expected to channel his temptations to the proper address and do teshuva for the past. This pasuk indicates that, if so, he will get off easy. In the past, he was “inebriated” – not in full control.

However, if even under these circumstances, when he has permissible options, he continues with this behavior, he is in trouble. He is “sober” now and more responsible to stay out of mischief. If he continues on the same path, he is demonstrating retroactively that he never did care to avoid this behavior. As such, not only will he have to answer for his current “sober” behavior, he will have to answer for his past “inebriated” behavior, as well.

Chazal tell us that no man is free of “cheht”. Cheht (חטא) means a human failing. A misstep. All of us do these. We can almost tell HKBH that we are “inebriated” and under duress. Hopefully, we’ll get off the hook. But when these activities become more willful and enter the realm of avon (עון) and pesha (פשע), we have brought things to a Whole Nother Level.

Let’s cut to the chase.

The Midrash Rabbah in Breishis 26:9 states:

Rav Huna says in the name of Rebbi – The generation of the Flood was not obliterated from the world until they [reached a stage where they] were writing gimumsiot – marriage contracts – to a fellow male or to a beast.

The message here is that even though mankind had degenerated to the point of rampant homosexuality or bestialty, nevertheless, as long as society officially considered it a taboo, HKBH was not angered enough to take the extreme step of destroying mankind. But once these practices became institutionalized as legitimate (alternative?) behavior, human society had reached the point of no return and had to be extinguished.

HKBH can tolerate this promiscuity as long as those who engage in it at least acknowledge that they are doing something immoral. But once it is redefined as moral, they have brought themselves down to a Whole Nother Level. As a consequence, this brought the waters of the Tahom Rabba up to a Whole Nother Nevel.

And so the gemara in Chullin 92a tells us:

Ulah says that this verse (the reference to 30 silver pieces in Zechariah 11:12) corresponds to the 30 commandments that the Bnei Noach accepted upon themselves, [and yet] they only uphold three of them.  (1) They do not write marriage contracts to fellow males (2) They do not sell the flesh of the dead in butcher shops (3) They respect our Torah.

Rashi explains:

Even though the non-Jews are suspect for homosexuality, and they even designate personal partners for their purposes, they are not so light-headed with this [negative] commandment to the extent that they will write to them marriage contracts.

This says that even though they are audacious enough to wantonly transgress 27 out of the 30 mitzvos that they accepted, they have the prudence not to transgress on these three – at the head of which is the taboo for institutionalizing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They have learned from the Great Flood that nothing angers HKBH more. It’s a very dangerous line to cross. Don’t mess with this.

This is a Whole Nother Level.

We see that in the times of Chazal, homosexuality (Same Sex Attraction – SSA) was as common as it is today. Still it was acknowledged within Judaism and without that it is not a good idea for Jew or non-Jew alike to give this condition the imprimatur of “marriage”.

A lot has changed since then.

In July of 2010 a 12-point Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community was released which currently has about 200 signatures from Modern Orthodox rabbis and laypersons. The gist of the statement was to say that even though our Halacha does not support SSA activity, the greater community needs to be compassionate and accepting of the struggles of those who are affected with it.  To its credit, in Principle 11, it expressly distanced itself from any kind of approval of “same-sex commitment ceremonies or weddings”.

I wrote a post about this Statement about two days later which basically echoed some of the objections of other pundits, predominately of one commenter on the Emes V’Emunah site that calls himself ClooJew. The most significant excerpt of his comment is this (emphasis mine):

By underscoring "our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect," the signatories go beyond dignity and respect, and enter the grey zone toward legitimization. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the inherent nature of a public pronouncement is to overemphasize the facts it pronounces. This is what the activist agenda of the gay community thrives on. The reason for gay pride parades is not simply to announce but to publicize and promote.

What Mr. ClooJew was expressing is that, even if we can deem the entire statement Halachically acceptable, what in Heaven’s name is the purpose of composing it? Liberal minded progressive Jews have no need for such a statement and right wing traditionalists like me will not appreciate it. So who was it written for?

Is there some “undecided” swing vote that they were targeting? Not on this issue, there isn’t.

He smells, as do I, a covert agenda which is a subtle step toward legitimization. To confirm this notion, I noted in my post that this statement was starkly devoid of a sense of reciprocity in terms of requiring the SSAs to acknowledge the sensitivities of us straights who strangely think that Klal Yisroel is meant to be a Mamleches  Kohanim and a Goy Kadosh. Indeed, one apologetic commenter wanted to claim that this was implied in a short phrase in Principle 7 which suggests that the SSAs need to take into consideration the “needs of the community” when deciding whether to be open about their orientation.  I personally reject this suggestion as grossly inadequate since it is written in the same sentence that contends that this decision is theirs alone to make.

Beyond that, at the end of my post I pulled out the clincher, but I need to rephrase was I was saying.

The statement was heralded as a call for acceptance and understanding and was trying very hard to avoid giving the impression that it was suggesting legitimization. However, if this was the sincere aim of this body, they would need to make an extra effort to denounce a sister movement that is openly promoting full legitimization. I noted that this statement was released a mere few days before the exceedingly audacious and provocative Gay Parade that is deliberately held in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh. If this group was sincere about calling for acceptance without legitimization, it would behoove them to speak out strongly against this abominable provocation and Chillul Hashem which took place merely two or three days later. Their silence was deafening. To my knowledge there is not a single signatory on record who spoke out against this perennial debacle.

למען ספות הרוה את הצמאה...

In my recent post about The RCANZ Revisited, I noted that at least two members of the RCANZ Executive committee are signatories on this statement – Rabbi James Kennard of Mt. Scopus College in Melbourne (hometown of Millie Fontana) and Rabbi Alon Meltzer, spiritual leader of Canberra, ACT (where Millie spoke to Parliament - well worth listening to but I cannot advocate watching her). And I also noted something else.

The statement that was released in 2010 was satisfied to refer to this group as “Jews who have a homosexual orientation” or “same-sex attractions” or the like but, yet, “struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values”. As I noted, this implies Jews who look like regular Jews and dress like regular Jews and in all other areas of life, behave like regular Jews. It very aptly and wisely did not hop onto the alphabet train. It seemed to be referring to those who are not in control of their “sexual orientation “and can be considered “inebriated” or “involuntary” in the sinfulness of this condition.

However, subsequent statements by some of the signatories of this document, in particular Rabbi Alon Meltzer of the Executive Committee of the RCANZ, extend this declaration to the more degenerate cars on the alphabet train – the BTQs on the LGBTQIA line.

The Bi-sexuals are shtufei zima plain and simple. They are not SSA (same sex attraction) but rather ASA (any sex attraction –AC/DC). They are forbidden in yichud with anybody. There can be no tolerance for this. Of course, if they are married to opposite gender spouses and have genuine kids, the kids are as kosher as anybody’s.

The Ts and Qs have more than just their sexual orientation messed up. I suppose a good percentage of them are not rational and can be Halachically deemed as shotim and are exempt from all positive mitzvos in the Torah (they are still not permitted to knowingly engage in arayos or any negative commandments). But if any of them are rational, there is no way to accept or excuse their lifestyle.

The Torah commands us to be Kedoshim and forbids us from numerous degenerate practices that are not intrinsically sexual (though they all come in one package). This includes cross-dressing (Lo Yilbash), weird hairstyles that almost always involve shearing the payos (Lo Takifu), tattoos (Ktovat Kaaka), and things like flashy clothes and body piercing can all go into the umbrella issur of Bechukoseihem lo teilechu. And a sex-change operation for a man is sirrus. All told, these are not people whose only “crime” is that they are looking for loving committed relationships in a family setting, just from the wrong side of the mechitza. And these are not people “struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values” even if they keep kosher and Shabbos (they sure don’t keep Taharas HaMishpacha!)

This is “adding the satiated on to the thirsty”. This is taking the SSA temptation to a Whole Nother Level. This is what we call a “slippery slope”.

All the way down to the Tahom Rabba.

So now we can finally talk about current events.

Australia adopted a law in 1961 called The Marriage Act and amended it in 2004 as the Marriage Amendment Act. This law is currently in force and it states that “marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” As such, same-sex couples are legally unable to be wed in Australia. Kol Hakavod.

Over the past decade there has been a growing demand to change the law to allow same-sex marriages, but this would require a popular vote, or a plebiscite. A plebiscite can only be done as an act of Parliament and, so far, Parliament was unable to garner the support for such a plebiscite because (drum roll…) it’s too expensive. So they proposed to conduct the vote via a Postal survey which does not require Parliamentary approval. This was challenged in the Australian Supreme court and, on Thursday, Aug. 31, a ruling was announced that the Postal Survey can proceed – since they promised to keep the price below $122M AUD. So now there will be an official nation-wide vote about changing this law (non-binding). Kol Habizayon.

On Sept. 4, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) issued a statement encouraging “citizens” to vote ‘no’ to reforming the Australia Marriage laws. And all Tahom Rabba broke loose.

Incidentally, this statement cannot be found on the RCV website, nor on its Facebook page.

Evidently, there was an enormous backlash. Where did this backlash come from?

I can tell you this. It wasn’t from non-Jews and it wasn’t from straight Torah observant Jews.

And this backlash was so strong that it sent the president of the RCV, Rabbi Daniel Rabin, reeling. Two days later he issued a personal apology on his own Facebook page. This is very strange because the RCV itself as a body did not formally retract the statement. This was a personal apology which said, among other things, “The RCV should not have told people how to vote and refrained from making a divisive statement.So this fellow is rebuking the statement of the RCV and said it shouldn’t have been issued - but he is the president that issued it!

Now, I’ve been advising the Australian Rabbinical councils (RCANZ and RCV) to refrain from making divisive statements since last June. They are very slow learners. But I digress...

Is this a retraction or not? If it is, we are looking at a Rabbinic body that is charged with leading the masses that has issued a statement which, in the main, is meant to reflect Jewish Halachic values - and they need to retract it?? (Or, if it wasn’t retracted – their own president has to personally apologize for it??)

Incidentally, it seems that the Vice President of the RCV, Rabbi Ralph Genende, actually resigned over this.

In my humble opinion, this statement was very appropriate but the opening paragraph was grossly misworded. Firstly, it definitely should not have targeted “citizens” as if to imply "Australians" - Jews and non-Jews alike. The statement should only address the constituents of the RCV. I think it was this blunder that gave the “Orthodox” Community Centre Ark Centre and the Caulfield Shule the impetus to publicly oppose it. Secondly, assuming it is a reflection of Halachic guidance, it should have been more resolute. (And, if it wasn’t Halachic guidance, they had no business issuing it.)

The first paragraph should have said something closer to this:

The RCV states that Orthodox Jewish Halacha does not recognize or sanction same-sex marriages. According to Talmudic and Midrashic sources, this practice is forbidden for Jews and Noahides. We urge all Jews and Noahides loyal to Halacha and Jewish tradition to vote accordingly.

Of course this comes across a bit firm, but Halacha is very firm. The point is once we narrow down the target audience to those who are actually interested in Halachic guidance, it is not too firm at all. (The rest of the statement softens it up, anyway.)

In any case, the RCV is reeling. They got into Tahom Rabba way over their heads. And why?

We have noticed, now and in the past, that the Australian Rabbinical councils are not interested in standing up for Halacha. Such a stance would result in their constituency shrinking to only include Jews who actually want to adhere to the Halacha. They are interested in “reaching out” to encompass the largest possible constituency even at the price of extreme compromises in Halacha. Instead of reducing their constituency to conform with upholding the Halacha, they feel it is wiser to expand the Halacha to conform to the “sensitivities” of a larger constituency. They call this being “progressive”. We call this being “regressive”.

למען ספות הרוה את הצמאה

As it stands, I saw in one report that besides Rabbi Rabin, at least six other RCV member Rabbis “distanced” themselves from this statement. Makes me ask: “Who approved of this statement to start with?"

The only member Rabbi who seems to have his eyes in his head and understand what's going on – and seems to have resigned – is Rabbi Chaim Cowen. He wrote (emphasis mine):

Taking a public position against the RCV on a matter which is clearly stipulated in Torah and codified by the Rambam, embraces a corrosive groupthink mentality which seems to be concerned more with popularity than integrity and fidelity to our Divine mandate.

Hey, I could have written that. As a matter of fact, I did (although on a different subject) – right HERE.

Now that I mention it, where are my friends from the RCANZ in all this?

They are quite vocally silent.

Rabbi Kennard disassociates himself from the statement and regards it as “wrong in itself.” Both he and Rabbi Mirvis say that it is not their role as a Rabbi to tell people how to vote. I don’t know about Rabbi Mirvis, but Rabbi Kennard has gotten a ton of flak for not coming out in support of a Yes vote. Rabbi Shamir Caplan (both RCV and RCANZ) did indeed write a letter to support those who “Orthodox Jews” who wish to vote Yes. Although it looks like he wouldn’t vote Yes himself, or at least he acknowledges this lifestyle as problematic, he understands that a Yes vote can be seen as a defense of Freedom of Religion.

Have LGBTQI philosophies become a religion?

Rav Yaakov Glasman has denied any personal involvement in this statement and does not want to support it. He states: “I believe the statement was ill-conceived and served no purpose in advancing the cause of Orthodox Judaism

As stated above, I agree with him due to the way it was written. But, I must comment, that he and his organization (RCANZ) are no strangers to ill-conceived statements that serve no purpose in advancing the cause of Orthodox Judaism.

He does indeed refer us to some earlier statements. He writes:  Our position on traditional marriage and the exemptions we expect for religious institutions should the Marriage Act be amended was submitted to the Government in January as part of the Senate’s Exposure Draft into the Marriage Amendment Bill. 

There were two statements issued in January. They can both be downloaded HERE as Submissions #128 and #133.

The first submission is #128 signed by Rabbi Dr. Benjami Elton. As Rabbi Glasman notes, it focuses on the need for religious institutions to be exempt from enforcement.  This is a very appropriate statement but it opens our eyes to a scary truth. There is something at stake here for the religious community. This statement discusses the idea of “Ministers of Religions” to be forced by law to officiate at these ceremonies. It does not mention a few other similar hazards such as schools being required to include same-sex relationship education in their science or social studies and the lawsuits against bakers for refusing to bake wedding cakes with same-sex motifs.

This puts to rest the notion that this is exclusively a civil matter and that religious bodies have no grounds to voice their opinions. These were the “justifications" for “Orthodox” bodies such as the JCC Ark Centre and Caulfield Shule and scores of commenters on numerous Facebook sites to object to the  RCV statement.

The second statement is Submission #133 and I am greatly disturbed by it. At the end of the statement it states:

At the same time, RCANZ and RCV reaffirms Judaism's fundamental obligation to respect and embrace all people irrespective of their sexuality and condemns in the strongest possible terms words or actions intended to denigrate or hurt others.

I don’t mean to be harsh (though I have a reputation for harshness to uphold) and I hate to say this but…there is no fundamental obligation in Judaism to embrace all people irrespective of their sexuality

In some cases it’s a good idea and appropriate to embrace these people and in some cases it is not. It depends on how sincere they are and if their actions can be deemed harmful to society at large or to individuals. Moshe tells us that if one is raveh – i.e. shogeg, involuntary, under duress, ”inebriated”, contrite and respectful then HKBH is willing to be “maavir” (forgiving). But if one is tzme’ah - provocative, callous, audacious, agenda-driven, self-serving, hedonistic, “sober” and a toevah, we must distance ourselves from them and cast them from our midst. We have no choice.  This is not out of bigotry or spite and it’s not out of vigilantism (which doesn’t seem to bother RCANZ anyway) and it’s not because we want to. It’s because we have to. We have to be a Mamleches Kohanim and a Goy Kadosh.

But it’s not just us. It’s all of mankind. The Midrash Rabba indicates that nothing angers HKBH more than legitimizing degenerate behavior with same-sex marriage singled out as a dealbreaker. This is not a “civil” issue or a “religious” issue. This is an existential issue and an apocalyptic issue. This is at a Whole Nother Level.

ורבצה בו כל האלה הכתובה בספר הזה.

May HKBH save us from the coming tsunami... because the Rabbinical Councils of Australia certainly will not.

ועל המדינות בו יאמר: איזו לחרב ואיזו לשלום...

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Judging the Judges - Part 3: The One Big Happy Family Court

Author’s Note – This is the third and final portion of the current multi-part post about how to think like a defense advocate. To appreciate this post, it is essential to first read the first half of the opening post – Part 1.

I am back from an exceedingly long unplanned cyber adventure to and from the Outback of Australia. I hope it’s done.  At long last, I am ready to move on and close my 3 part series which began last May.

So now, let’s talk about:

Episode 3 – Zvia Gordetzky

Before I begin, it is really important for the reader to understand the purpose and the premise of these posts.  So I must repeat once again, exactly what it says in the Author’s note above, that if you haven’t been following these posts, you really need to read the first half of the original post up to the sub-heading “Episode 1”.

In a word, the premise is that before we can make a valid judgment, we need to look at the whole picture. If we cannot do so, the judgment isn’t really valid. In my first post, I called this "thinking like a defense attorney".

I want to expand this into the medical field (since I mentioned forensics in my previous posts). Let’s learn an acronym:

What does this acronym stand for?

Several years ago I was taking classes on Psychology and counseling under Professor Joshua Ritchie (unemployment has its perks). He taught us that this is a well-known acronym in medical jargon and it means: Within Normal Limits.

In internal medicine it applies to things like vital statistics – temperature, heart rate, blood pressure or things like white cell count, cholesterol, blood sugar or even eyesight or hearing. If any of these attributes are WNL (within normal limits), then we can rule them out as not having an influence on the patient’s condition.  

In psychology, psychiatry and mental health, it refers to behavioral attributes that cannot be empirically measured. Thus if we want to determine if a patient is OCD, bi-polar, depressed, narcissistic, prone to violence or something along those lines, there are no precise measuring techniques. All we can do is administer behavioral tests and see if we feel the patient is WNL (within normal limits), or if they exceed normal limits (also WNL – Whole Nother Level).

Thus, if somebody has "WNL" marked on their chart for a given attribute, it means we can overlook this attribute when making a diagnosis, it is Within Normal Limits so it is not abnormal and so it has no influence.

But Prof. Ritchie told us that there is another meaning to the acronym WNL that is a bit more cynical and facetious. It likewise explains why a given attribute is ignored and not factored into the diagnosis. It stands for: We Never Looked! In other words, we never bothered to check.

Cynicism is just that, but if a medical practitioner makes a misdiagnosis because he accepted the “false” WNL in place of the true WNL, he will soon be an ex medical practitioner.

We all know that there is one more factor that any skilled diagnostician must take into account to ensure an accurate diagnosis. This is the patient’s medical or psychological history. This usually includes family background, as well. In short, for any diagnosis to be well grounded, we need to know where the patient is coming from, where he’s been and what he’s gone through.

Whenever these factors get written off as “WNL”, it’s supposed to mean that it’s because it’s “Within Normal Limits”.  But too much of the time it’s because “We Never Looked”.

In what I earlier called The Court of Public Opinion (Episode 1), I have learned that WNL is the standard. The public assumes that the aggressor is just like they are and we are not dealing with extenuating circumstances. They assign an automatic “WNL” to convince themselves that the circumstances are Within Normal Limits. That is why they are quick to judge this phantom fellow exclusively by their own standards. They are saying, “My behavior is 'within normal limits' (by my own standards) and if I were there, I wouldn’t act out like he did, so he is not entitled to act out that way, either (because he is also evaluated by my 'normal' standards). Since he unjustifiably acted out, he is surely a miscreant!

In theory, they might concede that if this villain is coming from somewhere else and has a different background and history (as I suggested), he can’t be judged the same way. But this is all in theory because they never entertain such thoughts. Hence, their WNL means – "We Never Looked".

In the second episode, Kangaroo Court, I basically wrote the same thing. I entertained the idea that we do not know enough about this alleged miscreant. Perhaps she is likewise a victim of abuse and, if so, now that she is no longer an active threat, we need to look at her status from this angle. (Actually, one commenter on that post boldly confirmed this suspicion straight out. Nevertheless, I have no idea who he is and I cannot consider his statement reliable on his say so alone.)

The feedback I got was more sinister than I expected. The WNL notation in this case did not really mean “Within Normal Limits” and it didn’t even mean “We Never Looked”. It meant “We’ll Never Look”. “We don’t care. We don’t want to know. We may find out something that will force us to retreat from our vindictive position, so let’s not look!”

So now we can finally discuss Episode 3 – the case of Zvia Gordetsky. As in the previous two cases, we have a blameless victim – Little Red Riding Hood - looking for sympathy and justice who thinks it’s a good idea to bring their cause to the public domain, and we have a villain who is undoubtedly the big bad wolf.

The basic story is that Zvia Grodetsky is a 53 year old Ukranian Jewish olah whose marriage went sour after 17 years and has spent an additional 17 years trying to obtain a get. Her husband has not been overly cooperative and so, the Beis Din ordered him to be locked up until he complies. After a 16 year standoff, Mrs. Grodetsky appealed to the government to annul her marriage. Unfortunately for her, the government has no authority to do such a thing; not legally and not Halachically. After spinning her wheels for eight days and suddenly discovering that she is not feeling well and is losing pay time for work, she ultimately abandoned her hunger strike.

This episode occurred last May and made headlines for about 10 days. It doesn’t look like there was any press coverage prior to May 2017 in the English language media and there doesn’t seem to have been any since then. I did manage to find a few earlier references to this case in the Hebrew media. The story was primarily carried in two Times of Israel articles, one on May 8 and the second on May 15, both of which written by Marissa Newman. Emes V’Emunah picked up the story on May 10 and that’s where I saw it.

At first glance, this case seems to be much more cut and dried than the other two episodes. In contrast to the Miriam Shear episode, we know precisely who the villain is. In contrast to the Malka Leifer episode, this case was litigated in a bona fide Beis Din. Beis Din heard the case and ordered a get b’keffiya – the strictest kind – apparently based on the claim of violence which seems to have been substantiated.

In the wake of all of this irrefutable information provided by the immutable Times of Israel, Rabbi (Dayan) Maryles at Emes V’Emunah passes his judgement:

I know that there are always 2 sides to every story. And we haven’t heard his. But anyone who is as evil as this guy is has lost his right to have a side! 

So the ruling of Dayan Emes V’Emunah is that (1) We know he is evil even though we haven’t heard his side and (2) since we are sure that he is evil even though we haven’t heard his side, he has lost his right to have a side!

Did you get that? (Me, neither.) This is taking Within Normal Limits beyond We Never Looked to a Whole Nother Level!

But this is not anything new. This is precisely the slippery slope that I was discussing in my post about Victims Turned Predator - the moment an individual is merely accused of indecent behavior, he becomes an automatic pathological liar and anything he says must be discounted even if it makes perfect sense. Conversely, some of the most ludicrous, irrational accusations are swallowed whole because they were stated by upstanding people who, of course didn’t witness them, but will swear they heard them from anonymous “reliable sources” (who, of course, didn’t witness them…).

It is gratifying to see that I am not the only sane meshugenah left in the world. At least three commenters on the Emes V’Emunah post called out Dayan Maryles on this paradoxical psak (saved me the trouble). And several of them pointed out some of the other issues that I have with this story.

Commenter A simply wrote:!קשיא רישא אסיפא. 

Commenter B wrote:

What in the world is the basis of your assessment of evil?...Because you fathom that he must be doing this to simply cause her to suffer? You have NO idea! Perhaps he's horrendously hurt and humiliated by whatever way she may have treated him that he simply can't (from a very sad and twisted emotional place) participate in the divorce process. This would be tragic, but far from "evil."

These were my thoughts exactly. I once heard Rabbi Berel Wein say in a tape: We all have our demons. It is how we deal with them that determines who we are. We are very quick to draw our own red lines in accordance to our personal standards and set our parameters for WNL – Within Normal Limits – and this is how we rationalize labeling anybody who crosses those lines as “evil" or “delinquent” without any regard for where they are coming from, what dilemmas they are facing, and what their true intentions are.

With regard to this particular case, here is another commenter – Commenter C - that reflects my thoughts (edited for typos – emphasis is mine): 

This [good] for nothing husband may deserve his jail sentence and other husbands probably cough up gittin quicker [once] they know the [chance] of incarceration exists. But this jail sentence obviously isn't working. Perhaps different approach should be attempted. … there are psychological methods of changing a person's mind. No torture necessary…

To be sure, nobody is exonerating this husband and nobody is, chas v’shalom, criticizing the Beis Din. The Beis Din is acting by the book and using its full arsenal which, unfortunately, is quite limited in this age of galus. But there is a reality here that we must acknowledge: “this jail sentence obviously isn't working…” and if you read my earlier post about the futility of prison, you may wonder over the fact that Beis Din is keeping this guy in jail...and who is paying for it?

I am! And you are (if you live here). And the dayanim of the BD are. (Though, Dayan Maryles is not.) And Zvia Gordetsky is - in more ways than one. One article says she may lose her house due to mounting debts.

So, I don’t see how it is in anybody’s interest to label this guy as “evil”, even if he is, and be eager to throw this guy in jail and throw away the key. Of course we don’t really want to let this guy play his game and manipulate his opponents, but, if we are all losing out, it may just be the sensible thing to do! And, in order to do so, we may need to change our WNL from "Within Normal Limits" to "We Never Looked" and look at the things we have not bothered to look at until now.

Without "looking" we won't really know all that much. As to be expected, the TOI article leaves out a lot of very fundamental details. Its goal is to shine the spotlight on the plight of the chained wife but not to waste much ink on how she got there. It tells us that her husband has been violent toward her but nothing else. It doesn’t even tell us her husband’s name, nor his age, nor where he’s from.

For the most part we can live without these details. But there is one additional missing detail that needs to be included in order to make any “judgements” about this story: 

WHY? Why doesn’t he want to give her a get?

The TOI articles don’t even tell us that. And, of course, it certainly is not getting involved in what kind of role the wife played in this drama. To Emes V’Emunah and, I surmise, to most of the world, even this doesn’t matter. Who cares? Beis Din heard the case and ordered a get b’keffiya. And our villain hasn’t delivered it. He is “evil”. So now we must sympathize with her cause to get the government to override the “system” or find some other way to change it.

What details can we uncover if we really "look"? (Note- these details all assume that the stated facts in TOI and other media are accurate.)

What is the husband’s name?

From the research I did, it seems that his first name is Meir.

Where is he from?

Let’s see. His wife was married (to him) 34 years ago when she was 19 – works out to 1983 – and she only made Aliya from the Ukraine in 1990. So the wedding in 1983 was in the Ukraine. Ergo, he is from the Ukraine, as well.

How old is he?

It doesn’t say, but let’s guess. The TOI article says that Zvia Grodetsky, now 53 was 19 when she got married. It is hard to imagine that Meir was younger than that. I don’t know what the typical age for marriage would be but a fair guess is the mid 20s. Let’s be conservative and say that he was about 24 (I suspect even older). This would make him 5 years older than her or 58 now and having been born about 1959 or earlier.

So we have learned that Meir Gordetsky was born in Ukraine most likely before 1960. This means he was born during Nikita Khrushchev’s watch and, as of 1964, grew up under the thumbnail of Leonid Brezhnev (who was in business until 1982). These guys were no Jimmy Carter. The Ukraine is not Toledo!

We also know that currently, he is observant. He wears tefillin and prefers mehadrin kashrus. One Hebrew article seems to say Zvia wanted to send their boys to a more Dati Leumi yeshiva where they could do bagrut and he insisted on a no-bagrut chareidi yeshiva. Although it looks like all the boys are doing army service.

These few facts open a plethora of other questions (that I don’t have the answers for).

Is he a full-fledged two sided Jew or is at least one of his parents not Jewish?
What kind of life did he have in the Ukraine during the Khrushchev/Brezhnev years?
Did he have any kind of Jewish education when he grew up?
What kind of person was his father? Easygoing? Tough? Religoius? Communist?
Is he still alive? If not, how old was Meir when he died?
What about his mother?
What kind of household did he grow up in? How well did his parents get along?
Did Meir serve in the army in the Ukraine?
Did he have a kosher wedding? Who was misader kiddushin? Who were the eidim?
Were they shomer Torah and mitzvos and Mikveh at that point?
Did they redo their wedding after they made Aliya?

Unless we know the answers to all of these questions, I don’t think we have an inkling of who we are dealing with. One thing is certain – he doesn’t come from the same place as does anyone who is reading this blog or Dayan Emes V’Emunah and even Times of Israel.

Let’s get up to date and ask the two big questions:

1)   What went wrong with their marriage?

2)   Why doesn’t he want to give a get?

For question #1, the TOI tells us that he has a tendency to be violent. The fact that Beis Din seems to have ordered a get b’keffiya indicates that their assessment confirms this assertion. Of course, we still know that it takes two to tango. Even somebody with a very short fuse can be a very pleasant person if others are not careless about setting him off. So the TOI tells us of a vague episode with a tragic aftermath. But we don’t know what triggered this episode to begin with.

For question #2, TOI doesn’t give us a clue. But a KanV’Achshav video interview on May 11 does. In the video, she says that he is withholding the get “l’tzorach nekama” which literally means “for the purpose of taking revenge”. Indeed, it may be just a way of saying “just for spite”. But if she really means for the purpose of taking revenge, what does he seek revenge for?

She continues in her statement that he contends “if I cannot be his, I cannot be anyone else’s”.

So, according to Zvia at least, he is violent, vengeful, and possessive. Not a positive resume. For those who have read up a lot about spousal abuse and narcissistic disorders, this looks like a textbook case. And it may be.

Of course, firstly, we have only heard her viewpoint. But, more importantly,  we are used to making these diagnoses based on Western cultural norms. When somebody is brought up in a healthy family setting in Queens or Toronto or Golder’s Green and their background statistics are really WNL – Within Normal Limits, then it is easy to determine that their current behavior is outside of the normal limits and this person is an outcast.

But when somebody comes from a place where the “Normal Limits” are different, where the threshold for what is considered “violent” or “possessive” may be on a higher scale, we need to know what the rules in his rulebook are before we can be sure that he is breaking them. At the same time, he may not be aware that in his current environment, which is not his native one, the tolerance level for acting out is much lower.

Is Meir Grodetsky evil and is he irrational?

Meir Gordetsky is a Jew who was born and raised on the dark side of the iron curtain in the days of Khrushchev and Berzhnev and is fundamentally shomer Mitzvos today – even if he doesn’t know how to treat his wife. He’s been through a ringer that most of us cannot imagine. He has never had it easy. There is a lot to be said for that. He is not a nobody.

I can't see how we are qualified to judge him.

What seems certain is that we are dealing with a typical domestic spat that escalated beyond the point of no return. Not necessarily the "cycle of abuse" but the "cycle of vengeance". We all know it. Wife messes up, like, let's say,  she doesn’t have supper ready on time. Could be her fault could be not. Doesn’t really matter. Husband overreacts. She responds to his reaction. He responds to hers…etc., etc.

Nobody addresses the initial grievances but rather how wrong the other was to react that way. And the couple winds up in court or BD claiming irreconcilable differences.

Once, I was shocked to hear that a close family member of mine was going to give his wife a get. When I saw this fellow’s mother, she simply told me, “It was a small fire that grew into a big fire.”

This condition comes from a combination of anger, pride, misunderstanding and unresolved grievances. But definitely not evil. He may be a tough "nut" to crack, but I am not convinced that he is a nut!

Like everyone else outside of the arena, I don’t know what really happened between Meir and Zvia. Same goes for the other two episodes I wrote about. But, as in the other two cases, I can make an educated guess based on the scanty information that was presented on the Net. But let me first clarify something that most people don’t realize about divorce.

Too many people think that divorce is a method of ending a bad marriage. Like euthanizing someone who is terminally ill. And that’s how they implement it; to put the marriage to death.

This is not what it is meant to be.

Divorce is a funeral for a marriage that has already died.

You don’t bury someone who’s not dead, no matter how poor are his chances. So, if the marriage isn’t dead, don’t bury it!

So, when is it dead?

For the death of a person, we have clinical definitions. We can all agree that if someone has no pulse, no brain activity and doesn’t breathe, he’s dead. From the Jewish standpoint, if he has one of the three, he’s not dead. It’s too early to bury him.

A marriage involves two people and doesn’t have such clear indicators. So it becomes very subjective. I think a marriage is only dead when both sides think it is. As long as one side doesn't think so, it's not 100% dead and not  time to bury it.

It often happens that it may be dead to one party before its dead to the other; so one party goes on his or her own to prepare for the funeral while the other still wants to resuscitate it. In the eyes of Party B, Party A is burying a marriage that is not yet dead; essentially euthanizing it.  

Beis Din is meant to be the chevra kadisha for a dead marriage - not the ones to put it to death. If one feels that there is absolutely no hope for their marriage (i. e., that the marriage is dead), it is a good idea to make sure that the other side agrees to the status before transferring the “niftar” to the "morgue". Divorces are always much smoother when both sides acknowledge that the marriage is dead. In this case, the BD “chevra kadisha” is doing both sides a service.

But if Party A takes the “body” to the morgue before Party B acknowledges that it is dead, then Party B will forever think that Party A killed a marriage that could have been saved and that Beis Din is their accessory to the killing. It doesn’t matter what the truth is because once the body is buried, nobody can prove that it wasn’t still alive when it was brought to the morgue.

I have a feeling that Zvia Gordetsky brought the case to Beis Din a bit too soon. She may have convinced herself that there was no hope for her marriage, but he wasn’t convinced. And, who knows? Maybe he was right. He wasn’t born in Toledo or Queens or Golders Green or Eretz Yisroel. He is from Communist USSR. It could be that however he dealt with his wife over here does not typically spell the end of marriages where he comes from. In his eyes, she ran to Beis Din when there was still hope for their marriage. And Beis Din did her bidding and declared the marriage dead without his agreement. So he is angry at her and even more angry at Beis Din. As far as he is concerned, these two entities conspired to kill the marriage before it was really dead.

He is angry at them. Very angry. He won’t let them “break him” and he is even willing to forgo tefillin and mehadrin kashrus and minyanim and everything else to defy the people who buried his marriage before [he could acknowledge that] it was dead.

We will never know if his grievance is justified or not but it could be. In any case, I think this is what Commenter B in Emes V’Emunah was saying: “Perhaps he's horrendously hurt and humiliated by whatever way she may have treated him that he simply can't (from a very sad and twisted emotional place) participate in the divorce process.”

And Commenter C joins in: But this jail sentence obviously isn't working. Perhaps different approach should be attempted. …

It looks to me that both Zvia Gordetsky and the Beis Din are treating Meir like a “nobody”. And, if this is so, I can assure you that “nobody” is going to give her a get. I think all sides need to acknowledge that he has a grievance, whether it is justified or not. And perhaps they need to address his grievance on his terms.

Maybe if she stops using Beis Din as an accessory and lets him out of jail (at least for now) and stops running to the media and the Knesset so he can be painted as “evil” and does some honest professional gishur (mediation) like the new law dictates, just maybe her dead marriage can be brought to a proper burial.

Or, even better, maybe we can even see a techiyas hameisim.