Monday, September 30, 2013

NYC suit against Orthodox Jewish stores to go to trial 

A New York City judge has ruled the city's suit against Orthodox Jewish stores that require customers to dress modestly will go to trial.

The dispute started after several of the Brooklyn stores put up signs that read, "Entrance here only for those with modest attire. No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, NO Low Cut Neckline ALLOWED IN THIS STORE," the New York Post reported.

The city has alleged the signs are discriminatory against women and non-religious people who may feel unwelcome in the stores.

"The whole key is, 'How does that sign make someone feel? How would a person feel looking at that sign and [about] whether he or she is welcome in that store?'" said Clifford Mulqueen of the city's Commission on Human Rights.

However, the store owners say their rules are no different than dress codes at fancy restaurants.

"Frankly, it's very troubling that the commission thinks it's OK for the Four Seasons restaurant to impose a dress code but not a bakery owned by a Hasidic businessman," lawyer Jay Lefkowitz said.

A two-day hearing in the case has been scheduled for January, officials said.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Designing for the frum fashionista 


Just before Maria Patricia de Sousa set out for a yearlong stint at a seminary in Jerusalem seven years ago, she stopped by the house of an Orthodox Jewish woman in her home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

She wanted to find out about life in Jerusalem — where to eat, how to get around, what to bring for a Shabbat gift. But de Sousa soon learned that she had overlooked a major detail.

Her guide to the Orthodox world took one look at her — “Dressed,” de Sousa says, “like a typical girl in the summer in Brazil” — and said gently, ‘I think you’re going to have to find some new clothes.’”

Seven years later, the woman now known as Esther Goldberger is the proprietor of DellaSuza, a Montreal-based fashion line for religious women.

Goldberger, 36, designs the label’s lightweight dresses, tops, and skirts at home, and produces them with a small staff at her office.

“I started DellaSuza as a one-woman operation,” she says. “And there were many, many nights of insomnia and a lot of work.”

A former bilingual secretary and Baptist Sunday school teacher, Goldberger says she started to read about Judaism and “fell in love” with the faith. She studied the religion in Brazil, which eventually led her to a seminary in Har Nof, an Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood. She was the only non-Jewish student there.

Her decision to convert horrified her Baptist family.

“In the beginning they freaked out,” Goldberger recalled. “But they accept me with love, and that’s it.”

Goldberger met her husband online, inspiring another move, this time to Canada. She and Artie settled down in his hometown, Montreal.

She quickly found life as a housewife lacking and decided to study fashion at the city’s LaSalle College. Again, Goldberger says, she was the only Jewishly observant woman in her class.

Goldberger is the latest to join a small cadre of designers who have sought to remake haute couture for Orthodox women, whose modesty requirements make much of mainstream fashion inaccessible. But while many designers for Orthodox women focus on formalwear for special occasions, Goldberger says that she saw an opportunity to design modest clothing that can meet the demands of a religious woman’s everyday life.

“So many of these women want to dress in something comfortable to go to the store, to run after their kids in the park, but nobody thinks about them,” Goldberger says.

Her clothing designs reflect her sunny personality — bright colors and vivid patterns — all within the confines of modesty laws. Goldberger also writes a series of chatty columns about fashion for the Jewish Press, an Orthodox newspaper, with titles such as “The Glitzy World of Inverted Triangles.”

Goldberger is excited about the possibilities of expanding her line, providing modest clothing for Muslim and Christian women. She says she still struggles with convincing people, including her husband, that designing clothes is more than just a hobby.

“All my life it’s always been the same,” she said. “When I started studying Judaism in Brazil, I heard, ‘No, that’s not for you.’ The same thing when I met my husband online, and when I decided to start a fashion line. ‘Don’t think about that! That’s not for you!’

“But I never listen,” Goldberger says. “I just keep going.”



Saturday, September 28, 2013

Both Mayoral Candidates Pandering To Hasidic Voters Over Snip-N-Suck Circumcision 

Throughout this election season, almost all the major mayoral candidates have weighed in on the controversial circumcision consent forms that require Orthodox Jewish parents to sign a waiver before their infant can undergo the "metzitzah b’peh" ritual. Considering how strong the Hasidic voting block is, it's no surprise that candidates as disparate as Bill Thompson and Erick Salgado have tried to appeal to community leaders. Now that we're down to just Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, both men are vying for those votes—and both have been willing to contradict and compromise themselves in pursuit of that.

The "metzitzah b’peh" ritual is the circumcision practice in which a mohel sucks the blood from a freshly snipped foreskin. Back in early May, Lhota said the signed consent forms were “a reasonable approach” to inform parents what the risks are. “If you understand the risks, and you sign it that you understand the risks, then the burden is on you,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do. That’s what government should do.”

But as the Times points out, Lhota changed his tune last month, calling consent forms absolutely wrong: “I don’t believe that you need to be given a piece of paper and you must sign it on the dotted line,” he said. He added that he wouldn't require the person who performs a circumcision to obtain a signed consent form from parents. Last week, as you can see in the video below, he met with Hasidic leaders to awkwardly reiterate that he is in favor of getting rid of the snip-n-suck consent forms.

When asked about this a few days ago, Lhota retorted, “My position hasn’t changed.” His spokeswoman, Jessica Proud, expanded upon that: “Mr. Lhota has been consistent in his position that the role of government is to educate, not mandate. After speaking with Jewish leaders early on in his campaign, he gained a better understanding of their concerns and slightly evolved his position so that new parents would receive the information, but not have to sign anything.”

De Blasio's stance on the consent forms has been just as slippery. Back in the spring, he gave a guarded but positive response, criticizing the administration for not reaching out to the community, but not saying he was against the forms. At a forum in late May, he basically used it as another chance to separate himself from Bloomberg: "I think the mayor approached this the wrong way...I would start over and change the policy to find a way to protect all of our children but also respect religious tradition.”

Then this past month, members of the Anronite sect of Satmars endorsed de Blasio (see video below), noting that "he's the only candidate who recommitted himself now to guarantee that we as orthodox Jews can practice the metzitzah b’peh without compromise."

But while those constituents were under the impression that de Blasio would change the rule "right away" if he is elected, spokesman Dan Levitan told the Times that those comments did not accurately reflect his position—he said de Blasio would keep the consent form policy in place until a better solution was found.

Just to summarize: Lhota was pro-consent forms, then he wasn't, because he believes government shouldn't mandate health regulations, except when it has to. And de Blasio was also in favor of the forms, except he doesn't like how Bloomberg introduced them, and then he wanted to get rid of them and start over, but now he probably will just keep them in place. Considering how slippery all of this is, it's a good thing we can at least understand their stances on pasta.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hague court jails man for anti-Semitic shirts 

A court in The Hague sentenced a man to two years in jail for stocking T-shirts featuring anti-Semitic slogans.

The appeals court in The Hague ruled Tuesday that the T-shirts, with a slogan that read “Destroy Zionism” and the image of a gun pointing at a hasidic Jew, were an insult to the Jewish community and an incitement to hatred and discrimination.

The man, 37, also had neo-Nazi T-shirts in his possession.

The more than 40 T-shirts were seized during a raid of the man’s home in connection with a drunken attack on another man.



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Former Jewish Charity Head Charged With Grand Larceny, Money Laundering 

The former head of a major Jewish charity will face charges he stole nearly a million dollars from the group.
William Rapfogel is being charged with grand larceny and money laundering.
He was fired from the Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty over the summer after the organization claimed it uncovered misconduct over its insurance policies.
The group receives millions of dollars in public money.
An investigation by the state state Attorney General and the state Comptroller led to the charges against Rapfogel.
The 58-year-old has longstanding ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
His wife, Judy, is Silver's chief-of-staff.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Web surfers asked to fund Chabad house 

Rabbi Eliezer Lyons managed this month to raise NIS 43,700 (about $12,800) through the Headstart website out of his NIS 100,000 ($28,500) funding goal for the establishment of a Chabad house in Queenstown, New Zealand.

According to Lyons, in recent years quite a few wealthy people who supported Chabad financially have stopped giving donations to the Hasidic movement, so most Chabad houses set up recently are extensions of existing centers, making the establishment of a new Chabad house a particularly difficult mission these days.

"We reached the conclusion that in order to establish a Chabad house, we need an initial sum of about NIS 100,000," explains Rabbi Lyons, who is originally from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.

"Contrary to what many of my secular friends think, the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not give us money to establish a Chabad house, the Foreign Ministry does not pay either, and the Jewish Learning Center in New York, which coordinates the emissaries' activity around the world, allots each emissary just $10,000."

Strategic location
The young rabbi, only 24 years old, began his career as an emissary at the age of 16. He studied in Chabad yeshivot in Safed and Jerusalem, and during his vacations he traveled to help at the Chabad houses in Amsterdam and Costa Rica. After the murder of the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, India, he went over there too.

About two years ago he married Chaiky (Chaya), who was born in Kfar Chabad, and the two decided to establish a Chabad house in the city of Queenstown in south New Zealand, as the area is particularly popular among Israeli hikers.

Southern New Zealand had a Chabad house in the past, in the city of Christchurch, but after a strong earthquake which destroyed many of the buildings in the area, the local emissary decided to relocate the activity to Auckland in the north of the country.

But Rabbi Lyons still has a long way to go before he fulfills his dream. "Over the years I got to know hundreds of Israeli hikers and maintained a strong and ongoing connection with them even after they returned to Israel. I also travel abroad in a bid to get donations, and Israeli hikers I spoke to told me about the Headstart website, which allows fundraising."

"We now want to open the Chabad House for the traveler in Queenstown, south New Zealand," Eliezer and Chaiky Lyons write on their Headstart fundraising page. "It's a very strategic location in terms of the movement of travelers, departing to treks and coming back from them, and the Chabad house can give the travelers essential service.

"The Chabad House will be a warm home and open home to any traveler. Awaiting the traveler there will be an Internet corner, which will enable contact with home and friends. On the bulletin board you can find important messages. Coffee and cookies will be offered and also nutritious meals.

"On Shabbat and holidays we will dine together in a happy and uplifting atmosphere. On each holiday the travelers will encounter the holiday’s characteristics – a shofar on Rosh Hashana, a sukkah on Sukkot, a Hanukkah menorah on Hanukkah, matzoh on Passover.

"In the synagogue they will be able to pray with a minyan, to hear the Torah reading and join a small and knowledgeable class. If your passport is lost, or G-d forbid in the event of an arrest or a disaster – we will be there for you," they promise.

2 flight tickets to New Zealand
A short tour of the popular website revealed to the young Chabadnik that it's easier to raise funds for a real product, like a book or an album, than for a house of "Torah, prayer and charity," as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said.

Buy Lyons did not give up. He decided that whoever donates NIS 50 ($14) will receive a personal letter of gratitude, and whoever chooses to invest NIS 120 ($34) will get a fancy copy of the Tanya book which will be printed in a limited and numbered edition at the new Chabad house in New Zealand.

According to the website's rules, if the project does not reach its funding goal before the campaign time runs out, all donations will be returned to the investors.

And so for the 54 days left till the end of the campaign, Lyons is extending the range of donations: Whoever gives NIS 180 ($51) will receive a special tour in Kfar Chabad, including a meeting with senior officials in the Hasidic movement, a visit to an etrog orchard and Building 770, and matzo baking.

Whoever donates NIS 360 ($103) will get to participate in a raffle for two flight tickets to New Zealand.

Eliezer and Chaiky Lyons conclude their request by saying, "Let's join together, each one will give a shoulder, and we will all be partners in establishing a new Chabad House at the other end of the world. We will be there physically for all the travelers, but we will always remember those who helped us build the place."



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Next big NYC camera installation set for Jewish neighborhood where boy was nabbed, dismembered 

In a city that's ramped up surveillance since the 9/11 attacks, the next big installation of security cameras is not in the bustle of midtown Manhattan or near a well-known tourist attraction but in a leafy section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Orthodox Jewish population.

A hundred security cameras will be installed on public lampposts throughout the Midwood and Borough Park neighborhoods in the coming months _ the result of a $1 million state grant secured in the wake of a horrifying tragedy: the 2011 abduction, dismemberment and murder of an 8-year-old Hasidic boy named Leiby Kletzky.

The taxpayer-funded security system will augment an already insular Orthodox community that has its own volunteer police force, ambulances and schools.

"This was a one-time initiative as a result of what happened," said Rabbi David Tanenbaum, executive director of community services for Agudath Israel, the umbrella nonprofit group for the Hasidic community that is the beneficiary of the grant. "They looked for a reaction to a terrible tragedy, not for the area that might have necessarily needed it the most."

The Leiby Kletzky Security Initiative, as it is called, was announced by state Assemblyman Dov Hikind and state Sen. Dean Skelos a year after the gruesome killing of the boy, whose body parts were found in a freezer and inside a red suitcase tossed into the trash.

According to state documents, the grant will pay for the 100 cameras to be installed and maintained by Secure Watch 24, a private security firm, which will keep the recorded data for up to five years. The grantee is an LLC effectively controlled by Agudath Israel, which has lobbied many state and city officials on a host of issues.

But some have questioned whether there is a need for cameras in an area where crime is considerably lower than in other parts of the city.

"It's who you know and who you can get to pull the purse strings to come to your rescue," said Tony Herbert, a community advocate in Brooklyn who speaks out against gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods like Brownsville. "All we can do is jump up and down and make some noise to put a fire under the feet of our elected officials."

In the 66th precinct, where Leiby's slaying occurred, there were no homicides reported last year and only one so far in 2013. That's compared to 14 homicides last year and seven this year just 6 miles away in the 73rd precinct in Brownsville.

But Hikind insists the cameras are necessary in the Jewish neighborhoods, where he said the potential for crime _ if not actual crime _ was ever-present.

"It's not that we have more crime than another community, but being that it's a Jewish area, there's probably at least the potential for more anti-Semitic acts," he said.

Anti-Semitism played no role in Leiby's death.

The boy was abducted by Levi Aron _ a member of the Orthodox community, though not Hasidic _ who lived in the same general area. The boy asked him for directions and Aron promised to take him home but instead eventually suffocated him inside his apartment. Aron said later that he killed the boy when he saw the missing-person posters amid a massive police search and got nervous. He was caught, in part, after detectives pieced together security footage of Leiby's walk home.

Aron pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping and is serving 40 years to life in prison.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks New York City has acquired thousands of security cameras, funded mostly through federal homeland security grants or by private companies and placed predominantly near iconic Manhattan locations and the World Trade Center site.

Civil libertarians have raised privacy concerns about the proliferation of cameras, in general, and the Leiby Kletzky initiative specifically.

Access to and management of the cameras in Brooklyn was not entirely clear. The New York Police Department referred all questions about the security system to Secure Watch 24, which didn't respond to requests for comment.

Hikind said police and volunteer police groups would have access to the cameras after a significant crime only by making formal requests to Secure Watch 24.

"God forbid something happens, there's an incident, the police will have access to the video tape," he said.

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she was concerned that a private company would be managing a state-funded camera network placed on public property.

"I've never heard of the city farming out surveillance power like this," she said. "This horrific crime generated enormous pain in the community, but it's naive to think that a network of surveillance cameras is the answer to fears for the safety of our children."

In Borough Park, where the memory of Leiby's killing is still fresh, residents were generally supportive of the cameras despite any privacy concerns.

"You always have to compromise for the greater interest of being secure," said Leon Eisner, 65. "It's such a tight community we have here, you want to keep it safe."



Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Jewish community chooses to rejoice 

The men gathered their children and hurried across San Jose Boulevard.

One man covered his children in light-reflective safety vests. His beard reached down to his tie, his sons’ tufts of hair tucked behind their ears.

Jewish law tells men not to shave the side of their heads, just like it tells them that on certain days not to push the button that would activate a walking signal across eight lanes of speeding cars. Esther Ohayon died making the same trek.

On Thursday morning, men chanted in Hebrew along with the rabbi at the Orthodox synagogue for Sukkot, one of the happiest festivals of the year, a weeklong celebration of God feeding and caring the Jews while they wandered the desert.

After prayers and songs, Etz Chaim Rabbi Yaakov Fisch spoke about the holiday. We must be glad, he said, even when rejoicing is hard. Learn from what happened. Learn from Esther’s life. Use your time wisely. Study the Torah.

“If you remember that life is fragile,” he said, “you’ll remember that life is precious.”

The day before, the Jewish families who live across the street began building sukkahs, the huts that symbolize the temporary homes of the Jews in the desert thousands of years ago. The sukkahs are built with bamboo and wood. Families eat meals inside the hut for a week, unless it rains.

Like a sukkah, Esther offered protection, wrote the head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School where she worked.

Though Esther attended the Hasidic Chabad, she would walk her 16-year-old daughter across San Jose to the Orthodox Etz Chaim, past four lanes of zooming cars, stop in the median, breathe, and then past four more lanes.

Orthodox Jews, who closely adhere to Jewish law, generally live close together and close to their synagogue so they can walk on the Sabbath.

In Jacksonville, the Orthodox synagogue was established in 1901 in Springfield, then it moved to Riverside, then University Boulevard. Now the synagogues — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform — are strung along San Jose Boulevard.

The Ohayons were well connected to the Jewish community. Esther worked at the Jacksonville Jewish Center — the Conservative synagogue — as a preschool teacher, and her daughter, Orly, had graduated from the center’s elementary school. Esther mostly attended Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov’s Chabad, the Hasidic Orthodox center on Haley Road, while Orly mostly attended Etz Chaim, the Orthodox synagogue.

Esther had lost her husband long ago to lung cancer after he spent years breathing chemicals at the Shipyards. Orly was about 3 years old by Kahanov’s memory. Esther wouldn’t let Orly cross the street alone. Not when she was 3. Not when she was 12 and had become a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the law.

Not when she was 16 and became the vice president of Etz Chaim’s youth program. Not on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, on a Sabbath night in the Hebrew year 5774, on Sept. 13.

For whatever reason, Esther Ohayon and her daughter, Orly, were running late to service that Friday night. Yom Kippur is the day when the fate for the new year in the Hebrew calendar is sealed, when Jews can be made clean again. It’s even holier when it begins on a Friday night, the Sabbath.

The law says Jews cannot work after the sun sets on Friday.

God created the Earth in six days, the Torah says. On the seventh day, the Earth didn’t stop blossoming, but God rested. He didn’t add to his creation, and so Jews are told they cannot create energy. If a light is left on, it cannot be turned off. If a light is left off, it cannot be turned on.

Esther could not push the button that would’ve given her 49.5 seconds. Without pushing it, she would have had a minimum of about 11 seconds to cross eight lanes and a median at 7:30 on a Friday night in Mandarin.
A driver approached the intersection of Haley and San Jose. The 66-year-old man had about 20 traffic citations in Duval County alone. Also, Michael Fortunato had driven into and killed a 6-year-old girl a half-mile away a few years earlier.

Someone rushed into the temple screaming. Rabbi Fisch told youth Rabbi Shaya Hauptman to find out what happened.

By the time Hauptman and the synagogue president arrived at the police tape, Orly had been taken in an ambulance.

A white sheet covered the body of her mother.

Hauptman talked to police from the caution tape. The body is holy and needs to be treated with respect. No autopsies. Esther needed to be flown to Israel as soon as possible so she could be buried beside her husband.

Then someone told them Orly’s heart stopped beating in the ambulance.

Inside the temple, youth wept. Hauptman gathered them in a library.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. He urged them to sing Psalms, asking God to merit the good deeds in Orly’s favor.

They sang the first 22 Psalms together. Starting with the 23rd one, the one that in English says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”; they split the remaining Psalms into groups. Over a few hours, they sang all 150.

About midnight, they left the temple and walked across San Jose to their homes.

Orly, Hauptman told his students during Yom Kippur’s service the next day, was alive.

She was stable in the intensive care unit at UF Health. Their prayers, Hauptman told them, had made a difference.

The dozen or so boys and girls, he later said, cried with relief, and Hauptman urged them to continue praying.

Hauptman sent a message on the youth group’s Facebook page, encouraging them to focus on study and good work so that God might heal Orly.

He didn’t mention Esther. He didn’t want the focus to be negative.

Soon after, a Facebook page sprouted for people to sing healing prayers. Within a week, it grew to 1,500 members.

A “Bike for Orly” fundraiser ride in Israel started. About 150 people in Jerusalem gathered at the Western Wall to pray. A concert scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Jerusalem has 130 people attending on Facebook.

A spreadsheet on Google Drive gathered the names of more than 315 people who promised to observe more laws because of her. Some people promised to read more Psalms. Some promised to attend services more often. Some promised to dress more modestly.

The people signing the document came from New York and Chicago, Minneapolis and Calgary, Houston and Seattle, Germany and Israel.

After Esther’s death, Fisch met with officials from the Florida Department of Transportation, and he plans to meet with them again when Sukkot, one of three mandated festivals, ends. During Sukkot and the Sabbath, he again cannot call or access email.

For years, Etz Chaim congregants have feared someone would get hurt crossing the street. They’ve asked for a pedestrian overpass or any way to add safety for walkers.

Fisch had emailed state Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, in mid-April asking to change the timer on lights to automatically give extra time to pedestrians on days of services.

On the north side of the road, there’s a sensor that detects when someone walks up to it, but for the Orthodox Jews who aren’t allowed to activate the sensor, it’s useless.

During Sukkot service, Fisch assured his congregants that he will be lobbying for their safety.

At the Chabad across the street, Joseph Glenn had recently moved to Jacksonville and began attending services. Before that, he hadn’t attended many services in South Florida where he had worked on transportation construction contracts. After Yom Kippur, he put together an action plan that he shared with the rabbis of Chabad, the Jacksonville Jewish Center and Etz Chaim.

He attached a flier about solar-powered speed limit signs that flashes drivers’ speeds and a flier about flashing LED beacons that alert drivers to pedestrian crossings.

Fisch spent the four days between the end of Yom Kippur and the beginning of Sukkot reminding people of reasons to celebrate.

“It’s definitely challenging to celebrate in times of grief,” he had said on Tuesday, reminding himself “how precious every day is and how much we have to be thankful for: for every day we have of life.”

Wednesday, the men put the finishing touches on their sukkahs.

At the Chabad, the sukkah remained unadorned. During the night service, men clapped and danced and sang in Hebrew. Most men wore black suits with black hats and black beards sometimes so long they pushed them out of the way and over their shoulders as they ate, while women sat on the left side of the temple. A veil separated them.

Some of the men joined for a dinner celebration. Sukkot, after all, is a happy holiday.

The celebration lasted for hours, ending at 11 p.m. when clouds and rains gathered over the hut. Over wine and vodka and bread and meat, one man said he was thankful that Esther was able to die during the holiest moment of the year, minimizing what suffering she might feel in the afterlife.

God, Rabbi Kahanov said, “does not give you a challenge you can’t handle.”



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chag Sameach 


Australia jury convicts former Jewish school guard of raping student 

A former security guard at an Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne was convicted of child rape and molestation.

David Cyprys, 44, was a contract worker for Yeshivah College, a Chabad-run boys' school, when he abused nine boys in the 1980s and early 1990s.
A jury at the County Court of Victoria found him guilty last month of raping one of the boys five times between 1990 and 1991. Cyprys also was found guilty of abusing eight others.

Three of the 12 victims who initially brought the charges live in America.

A suppression order had prevented media from reporting the trial, which began on August 12, but Judge Peter Wischusen lifted the media ban Tuesday after Cyprys pleaded guilty and accepted a plea bargain.

Manny Waks of the victims' advocacy group Tzedek hailed Cyprys' conviction but said Yeshivah College failed to protect children in their care.
"From our perspective, the Yeshivah Center must be held to full account for everything they have known and the cover-ups and the way they treated victims," he said.

Last month a non-Jewish junior girls basketball coach of a Maccabi team in Melbourne was jailed for eight years for sex crimes between 1999 and 2000. In July, David Kramer, a former teacher at Yeshivah College, was jailed for three years for molesting four boys between 1989 and 1992.
The current principal of Yeshivah College, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, apologized "unreservedly" for the "historical wrongs" following the Kramer sentencing in July.

Cyprys' wife, Michelle Coleman, said the issue highlighted the importance of sex education in Orthodox institutions.

"Had those involved been able to have frank discussions with teachers and mentors about religiously sensitive issues such as sexual contact prior to marriage and sexual orientation, a great deal of hurt and pain could have been avoided all around," she wrote on J-Wire, a local Jewish website.
Cyprys was remanded to custody and will reappear on November 8 for a plea hearing.



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No negotiations on Schneerson collection possible until suit against Russia withdrawn from U.S. court - presidential envoy 

No negotiations on the future of the so-called Schneerson Library, i.e., a collection of old Jewish books and manuscripts built by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson in the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century, are possible until a New York-based Hasidic organization withdraws its lawsuit against the Russian Federation, says Mikhail Shvydkoi, a Russian presidential envoy for international cultural cooperation.

"There can be no talk at all until the withdrawal of this lawsuit, which I see as unlawful and absolutely legally void in relation to the Russian Federation," Shvydkoi said at a press conference at the Interfax main office on Tuesday.

"And then, if the lawsuit is withdrawn, there are always opportunities for any negotiations," he said.

Shvydkoi suggested, however, that the Schneerson collection dispute may actually be considered closed.

"I believe the Schneerson collection issue has been closed. The library has been handed over to the Tolerance Center, which is in fact a cultural center of the large Hasidic community in Russia. These books are sacred to the Hasidim. They are kept by people for whom they are sacred. The books have never left the Russian Federation. I believe the problem has been settled," Shvydkoi said.

"It is a different matter how to treat the lawsuit by the U.S. Hasidim. It seems to me that a solution should be judicial. But this is not our issue. This might be an issue for the U.S. administration and its citizens even more than it is an issue for the Russian administration," he said.

Part of the Schneerson book collection was nationalized by Bolsheviks in 1918 and eventually joined the Russian State Library collection. Schneerson managed to take the other part of the collection out of the Soviet Union while emigrating in the 1930s. About 25,000 pages of manuscripts from the collection were later seized by the Nazis, then were regained by the Red Army and handed over to the Russian State Military Archive.

The New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch religious community has been seeking the Schneerson collection's handover since the end of the 1980s.

On August 6, 2010, a federal judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, ruled that the Hasidim proved the legitimacy of their claims to the ancient Jewish books and manuscripts, which, in his definition, are kept at the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archive illegally.

The Russian Foreign Ministry challenged the judgment.

It was reported on January 17, 2013 that a U.S. district court in Washington had ruled to oblige Russia to pay $50,000 a day as a fine until the Schneerson collection is returned to Chabad-Lubavitch based on the 2010 court order.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the library's handover to the U.S. was impossible and proposed placing it with the Jewish Tolerance Center in Moscow to make it available to anyone.

Boruh Gorin, the head of the public relations department of the Russian Jewish Community Foundation (RJCF), told Interfax earlier that all the 4,500 books from the library would be moved to the Jewish Tolerance Center before the end of the year. The books from the Schneerson Library located in the Russian State Library are now being inventoried and scanned as part of the preparations for their transfer to the center. There are plans to scan 500-700 books a month, Gorin said.

A judge in Washington ruled on June 20 that Russia's refusal to give the Schneerson collection to the U.S. Hasidic community was inappropriate and unlawful.

The Russian Culture Ministry and the Russian State Library filed a suit with the Moscow Court of Arbitration, seeking to oblige the U.S. Library of Congress to return seven books from the Schneerson collection, which had been stored at the Russian State Library and were lent to it in 1994 for temporary use under the international library exchange system. The nonprofit organization Agudas Chassidei Chabad, to which the Library of Congress lent the books, is also party to the litigation.



Monday, September 16, 2013

A Double Standard on Kaparot: Chickens Suffer More on Factory Farms 

This week thousands of chickens are being slaughtered as part of the 'Kaparot' ritual performed by some Orthodox Jews before Yom Kippur. A live chicken is rotated over the head, expiation prayers recited and then the fowl is slaughtered by slitting its throat with a knife as sharp as a scalpel. The meat is then donated to the poor.

The ritual is arguably more humane than the standard factory farming practices of cramming poultry in crates, hanging them upside down by their ankles, stunning them with an electrical charge, then cutting their throats and arteries, yet Orthodox Jews doing Kapparot are often singled out for public criticism and scrutiny.

The real difference between Kaparot and factory farming is that factory farming takes place behind closed doors, whereas Kaparot is usually performed in very public places, like the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.

Disturbingly, very few laws exist regulating maltreatment of poultry. Thirty statesexclude fowl and farm animals from anti-cruelty laws. Kaparot's very public killing of chickens is a way to raise awareness for reform and necessary regulation.

Within the Jewish community Kaparot has raised such awareness. Last week, Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, reiterated how Jewish law requires one to perform this ritual humanely without causing any unnecessary suffering.

Although this is a relatively obscure ritual performed by mostly Hasidic Jews, this practice has garnered national controversy with PETA calling for the banning of the practice and many rabbis even criticizing it, encouraging the use of money as an alternative to chickens.

Controversy around this practice does exist in Jewish law. Some rabbinic authorities encourage Kaparot while others forbid it because of alleged pagan roots or because of animal cruelty concerns. Nonetheless, thousands of Jews have been performing it for centuries.

The vast majority of people condone killing chickens for food in every other context. In the U.S. alone, more than 7 billion chickens are killed each year, many undergoing painful debeaking and suffering under abhorrent conditions.

Kaparot at least forces people to reckon with and appreciate the fact that animals are giving up their lives to sustain us. It forces us to recognize that chickens don't come saran wrapped in grocery stores or in Kentucky fried chicken buckets.

Beyond selective claims of animal cruelty is also a disdain and intolerance for a revered religious ritual practiced by many Hasidic Jews. A ritual protected by the sacrosanct right to freedom of religion.

The end result of both factory farming and Kaparot is the same: chickens are killed to sustain people.

To be fair, those criticizing Kaparot under the guise of animal cruelty ought to be consistent in their condemnation and perhaps show some appreciation for the fact that the ritual annually puts mistreatment of chickens in the spotlight.



Sunday, September 15, 2013

Religious Jews Prepare For Sukkot 

Ultra Orthodox Jews inspect an Etrog (citron) fruit which will be used during the upcoming Jewish festival of Sukkoth in the religious Mea Shearim neighbourhood September 15, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. The Feast of the Tabernacles, which begins Wednesday evening September 18, 2013, commemorates the biblical Hebrews' 40 years of wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt some 3200 years ago.



Saturday, September 14, 2013

State Shuts Down Jewish Ritual Chicken Slaughter Operations On Pico 

Leading up to Yom Kippur, some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities follow the tradition of "kaparos/kaparot," which is the ritual killing of chickens. And in Los Angeles, it's been an event attracting both Orthodox Jews and protesters. Now, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has shut down two kaparot groups.

Participants usually swing the chicken (sometimes by the wings) around a person three times while reading a prayer, during which time, tradition has it, the person's sins are transferred to the chicken. (Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement.) Then the chicken's neck is slit with a knife and the its blood is drained.

CDFA investigator Rhett Dunn told the LA Times, "I told [Bait Aaron, a Sephardic Orthodox outreach organization, and Ohel Moshe, a synagogue,] what they're doing is against state law. They have to be properly registered." Both groups had been conducting kaparot on Pico Boulevard.



Friday, September 13, 2013

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'The Political Pull - And Push' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


No one here but us (dead) chickens! Thousands of birds die from heat, not Jewish sin ritual 

Thousands of chickens — condemned to die in a Jewish redemption ritual — instead died in Wednesday's unseasonable heat, causing the annual rites to be put on ice in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, the Daily News has learned.

The soon-to-be-slaughtered poultry perished at the hands of a higher power when the mercury hit the mid-90s — hours before they could be used in Kapparot, an Orthodox tradition wherein Jews symbolically transfer their sins to the bird before sacrificing it.

"We lost about 2,000 chickens because of the heat," said a man who works in Skwere Mosdos, a Borough Park shul.

"It's a big loss," added the man who declined to give his name. Another person at the 45th St. establishment estimated the death toll at 800.

The hot and muggy day caused a calamity for other Kapparot operations.

"Due to weather condition, a lot of chickens died," according to an email sent by another yeshiva to its members. "Sorry 4 the inconvenient (sic)."

The yeshiva, Machzikai Hadas on 43rd St., charges $8.50 per chicken. It also posted a flyer advising the public about lack of poultry, but employees denied that anything was amiss.

"No matter what faith you follow, we all believe in God," insisted employee Shia Porges, 31. "And that's why the chickens did not come to any harm because God takes care of everything in His own way."

A colleague, Chaim Singer,32, claimed that water and shade were provided for the ritual roosters, adding, "We make sure they're comfortable and well fed."

Ultra-orthodox Jews use the chickens in a custom observed before Yom Kippur in which they're swung above the head three times in a symbolic transference of one's sins. They're then slaughtered and donated to the poor for a pre-fast meal.

Chickens are kept in stacked crates on the sidewalks throughout Hasidic neighborhoods, sometimes for hours or even days before the Day of Atonement, which begins Friday evening this year.

Critics of the practice have long called it illegal animal cruelty that's not mandated in the Torah or Talmud. This week, they were crying foul even louder.

"I am horrified, I am upset, but I am not surprised," said Rina Deych, 57, a member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, which advocates the use of coins instead of chickens.

Karen Davis, president of their umbrella organization, United Poultry Concerns, said that over dozen birds are typically crammed together, often injured, weak and susceptible to harm in harsh weather conditions.
In a small way, she said, succumbing to the heat was a blessing.

"Their misery is so totally compounded that the best thing to happen to them under the circumstances is to die," said Davis. "They didn't have to suffer the further pain and indignity" of Kapparot.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reports of voter fraud in hasidic Williamsburg 

With New York City voters’ rejection yesterday of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, Jews had reason to hope that this season of political scandals was drawing to a close.

No such luck.

The New York City Board of Elections reports a pattern of voter fraud in the hasidic community of Williamsburg. At the I.S. 171 voting booth, BOE poll watchers noticed that multiple young hasidic men were attempting to vote under other names, using signatures that did not match their provided IDs. Over the course of the day, an NYPD officer witnessed at least four such attempts, Gothamist reported. In other incidents, teenagers attempted to vote and were unable to provide ID when required to do so.

An anonymous source in the community told Gothamist that the fraud operation was based out of an ultra-Orthodox wedding hall in Williamsburg. Participants  in the scheme were given food and “driven to four or five places” to vote under false names, according to the source.

This is not the first brush with voter fraud for the Hasidic community in New York. Last year, multiple complaints were lodged by a progressive group, the New Kings Democrats, about instances of voter fraud in Williamsburg during the New York primary. Likewise, reports of voter fraud and intimidation have long dogged elections in the hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cops: Busted Brooklyn Drug Ring Was Shomer Shabbat 

Five alleged members of a drug ring that cops say observed Shabbat have been indicted for selling heroin, oxycodone, cocaine and other illegal substances out of a Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn apartment.

According to an indictment unsealed Tuesday, New York Police Department officers raided the Bedford Avenue apartment in April after a nearly yearlong investigated called "Only After Sundown," the Daily News reported. The crew was in possession of more than 23,000 pills of oxycodone valued at $460,000 and a sawed-off shotgun, according to prosecutors.

The indictment accuses the men of conspiracy for sending customers text messages announcing drugs for purchase and repeatedly warning patrons against showing up between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

The indictment names David Gerowitz, 38, Philip Mandel, 26, Eduard Sorin, 38, Jack Zaibak, 25, and Jack Zibak, 28. A previous indictment charged them and Aaron Dombroff, 30, with criminal sale of a controlled substance. Sorin was arraigned Tuesday and entered a not guilty plea, prosecutors said. Mandell has not posted bail and is in jail, officials said. The others are out on bail and will be arraigned over the next several weeks.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Swing a Fish for Kapparot 

Thousands of Orthodox Jews are preparing to swing live chickens over their heads before Yom Kippur, symbolically transferring their sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption. This practice is called 'Kapparot,' which literally means "atonement."

Using fish, money or chickens are acceptable methods of performing this expiation ritual. Using a live creature has the impact of allowing one to appreciate his or her own life and the life of the animal. A deep appreciation for animal life is fostered by seeing an animal slaughtered so that man can survive.

This chicken swinging ritual is controversial both in terms of the practice potentially leading to animal cruelty and the view by many leading rabbinical authorities that the practice should be avoided because of its superstitious nature.

Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Code of Jewish Law, called the practice "heathen, foolish and superstitious." Other rabbis especially Kabbalists like Rabbi Isaac Luria encouraged the practice of using a live creature for Kapparot.

Another common objection to the practice is based on the Jewish principle that one is forbidden to engage in tsa'ar ba'alei chaim (causing unnecessary pain to animals). While the ritual itself does not necessitate animal cruelty, the pragmatic outcome may result in the unnecessary suffering of chickens:

    Because modern kapparot chickens are trucked into the city from long distances, often in open trucks exposed to the weather and without adequate food or water, the question of … cruelty to animals …. has become an … issue. The birds may also suffer while they are being handled for sale or during the ceremony, because many urban Jews are unfamiliar with the proper, humane way to hold a chicken … The birds are frequently cooped up in baskets, and some merchants neglect to give them sufficient food or water. In some cases, the caged chickens have been left out in the rain or under the hot sun with no shade or shelter, or simply abandoned in warehouses and left to starve if not sold in time …

Notions of animal cruelty may not apply to fish under Jewish law. So by using a fish for the Kapparot ritual one would avoid causing unnecessary pain to poultry yet still have the benefit of using a live creature for the ritual.

Recent scientific research demonstrates that there is "no final proof that fish can feel pain" or that fish feel the same level of pain as mammals do since "fish often show only minor or no reactions at all to interventions which would be extremely painful to us and to other mammals."

Consistent with some of the science, Jewish law does not recognize fish as an animal for the purposes of animal cruelty laws. (See Beis Yehudah ביור"ד סימן י" where all opinions say you can cut a piece of fish when it is alive and no one says it is tsa'ar ba'alei chaim. Therefore it must be that there is no tsa'ar ba'alei chaim for Fish).

Also ritual slaughter does not apply to fish, therefore it is understood that fish don't experience the same kind of pain as an animal.

Another advantage of using a fish is that you avoid the concerns of rabbinical authorities that were critical of using chickens. At the same time you are respecting those authorities that said Kapparot should be done on a live creature.

Chickens are required to be slaughtered in a particular method for them to be deemed kosher. In contrast, fish do not require a particular method of slaughter, so by using fish you offset the concerns of the animal being rendered non-kosher due to an improper slaughter procedure.

At this Yom Kipur's Kapparot, consider using a live fish instead of a live chicken.

You will avoid potential animal cruelty under Jewish law. You will be respecting Halachic authorities that were critical of using chickens while also respecting those that encouraged doing the procedure on a live creature. You will also avoid concerns that your animal was slaughtered improperly.

You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.



Monday, September 09, 2013

Sex abuse victim shamed during synagogue prayers 

The brave Orthodox Jewish teen whose testimony helped convict the prominent Brooklyn counselor who had sexually abused her was driven out of her own synagogue on Rosh Hashana last week.
The married, 18-year-old victim was in the Williamsburg synagogue where her family has prayed for the past decade when a man yelled, "Moser, out of the shul!" the woman's husband told The Post on Sunday.
The word "moser" refers to a Jew who informs on another Jew to secular authorities.
"They stopped the praying until she left," said her husband, Boorey Deutsch, 26. "Some woman tried telling my wife to stay there and not leave. She shouldn't care what they say. But my wife ended up leaving."
"She felt horrible and mistreated. They treat survivors as if they are the abusers," Deutsch fumed to The Post.
Deutsch and his wife have suffered harassment ever since she first accused Nechemya Weberman, 54, of sexually abusing her after she was sent to him for counseling as a 12-year-old.
"Several weeks ago, someone threw eggs at Boorey's store," a law-enforcement source said.
The gutsy victim testified at Weberman's trial that she was afraid to report the abuse because he was "supposedly a god in Williamsburg" and nobody would believe her.
"Satmar would have kicked me out, and if Satmar kicks you out, nobody accepts you," she said during the trial last year.

The pressure for her to drop the case against Weberman was at times overwhelming.
At one point, three Orthodox Jewish brothers, Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger, tried to intimidate Deutsch and his then-girlfriend into dropping the case by ripping down the "kosher" certificate at his Williamsburg restaurant.
The men pleaded guilty in June in a deal that gave them no jail time.
Last month, Abraham Rubin, 49, also pleaded guilty to offering Deutsch and the victim $500,000 to leave the country so that the case against Weberman could be dropped.
Weberman — who is married with 10 children — is currently serving his 50-year sentence at the maximum-security Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate Wallkill.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Hasidic Pilgrimage Far From Trouble-Free for Breslovs in Ukraine 

Thousands of Jewish pilgrims have begun leaving Uman, Ukraine, where their week-long stay resulted in a fire, power shortages, a sewage flood and several arrests.

One of the incidents involved three Israeli police officers who were sent to Uman to help police the estimated 26,000 Jewish pilgrims who congregate every year, ahead of the Jewish New Year, near the grave site of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov hasidic movement.

According to Israel’s Channel 10, the officers were sent back to answer for the incident on orders from Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. The fight reportedly happened last week while the three officers were off duty. One of the officers sustained minor injuries in a scuffle with locals, the report said.

In a separate incident, pilgrims from Israel started a fire inside their rented apartment after they had an indoor barbecue, according to Alexander Gorobech, a firefighter who was stationed in Uman as part of a special deployment. Gorobech told the Ukrainian ICTV television station that the men who lit the fire were handed over to the Israeli police detachment stationed at Uman for the High Holidays.

A different apartment block on Pushkin Street lost power for nearly one day, due to an overload in consumption by Jewish pilgrims, according to Segodnya.ua.

Another incident registered last week began with the arrest of a Jewish visitor after Ukrainian police spotted him smoking marijuana at the entrance to a shop, according to a statement by the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Several of his friends confronted the police officers but the encounter did not turn violent, according to the news website Unian.net.

Pilgrims staying at an apartment building at Uman’s Pushkin Street caused the sewage system to overflow and flood the municipality’s social services center, according to Ukrainian media, including the news site Svodka.net. The visitors flushed diapers and hygienic pads down the toilet, the reports said, resulting in a flood which caused severe damage to the municipal offices located in the basement of the building.

On the eve of Rosh Hashana, Sept. 4, Ukrainian police divers rescued a Jewish pilgrim who fell into a flooded quarry, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosty. The man tripped into the quarry while walking on its edge with a friend, who called emergency services. The drowning man was unconscious when the divers pulled him out of the water but regained it following an emergency resuscitation procedure.

According to Segodniya.ua, Jewish pilgrimage this year broke the record set in 2011, when Uman saw 26,000 arrivals, but the Russian Jewish Congress said in a statement attendance was lower than in previous years.



Saturday, September 07, 2013

Putting Women's Images Back in Israeli Billboards 

Eve Finkelstein, a Beit Shemesh doctor, and her friend Esther (an alias) first encountered the billboards as they were driving down the Beit Shemesh’s main access road. The billboards surrounded a construction site of a new condominium project being built by Zemach Hammerman.

The project wasn’t marketed in the ultra-Orthodox community and isn’t located in a Haredi neighborhood. And yet, among the pictures of men and children, not a single woman or a teenage girl can be found on the billboard.

“This area is totally secular,” Esther explained. “It has malls and pictures of Bar Refaeli, it isn’t a Haredi neighborhood. I told Eve: let’s stick pictures of women and girls among the men and children. A day later, she went to measure the size of the characters on the sign and I went to the printers to choose from stock photos.”

At 7:00 P.M. on Sunday, Esther, Finkelstein, Nili Phillip (a women’s rights activist), seven other women and one man gathered at the sign and filled in the missing women. Near a man and boy they added a girl, near a suited man they placed a smiling woman, and elsewhere they added a picture of a curly-haired girl holding a basketball.

“I sent several Whatsapp and Facebook messages to acquaintances, and asked as many women who could to come,” Phillip said with excitement. “We weren’t afraid at all. It is something cute, we didn’t deface the signs.”



Wednesday, September 04, 2013

K'Sivah V'Chasima Toivah 

Wishing all of K'lal Yisroel a happy and healthy year.


American Apparel's Hasidic Model Debuts Just In Time For The Jewish New Year 

american apparel

L'shana tova, everyone!

If you're Jewish, you probably know that means "Happy New Year" in Hebrew, and tomorrow marks the official celebration of Rosh Hashanah. While new years' presents aren't customary in the Jewish tradition, American Apparel has kindly offered a holiday surprise: the debut of a new Hasidic model.

A post on American Apparel's Tumblr last week -- inserted between softcore porn photos of the brand's signature bodacious babes posing in high-cut swimsuits and sheer tops -- invites us to meet Yoel Weisshaus, who is apparently an American Apparel devotee. We learn that:

Yoel is a peasant with chutzpa known for suing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over its controversial toll hikes, at prices that exceed twofold what one earns per hour under the minimum wage. Yoel is talented and drafts his own pleadings because he cannot afford an attorney, his case is still ongoing. He freelances in sales of American made braidings and ribbons for local garments and hat manufactures. Yoel has an accent because English is not his first language, but he is still striving to learn English writing.

We are to assume that Yoel's oxford long-sleeve button down and welt-pocket pants are sold at American Apparel, but a quick scan of the retailer's website's "headwear" section yields no products remotely similar to Yoel's traditional fur hat.

Dov Charney, American Apparel's CEO, has not been shy about his Jewish heritage in the past, but this PG-rated, multicultural approach is a new one. What do you make of Yoel's modeling debut?



Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pilgrims on way to Uman riot after flight delayed 

Hasidic Jews en route to Uman for Rosh Hashanah celebrations, Monday (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Several Hasidic Jews on a plane slated to take off for Ukraine were arrested after a riot broke out while the plane was on the tarmac Tuesday morning.

The unrest was sparked after the plane, one of dozens filled with religious pilgrims heading to Uman, Ukraine, for Rosh Hashanah celebrations, was delayed. The plane's captain was forced to call police after excessive disturbances by the passengers.

Some passengers damaged the emergency oxygen systems on the plane, Israel Radio reported.

A number of planes were briefly held back after two Palestinians in a stolen truck attempted to ram through the airport's security gate at 3 a.m., prompting a shootout. Airport officials said flights were back to normal by mid-morning.

Thousands of pilgrims head from Israel to Uman each year to be at the burial site of Rav Nachman of Breslov, the 19th century founder of the Hasidic dynasty, during the celebrations of the Jewish new year.

At the airport earlier in the morning, in a separate incident, police and immigration authorities arrested some 50 people headed for Uman. Among those arrested were fugitives, people wanted for questioning and passport forgers.

It was unclear if all those arrested were actually followers of the Breslov sect or whether they had merely hoped to use the mayhem and abundance of people dressed the same way at Ben Gurion Airport as cover for their getaway.



Monday, September 02, 2013

Polish Jews turn to court over ban on kosher slaughter 

Representatives of Poland’s Jewish communities have petitioned the Polish constitutional court to reverse a ban on kosher and halal slaughter methods.

A statement released Friday by the Union of Jewish Religious Communities said the petition concerned “a collision of two laws,” a reference to two laws passed in 1997, one permitting ritual slaughter and the other prohibiting it.

“After the rejection by parliament on 12 July of the government’s draft amendment to the law on the protection of animals… the legal situation of the Jewish community, whose duty is among others overseeing the supply of kosher food and ritual slaughter, became unclear,” the statement read.

The two laws cited in the union’s petition are the 1997 Act on the Relation of the State to the Jewish Communities in Poland, which states that ritual slaughter may be performed in accordance with the needs of the local Jewish community, and Article 34 of the 1997 Law on the Protection of Animals, which states that “vertebrate animal in a slaughterhouse may be killed only after being knocked unconscious by qualified personnel.”

In July, lawmakers voted down a draft amendment to the law on animal protection that would have allowed for the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, as required by Jewish and Muslim law, if carried out so as to follow religious customs.

Poland’s Union of Muslims will also be filing a separate application to the court, according to a report Friday by Polskie Radio.

Around 80 Polish firms, mainly selling kosher and halal products abroad, will take part in an independent lawsuit against the state, seeking financial compensation for losses incurred during the ban, the radio station reported.

Slaughter without prior stunning was made illegal in Poland as of January, following a ruling in November by the constitutional court on a petition by animal rights activists.

In its ruling, the constitutional court said the government had no constitutional right to pass a regulation in 2004 which legalized ritual slaughter.



Sunday, September 01, 2013

Rebels within a religion 

I had a Hasidic friend in 2011 named Jason. He was the "black sheep" of his family - he was single and 30 (much too old to be considered for marriage), kept his beard and payot (hair curls) short, and secretly wore jeans and tees on weekend nights. We met at a bar randomly.
"I'm a rebel," Jason told me.
"Why don't you just leave?" I asked.
"I'd be ostracized," he said. He explained that almost no one leaves the Hasidic community.
Our friendship quickly expired after a photo of President Obama and his national security team was tampered with in the Orthodox Hasidic broadsheet Der Tzitung. In the original photo, the group is huddled around a conference table in the White House Situation Room, watching CIA director Leon Panetta narrate the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The mood is clearly tense as Hillary Clinton had her right hand clasped over her mouth in astonishment.
The Brooklyn publication perceived Clinton's posture as sexually suggestive. And so they photoshopped her out, along with the only other woman who could be seen in the room, Audrey Tomason, the national director of counterterrorism.
The editors of Der Tzitung apologized to the White House and made a public comment clarifying their position: "In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention."
Jason harmonized this view; we stopped talking.
I retold this story during book club on Thursday night. We discussed the memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots."
As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, author Deborah Feldman talks about growing up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak, to what she was allowed to read. Of one orthodox celebration, women were allowed to dance, but it was clearly a secondary thing. Instead they usually stood around and watched the men dance. Women's joy, she says, was more centered in the experiences around food and family.
A few of my fellow "Bookies" are Jewish. One is atheist, and the rest are Christian, one devoutly so. We discussed the book heatedly until 1 in the morning. The question we had difficulty agreeing on: "Why do women stay?"
Another book has been recently published called "Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Woman in Extreme Religions." It's an anthology collecting essays by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu women.
Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) said they wanted to illustrate why religion might be attractive. At beyondbeliefanthology.com, there is a spot called "Talk Amongst Yourselves" where people can discuss their experiences with extreme religions.
The authors say that they noticed patterns in the contributions. For example, so many women were searching for community, structure, purpose and connection with the divine. Unfortunately, as they looked for joy, many women found that it was restricted.
"I think there are connections between women inside a lot of these faiths that are harder to forge outside of them," Ostman said. "You have the freedom to be a wife and/or a mother and to focus on those things, whereas outside the choice is often more complicated in our modern age."
All three women - Feldman, Tive and Ostman - have left their faith communities and found a different way. But none of them feel less religious because of their decision to leave. Instead they have taken their rituals, beliefs and knowledge, and applied them to their new lives. Hopefully these books will reach other orthodox women so that they too can consider: "Why do I stay?"



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