Saturday, December 31, 2011

Extreme Jews wear yellow stars in protest 

The bearded men and young boys in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood on Saturday were ostensibly gathered to protest about the jailing of a member of their community for leading vigilante attacks against a local religious bookshop, which was considered not religious enough by hardliners.

But ultra-Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat said that the main purpose of the rally had become that of fighting back against "incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public".

During World War II, Jews in Germany and countries occupied by the Nazis were forced to wear yellow stars to identify themselves in public.

Kikar Hashabbat said the wearing of them at Saturday's rally was "an exceptional protest measure".

A witness said that a television news crew had been shoved by protesters but police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there had been no incidents or arrests.

Israeli TV channels have screened images from the town of Beit Shemesh, where hardline residents are waging a sometimes violent gender-segregation campaign. The images showed an ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh spitting at a woman and others hurling verbal abuse at an eight-year-old schoolgirl.

The scenes have prompted outraged newspaper editorials and vows from politicians to get tough with troublemakers.

"The phenomenon of the exclusion of women from ultra-Orthodox streets is an act of intolerable barbarism," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview published on Friday by Israel's top-selling Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

"It is inconceivable for the state to continue financing those who defy it and for the ultra-Orthodox to continue receiving subsidies, such as free (religious) schooling for their children," he said.

Beit Shemesh, a town of 80,000 near Jerusalem, has witnessed a string of clashes between ultra-Orthodox activists and other residents.

On Thursday night, hundreds of activists torched rubbish bins, blocked streets and stoned police sent to disperse them, police said.



Friday, December 30, 2011

Extremist vilifies female soldier on bus 

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man was arrested in Jerusalem yesterday for allegedly calling a 19-year-old female soldier a slut when she refused to move to the back of a public bus.

It was the first such arrest since the issue of gender separation demands by the ultra-religious became a public issue in Israel in recent days.
The soldier, Doron Matalon, notified the driver, who stopped the bus and called police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the Knesset that action would be taken against anyone who harassed women in public places.

"We'll stop the extremists," he said, attributing such incidents to "lawless fringe groups" and not the ultra-Orthodox community as a whole.

A prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi yesterday attacked the concept of gender segregation on buses as a distortion of Jewish law.

"Any attempt to prevent interaction between the sexes," said Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, "may only give rise to unwanted urges."

An ultra-Orthodox Knesset member, Haim Amsalam, said the demand for segregated buses had arisen about 20 years ago because the paucity of public transport had led to crowded buses and close physical contact which many found disturbing.

The more extreme, however, have sought to extend the concept, even demanding in the town of Beit Shemesh that women not use the pavement in front of a synagogue.

Media throughout the Arab world have played the issue prominently on front pages. Al-Hayat, a London Arabic newspaper, said that religious fanaticism "poses a strategic threat to Israel as it destabilises its relationship with the West". The paper noted, correctly, that the critical swing vote of the ultra-Orthodox, who constitute 8 per cent of the country's Jewish population, had caused the sector to be coddled by all Israeli governments.

The point made by the paper about the impact of the issue on Israel's relations with the West appears to be shared by Netanyahu, who said the determination to fight extremism "is part of what makes Israel a liberal Western democracy".

Several thousand demonstrators this week gathered in Beit Shemesh to decry the imposition by local ultra-Orthodox Jews of gender separation in public places and their harassment of even young girls whose dress they deem "immodest".

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said the attempt by extremists to impose their world view on the majority constituted a struggle for Israel's character. President Shimon Peres, referring to the rise of religious extremism, said, "We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state."

Police were on hand at the demonstration but local rabbis had called on members of their community to avoid provocation.

Bait Shemesh became a national issue when 8-year-old Na'ama Margolese told Israel's Channel Two last Saturday that haredi men spat at her and called her names when she walked to school even though she is modestly dressed. Her mother, Hadassah Margolese, said the ultras were attempting to push other groups out of Beit Shemesh.

"People have asked me if I intend to leave and my answer is 'absolutely not'."

The demonstrators included seculars, moderate religious people and even haredim who said the action of the extremists was an embarrassment for the ultra-Orthodox community as a whole and for Judaism.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Matisyahu Bans Beard Questions, Rips New Times Before Tonight's Kravis Center Show 

It pains us to say so, but there's reason to worry about Matisyahu's show at the Kravis Center tonight.

Usually one to stay out of the limelight, the (ex?) Hasidic Jewish hip-hop and reggae artist has made significant waves these past few weeks both in the music world and his personal life, leaving fans and the media scratching their heads and, in one unlucky photographer's case, ducking for cover.

After releasing his pop-heavy, Hanukkah EP Miracle late last month, Matisyahu went through a bit of a make-over -- shaving his head and cutting off his beard in an act of religious and personal rebirth. "I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules -- lots of them -- or else I would somehow fall apart.  I am reclaiming myself.  Trusting my goodness and my divine mission," he tweeted along with pictures of his new, clean-shaven look. This is a big deal. And we understand that his was not a decision made overnight on a whim and that yes, there is a level of privacy he's entitled to. However Matisyahu, don't start shit you can't finish. 

Putting personal business on Twitter for the world to see automatically opens the floodgates for criticism, scrutiny and a whole bunch of questions. And as a popular musician with a wide fan base, Matisyahu should be prepared to deal with the frenzy. It's not like his bald head and new outlook on life would fly under  the radar of his 1,374,146 Twitter followers or the vulture-like entertainment media.

So naturally, in anticipation of his upcoming show, County Grind was eager to ask the artist about his recent change of philosophy. Instead, we got an email from Matisyahu's management saying that although we were approved for an interview, the rapper was "NOT answering any question[s] about his recent decision to shave, or his change in religious status." Okay. (Kind of like when Erykah Badu's people nixed any "Window Seat" video talk.)

To make matters more questionable, the responses we received from Matisyahu -- the interview was done via email as the singer was "on vocal rest" -- were, in a word, curt.

County Grind: Your new single and EP "Miracle" delves more into the realms of pop music than your previous releases. Do you find yourself moving away from the sound of "Smash Lies" and "Got No Water" to a sound that some would say is more mainstream? How do you think fans will react?

Matisyahu: First off, "Got No Water" and "Smash Lies" have two completely different sounds. Secondly the EP has 5 versions of the same song all with different sounds. My sound has never been one thing. It has always been a fusion of styles, sometimes leaning more in one direction and other times in another. I would only want to have fans who understand this.

After personally dealing with Matisyahu's sour state, our minds were left wondering upon hearing of his alleged attack on a photographer during his "Festival of Light" Hanukkah show in New York. The rapper reportedly kicked the photographer in the face and tried to wrestle the camera out of her hands, ultimately breaking an expensive piece of equipment. You can read her full account of what happened here. Matisyahu has since issued an apology, blaming his frustration on the photographer's use of flash during his show. Is flash photography annoying? Yes. But, as a recording artist who's been in the spotlight for almost 10 years performing for audiences across the globe, one photographer and her flash shouldn't cause a Hulk-like lash out.

No, the timing of Matisyahu's freak out -- just about a week after his bathroom photo shoot -- is key. We don't know whether the two incidents are related, or if Matisyahu was just in a bad mood when he answered our interview questions. But what we can infer is that there'sa lot of something going on beneath the surface. Having the world privy to your personal religious epiphany and then jumping into a tour is a lot to handle. And maybe it's too much.It'll be interesting to see how Matisyahu fares during tonight's acoustic show, which features an audience question and answer session. We have a few questions on our sheet that need answering for sure. If you were on the fence about attending, recent events are feeling like a swift kick towards the Kravis Center box office.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

After 1,500 Years, an Index to the Talmud’s Labyrinths, With Roots in the Bronx 

The Talmud is a formidable body of work: 63 volumes of rabbinical
discourse and disputation that form Judaism's central scripture after
the Torah. It has been around for 1,500 years and is studied every day
by tens of thousands of Jews. But trying to navigate through its coiling labyrinth can be enormously difficult because the one thing this
monumental work lacks is a widely accepted and accessible index.

But now that breach has been filled, or so claims the publisher of HaMafteach, or the Key, a guide to the Talmud, available in English and Hebrew. It
was compiled not by a white-bearded sage, but by a courtly,
clean-shaven, tennis-playing immigration lawyer from the Bronx.

The index's publisher, Feldheim Publishers, predicts it will be snatched up by yeshivas and libraries, but more
important, it will be a tool for inveterate Talmud students — and there
are plenty of those. Feldheim's president, Yitzchak Feldheim, said the
first printing of 2,000 books — a market test — sold out in a few days
here and in Israel. More printings have been ordered.

The index has 6,600 topical entries and 27,000 subtopical entries that
point students to the treatises and pages of text they are seeking.

In these passages, sages analyze matters like whether one can remarry a
former wife after she has been betrothed to another, or how one should
handle a lost object found in a garbage heap. The index guides the
student to significant laws about Sabbath and daily observance, as well
as maxims, parables, commentaries and Talmudic personalities.

The English version costs $29.99, and the Hebrew, $24.99.

The index represents seven years of work, but do not ask Daniel Retter
why he undertook it, unless you have a spare hour. His answers are as
meandering as the Talmud itself, with pathways leading to byways leading to offshoots that sometimes end in cul-de-sacs. Along the way, his
voice sometimes rises and falls in Talmudic singsong, and his eyes
glitter with delight at the saga's oddities.

"My father was a man of letters," he begins, then describes how his
father, Marcus, had been dedicated to Talmud study during an epic life
in which, as a child, he escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransports that
rescued Jewish children from Germany and took them to British havens. He brought his family, including Daniel, to New York from London in 1949.
(With his dry wit, Mr. Retter noted that his father had literally been a man of letters, since a dozen of his had been printed in The New York

Daniel Retter, 66, attended a yeshiva, enrolled at City College at night while studying Talmud in the daytime, then studied at Brooklyn Law
School during the day while digesting Talmud at night.

He married another lawyer, Margie, an advocate for abused women seeking
Jewish divorces; they raised four children and ended up in Riverdale,
where he continued his Talmudic explorations.

"I can't waste a minute," he said in an interview at the Manhattan
offices of his law firm, Herrick, Feinstein. "If I'm on the immigration
line waiting for a client to be called, I study the Talmud."

But a puzzle nagged at him. He and other students sometimes needed help
tracking down a specific passage, law or topic, or the thoughts of sages like Hillel and Shamai. Most of the time the student consults a loftier scholar.

"For the life of me," Mr. Retter said, "I could not understand why the Talmud did not have an index."

One 50-year-old translation of the Talmud, by Soncino Press, has an
index, but its pages do not match those of the standard Aramaic text
used by most students hunched over their dog-eared volumes.

More recent English translations are either not indexed or have not been completed. For three decades, Talmud students have been able to use a
Nexis-like CD search engine, the Responsa Project,  created by Bar Ilan
University in Israel, that locates words by frequency and proximity. But like Google, it often produces irrelevant hits. Bar Ilan officials
acknowledged that the CD had one major disadvantage: students cannot get access to it on the Sabbath, when much learning takes place. It also
costs $790.

Mr. Retter said he believed that the Talmud, whose compilation was
completed in the year 540, "was designed to be mysterious, designed to
be locked — I call it the 'book of mystery.' "

"The Talmud was written in exile, and it was the thread that kept Jews
together," he said. "It had no punctuation, no paragraphs; it was a book that was to be transmitted orally from father to son."

Until 1445, the concept of an index was meaningless, since books were
not being printed. But in the 16th century, the first complete editions
of the Talmud were printed by a publisher from Antwerp, Belgium; the
Vilna edition, printed in Lithuania in the 19th century, standardized
pagination. One effort to help students navigate the Talmud, Mesoras
HaShas, provided cross-references alongside the Aramaic text toward
similar ideas elsewhere in the Talmud. But, Mr. Retter wrote in his
introduction, "it was not an index as that word is commonly understood,
because one had to know the location of the initial reference to find
the others."

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, said
the rabbis believed that study should not be made too easy. "We want
people to struggle with the text because by figuring it out you will
have a deeper comprehension," he said. "They wanted a living index, not a printed index."

Nothing satisfied Mr. Retter's needs. As he said: "I'm a lawyer, and if I want to know the law, I look it up in an index."

Before he went — Talmudists should pardon the expression — whole hog, he took his wife's advice and sought the approval of great sages so the
work would be credible. HaMafteach includes letters of endorsement from a dozen, including Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of
Israel. Mr. Retter also recruited Rabbi Elchanan Kohn, a recognized
Israeli Talmud scholar, as his editor.

The index's potential market is sure to include the thousands of Jews
who participate in Daf Yomi, the page-a-day cycle in which everyone
studies the same daf — two actual pages — every day for seven and a half years, until all 5,422 pages are completed, when they begin all over
again. Some 90,000 people are expected at the Daf Yomi graduation of
sorts that will be held in August at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Israeli police act against Haredi jews 

Israeli police and ultra-orthodox jews have clashed on the outskirts of Jerusalem after demands to crack down on religious zealots accused of harassing women.
Several people were arrested and one policeman was injured by a flying rock in Beit Shemesh.

The Israeli prime minister ordered the action after hearing claims that some of the orthodox men targeted women and girls they believe are behaving immodestly.
There were heated exchanges too with an Israeli TV crew. Police said members of the orthodox community hurled stones at the TV vehicle and stole some equipment.

The crew were from a channel that broadcast the tale of an eight year old girl who said she was scared to go to primary school because some of the men had spat at her and called her a prostitute.

Naama Margolese said: "When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy-ache I was so scared that they were going to stand around and start yelling."

Israeli women have complained for years of being forced by fundamentalist Haredi men to sit at the back of buses.
Activists are planning a big rally in Beit Shemesh. Police presence has been stepped up.



Monday, December 26, 2011

Oy vey! Yiddish making a comeback at colleges 

A group of American college students stands in a semicircle, clapping and hopping on one foot as they sing in Yiddish: "Az der rebe tantst, tantsn ale khsidim!"

In English, the lyrics mean: "When the rebbe dances, so do all the Hasidim."

This isn't music appreciation or even a class at a synagogue. It's the first semester of Yiddish at Emory University in Atlanta — one of a handful of college programs across the country studying the Germanic-based language of Eastern European Jews.

The language came close to dying out after the Holocaust as millions of Yiddish speakers either perished in Nazi concentration camps or fled to other countries where their native tongue was not welcome. Emory and other universities like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and McGill University in Canada are working to bring the language back, and with it, an appreciation for the rich history of European Jewish culture and art.

"If we want to preserve this, we need to do so actively and consciously," said Miriam Udel, a Yiddish professor at Emory who uses song to teach the language. "The generation that passively knows Yiddish is dying out. There are treasures that need to be preserved because we'll lose access to them if we let Yiddish die."

Experts estimate there are between 1 million and 2 million native Yiddish speakers in the world, but only about 500,000 speak it in the home — mostly orthodox Jews. When YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City began offering summer programs in Yiddish in 1968, they were the only such program in the world.

Now, they compete with summer intensive Yiddish programs in Tel Aviv, Israel; Ottawa, Canada; Indiana and Arizona, said YIVO's dean, Paul Glasser. About 20 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada now offer some Yiddish courses, though just a few of them have degrees in the language.

The interest has grown because of the younger Jewish generation, which doesn't feel their parents' embarrassment that their family spoke Yiddish rather than English, Glasser said.

"Eighteen-year-olds today don't have that," he said. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about. No one can question their American-ness."

Emory junior Matthew Birnbaum said he took Udel's Yiddish class because he feels a personal connection to the language: his grandparents still speak it.

"It's taught me a lot about my own roots and where my people have come from," he said. "It's been a really interesting learning experience, not just from the language perspective but also from the historical perspective."

It's not just college classes where the interest in Yiddish has grown.



Sunday, December 25, 2011

Haredi man arrested on suspicion of assaulting woman in Beit Shemesh 

An ultra-Orthodox man suspected of a cursing and spitting at a religious woman in the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh last week, was arrested Saturday night.

According to the indictment, a number of men assaulted Alisa Coleman, who was helping girls onto a school bus to the religious-Zionist "Orot Banot" elementary school for girls.

According to her attackers she was immodestly dressed.

Coleman, a British immigrant and mother of four whose children are not enrolled at Orot, was so outraged by the protests that she arrived at the school to help escort the children safely onto their buses. The fitness instructor-turned human buffer was spat at and cursed by the protesters. "We cannot allow this to continue," she said, adamantly.

The issue of exclusion of women and more specifically the treatment of women in Beit Shemesh has become drawn fire from the Israeli political establishment. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called for the arrest of religious extremists who assault women and girls.

“They are mean psychopaths and belong behind bars,” he said.

Steinitz called on Interior Minister Eli Yishai to demand the immediate removal of signs excluding women from Beit Shemesh’s streets. Steinitz threatened that if the signs were not removed the town’s mayor would be replaced by one appointed by the government.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat also discussed the exclusion of women in Beit Shemesh. In an interview to Army Radio, Livnat said that “cities completely ultra-orthodox should be allowed to live according to their beliefs. But in cases that not everyone is interested, it should be resisted.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet on Sunday with ultra-Orthodox politicians to ask them to speak out against the segregation of women in public places by extremists in the Haredi community.

Netanyahu will be meeting with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and representatives of United Torah Judaism including MK Moshe Gafni.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said Netanyahu will be speaking over the next two weeks to ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the chief rabbis and other prominent rabbis. "We will not allow extremist groups to hurt women's rights in the public space, which must remain open to everyone," Netanyahu said on Saturday.

He asked Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to order the police to take firm action against the exclusion of women from the public space.

Netanyahu also asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to determine whether the laws against segregation of women were being enforced by municipalities. He asked Weinstein to examine whether signs in streets instructing women to use the other side of the street were legal. Sources close to Netanyahu said if such signs proved to be illegal they would be taken down.

Sources in Netanyahu's office said the prime minister was "furious" over the recent cases of segregation against women and that he planned to speak out on the matter whenever possible. At the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office last week, he made a point of being photographed with the woman singer who performed there.

The ministerial committee on the status of women last week appointed an interministerial team to examine the recent incidents and submit recommendations within 60 days, including sanctions on municipalities where such segregation occurs.

In the third demonstration in recent weeks in Jerusalem, some 300 people marched on Friday against the segregation of women. The protesters marched from Paris Square near the Prime Minister's Residence to Hamashbir Square in the center of the city.

The march was initiated on Facebook by Liron Shish, a 23-year-old student at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. Protesters also called for equal pay for women and against the exploitation of women by employment contractors.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv on Friday, hundreds of people, including public figures from across the political spectrum, held a rally at the Cinemateque, initiated by WePower, a women's empowerment group.

"When God said 'it is not good for man to be alone' and made him a helpmeet, this is not what He intended," said Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.



Saturday, December 24, 2011

Battling Legal Hurdles, Stubborn M.E. To Provide Kavod Hames 

On Sunday, December 11th, Dr. Brian Grobois decided to go hiking. The 54 year old doctor, who was a psychiatrist and lived with his family in New Rochelle, loved to hike. He was in Washington State at the time because of a simcha, and he planned to wrap up his trip with a vigorous walk on the scenic and picturesque trails of Mount Rainier.

But something went terribly wrong.

Dr. Grobois lost his way during the hike, eventually succumbing to hypothermia and losing his life. His passing is, of course, a tremendous tragedy. But it is also the beginning of a remarkable story of courage, perseverance, and a burning desire to be mekayem rotzon Hashem. The heroes of the story are the niftar’s family, a Chabad Rabbi in Tacoma, Chabad Headquarters in Crown Heights, a local attorney, Gary Torgow of Detroit amongst other noted askanim across the country, and an organization called Chesed Shel Emes. The Doctor’s passing, as unfortunate and heartbreaking as it was, served as a catalyst for a powerful and dramatic tale of hashgacha pratis and Kiddush Hashem.

The Tragedy

By all accounts, Dr. Grobois was an experienced and cautious hiker with many years of experience. He had always dreamed of hiking on the awesome and majestic slopes of Mount Rainier, and now, he felt, he finally had his chance. So he bid his hosts goodbye and set off to what he expected to be a thrilling journey. Instead, it turned out to be his last.

When the doctor did not board his flight on Sunday evening, his family began to worry. They contacted his hosts in Washington and learned that he never returned from his Sunday hike. The authorities were called, and soon a massive search and rescue mission was put into motion. By Monday evening, helicopters were able to spot Grobois’ motionless body on the mountain but the terrain was hazardous and the hour was late. The family was notified, and the mission to retrieve the body was put off until Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the grieving family had the presence of mind to contact Rabbi Zalman Heber, the Chabad Rabbi in Pierce County, Tacoma Washington. Rabbi Heber set up his home as the command center to deal with the authorities in releasing the doctor’s body and his wife, Miriam, cared for their physical and emotional needs. The objective was to retrieve the niftar and bring him to k’vura as quickly and efficiently as possible. They had no idea at the time what a difficult and dramatic process this would turn out to be.

Two National Park rangers, Ken Worstell and Uwe (pronounced U-Vee) Nehring, were involved n the rescue mission. It was no easy feat to recover the body, because of the difficult terrain. But eventually the niftar was flown by a army Chinook helicopter to Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma. Doctors determined that hypothermia was the likely cause of death and stated that, considering all the circumstances, an autopsy would probably not be necessary. But the Medical Examiner had other plans.

A Formidable Foe

Dr. Thomas Clark, the Pierce County Medical Examiner insisted on performing an autopsy, despite the fact that the family members were obviously adamantly against it. According to Washington state law, the ME is permitted to perform autopsies, even against the will of the next of kin. Dr. Clark indicated that he would begin an autopsy first thing in the morning, ignoring the pleas and the reasonable objections of Rabbi Heber and the distraught family. By now, Rabbi Heber knew he had a big challenge on his hands.

Rabbi Heber understood that this situation needed professional expertise from those who were familiar with circumstances like this one. He also knew that, as American citizens, the niftar’s family had certain rights and were legally able to go to court to defend those rights. So he called Rabbi Kasriel Sudak at Chabad Headquarters in Crown Heights who put him in touch immediately with Chesed Shel Emes. Rabbi Elchonon Zohn of the national association of Chevra Kadisha was also contacted. It was time to call in the heavy hitters.

The Medical Examiner insisted on performing the autopsy because Dr. Grobois was niftar on the property of the National Park Service, and he claimed that that agency requires an autopsy on someone who passes away on their property. Chesed Shel Emes called in Rabbi Zvi Gluck who is their volunteer director of Government Relations to get involved. All-night strategy sessions were discussed. The battle was going to go all the way to court.

“By now, we knew we were up against a formidable foe,” says Rabbi Gluck of Chesed Shel Emes, “And because Chesed Shel Emes has had a lot of experience in this field, we knew that legal action will be required, so we asked Rabbi Heber to hire an attorney who was willing to take this case to court and fight the battle before a judge. We would coach him on how to handle these unusual circumstances.”
The Court Battle

Rabbi Heber asked his friend, Barry Wallis, who is a local expert attorney, to get involved. “Our first move,” he says, “was to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Medical examiner.” But time was clearly of the essence and every moment counted. When the Doctor’s son and Rabbi Heber arrived at the Medical Examiner’s office on Wednesday morning, he told them he was ready to begin the autopsy immediately. All the pleading in the world wasn’t going to stop him.

Legal action had to be taken immediately. Rabbi Heber contacted attorney Wallis to come quickly before it’s too late. Wallis came running with an affidavit to halt the Medical Examiner in his tracks. While the ME read the TRO, they worked swiftly in the other room to get all the proper signatures in place. By what can only be described as pure hashga-cha pratis, the TRO was enacted, and the family was able to buy some precious time.

The primary reasons for performing an autopsy on a body are to establish the cause of death, eliminate the possibility of foul play, or to protect the general public from a possible infectious disease. Neither of these factors was relevant in this case. But the Medical Examiner was relentless in pursuit of his goals. He called in his own attorneys and both sides were scheduled to appear before the court.

Chesed Shel Emes used every possible means available to bolster their case. Rabbi Heber got Attorney General Rob McEnna and other local elected officials to apply pressure. Rabbi A.D. Motzen, an expert in these cases from Agudath Israel, got personally involved. So did renowned attorney Nat Lewin and his daughter, Aliza as well as experienced attorneys Mark Kurzman and John Meningolo all of whom worked through the night to prepare legal briefs for Attorney Wallis to present in court. Attorney Wallis was coached by every leading attorney in this field, and thoroughly briefed on countless legal precedents in similar cases. Rabbi Reuven Fink of Young Israel of New Rochelle, where Dr. Grobois was a member, and many other members of that community were also very instrumental in the success of the mission.

No stone was left unturned in building a case. Rabbi Mayer Berger of Chesed Shel Emes contacted the National Parks Services in Washington DC, explained the entire story to the presiding superintendent, and was told that in this case an autopsy could definitely be waived. Two of the Park Rangers involved in retrieving the body were put in touch with Rabbi Gluck an readily agreed to assist in any way possible. Rabbi Heber somehow managed to acquire the medical records immediately, although it is a process which usually takes five to ten business days at best. The hashgacha pratis in every aspect of the process was amazing. Remarkably, everything fell into place.

On Thursday afternoon, a local judge listened to both sides of the case and ruled in favor of the family. That should have been the end of that, but the ME and his lawyers immediately entered a motion to appeal. Time was of the essence, as all were anxious to bring the niftar to k’vura as quickly as possible. ALl the attorneys on the case cancelled all of their scheduled appointments for Thursday and Friday, as well as scheduled court appearances, and dedicated the entire day and night to prepare the court motions, Rabbi Heber, and the Niftar’s family. Thus did the entire group find themselves once again in court, at nine a.m. on Friday morning. This time they were standing in front of the Supreme Court Justices of the State of Washington.

The Medical Examiner’s attorney tried to show that there was compelling interest in performing an autopsy. But the Grobois family’s case was very solid and well prepared. Testimony from the Park Rangers, from Mrs. Grobois, and from Rabbi Heber was heard. They presented a clear cut and reasonably sound case. Finally, b’chasdei Hashem, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled in favor of the family. The body was ordered to be released on Friday at 3:00 PM, right before Shabbos.

Our story is far from over. As they say, the satan never rests. Upon leaving the courtroom, the ME’s attorney commented that he will appeal this case again and take it, if necessary, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. By now the ME’s obsession with this family’s personal tragedy was becoming absurd. Political pressure was placed upon the highest echelons of Washington state government. The following elected officials were very instrumental in solving his issue, NYS Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Senators Pat Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, as well as other elected officials, personally intervened. They called Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington, asking her to step in on behalf of the Grobois family, whose rights were clearly being violated. The Governor’s office strongly intervened. They called the ME and got him to walk away from the case.

On Sunday, the niftar and his very relieved family were on their way to Eretz Yisroel for a proper and b’kovodik k’vurah. Special thanks has to be given to Shomrei Hadspas Chapels of Boro Park, Brooklyn, who went out of their way to facilitate the transport, and made sure that the whole process would go seamlessly. Can we begin to imagine the immeasurable zechus’im of this dedicated wife and children? Can we begin to imagine the unfathomable mitzvah of chesed shel emes that was performed by dozens of yidden on their behalf? It had been a very arduous and challenging journey. But in the end justice prevailed.


Several days after the remarkable events of this story, Rabbi Zvi Gluck received a phone call from Uwe Nehring, the Park Ranger who testified on the family’s behalf. He was in tears and very emotional, and asked Rabbi Gluck for a few moments of his time, and here’s what he said:

“You might not believe what I’m going to tell you now, but I still have to share it with you. Last Tuesday night after I recovered the body of Dr. Grobois I had a dream. I dreamed that I was in Israel, attending a Jewish funeral, and I’m telling you, I was never in Israel, and never at a Jewish funeral, but here’s what I saw, Men were on one side, women on the other. And in the center was a body on a bench. They were eulogizing the person, and suddenly I heard them starting to thank people. And guess what? I heard them thanking me!”

“It’s weird, you know? When I helped bring the body up from the mountain, I was just doing my job. And I had nothing to do with his Jewish burial”

“But when you reached out to me on Thursday to come and testify in court, it clicked. I felt that it was a clear and direct sensational message sent from heaven, and that’s why I felt I needed to act.”

As it turns out, Mr. Nehring’s wife is Jewish, and so are his children. He has already gotten in touch with Rabbi Heber, and they discussed having the family over for a Shabbos and teaching the children about their Jewish heritage. One good deed clearly leads to another.

Meanwhile, Chabad of Pierce County and Attorney Wallis are working to make significant changes in the laws of the state of Washington, so that no other family will have to endure the kind of worry and anxiety that the Grobois family experienced last week.

“This was the goal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt”l,” says Rabbi Heber, “when he sent out shluchim to the far flung corners of the world. Wherever a Jew finds himself, there will always be a Chabad center nearby ready to assist in any way possible.”

And as for the volunteers of Chesed Shel Emes, they are grateful to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that this unusual and dramatic case was successfully resolved. For over twenty five years they have been dedicated to helping families in their time of bereavement and grief in any way they can. Says Rabbi Berger, “We will stop at nothing and use every resource available to ensure that a meis in klal yisroel is brought to proper k’vura.”


Jewish man's Rainier death fuels unusual autopsy fight 

The death of a 54-year-old Jewish man on a snowy slope on Mount Rainier this month set the stage for a Pierce County court fight pitting religious belief against scientific certainty.

Brian Grobois of New Rochelle, N.Y., died on a solo shoeshoe hike, apparently from hypothermia. His body was recovered Dec. 13.

Three days later, a judge upheld an appeal barring Pierce County’s medical examiner from conducting an autopsy on Grobois’ body because of religious objections from the family.

It’s believed to be the first time that has occurred in Pierce County. The case attracted the interest of County Executive Pat McCarthy, Gov.

Chris Gregoire, Jewish leaders from around the country and even nationally known consumer-rights attorney Erin Brockovich. Grobois was an Orthodox Jew.

Jewish law requires that the body be returned to the earth complete and as quickly as possible so the soul can rest and the family can properly grieve, said Rabbi Zalman Heber, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Pierce County.

Heber said Jewish law also considers autopsies a desecration.

Orthodox Jews adhere to the traditional interpretation of the Torah and its laws.

“This is not a matter of life and death. This is a matter of death and afterlife,” Heber said Friday. He helped the Grobois family and rallied support for their cause across the country.

But Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark said state law clearly empowers him to investigate unnatural deaths.

He determined an autopsy was needed to answer questions that arose in his mind about how Grobois died.

“Their concerns were very real to them,” Clark said in an interview Friday. “But they’re in conflict with Washington law and our charge to accurately determine deaths, and I can’t make everybody happy.”

State law doesn’t allow families to stop autopsies on religious grounds.

Heber said the Jewish community intends to ask state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session to change the law to accommodate such requests. He said 11 states have similar exemptions.

“This case is a classic example of why this is needed so there is no confusion in the future,” Heber said. “The families shouldn’t have had to go through what they went through.”

Clark said such a change would have significant implications for medical examiners around Washington and could jeopardize the integrity of death investigations. News accounts describe Grobois as an avid outdoorsman in good health who was an expert in tai chi and took weekly hikes.

Before entering private practice as a psychiatrist, he worked at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York City. “He was very focused on helping people in an empowering way,”

Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, the organization’s rabbinic director, told The Journal News in New York.

“He truly understood and respected spirituality and religion.” Grobois realized a dream on Dec. 11 when he arrived at Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park for a snowshoe excursion.

Something went amiss. The family called the park the next morning to report him overdue.

A helicopter crew found Grobois later that afternoon lying in the snow at the top of the Stevens Creek drainage at an elevation of about 5,400 feet.

He didn’t respond to the arrival of helicopter crew. A park spokeswoman said he likely lost this way, became exhausted, sat down and succumbed to the brutal cold; Paradise reached a low of 14 degrees that Sunday night, and Grobois was not equipped to spend the night outdoors.

Authorities didn’t send a ground crew until the following morning due to the rough terrain and gathering darkness. Grobois was taken by helicopter to Madigan Army Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Attending Madigan doctors wrote on medical records that Grobois died of “hypothermia/cardic arrest,” according to Clark.

Heber said the doctors told him and Grobois’ wife, daughter and son, who had flown in the morning of Dec. 13, that there was no need for an autopsy; they were confident about the cause of death. A chief investigator for the National Park Service told Heber he reached the same conclusion independently, Heber said Friday.

“From all angles, there was no need for an autopsy,” Heber said. Clark reached a different conclusion.

A certified forensic pathologist, he spent more than 20 years in North Carolina’s medical examiner’s office, serving eight years as its deputy chief medical examiner. He was hired as Pierce County’s chief medical examiner 18 months ago.

Washington state law gives medical examiners broad authority to take possession of bodies and investigate their death, including performing autopsies. The circumstances of Grobois’ death gave Thomas plenty of reason to use that authority: He was in good health but died suddenly; he was not known to have any diseases that would lead to death; no one witnessed his death; and, finally, “his body was found dead,” according to court records. The Madigan doctors’ conclusion had no bearing under state law, nor did it preclude Clark from conducting his own investigation. Their determination also had shortcomings in Clark’s mind.

Cardic arrest simply means the heart stopped but offers no evidence about why it stopped. The obvious conclusion of hypothermia was equally problematic to him.

“They wrote the only thing they knew, which is the body was cold,” Clark said. “The body can get cold and cause death, or death can happen for some other reason and then the body can get cold, and they don’t have any basis for telling the difference.”

He also noted the body was covered in bruises, inconsistent with a finding that he wandered lost, fell asleep and died. In consultation with his employees and county policies, Clark determined to go forward with an autopsy. “Our motivation is state law and the charge to correctly certify deaths in Pierce County,” he said Friday.

Heber said the situation put incredible stress on the Grobois family.

Jewish law prevents the family from starting its seven days of mourning until a body is buried. “It was agony for them,” he said. Heber and Grobois’ family strenuously objected to Clark’s decision and secured an emergency temporary restraining order in Pierce County Court on Dec. 14.

Pierce County Court Commissioner Clint Johnson formalized the order the next day. The county appealed, and Pierce County Superior Court Judge Brian Tollefson presided over the hearing Dec. 16.

Heber had garnered support from Jewish leaders on the East Coast to intervene. One of them personally contacted Gregoire, whom she had met years earlier. The governor in turn called McCarthy, the county executive, to inquire about the case, according to spokespeople with the governor and county.

Another call was made to the state attorney general’s office, who alerted the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, attorney general spokesman Dan Sytman said. Erin Brockovich, the consumer advocate who was the subject of a 2000 Oscar-winning movie of the same name, also e-mailed the prosecuting attorney’s office on the family’s behalf, county spokesman Hunter George said.

Clark testified at the hearing. So did Rabbi Heber, as well as Grobois’ wife, Susan, and son, Marshal.

Also testifying was a park investigator and a park ranger who was involved in the recovery. Mount Rainier Park superintendent Randy King said a family representative asked if officials involved in the recovery would testify. He agreed because “it was important to support the family.” “What we did in court was say that for the purposes of our investigation, there was no need for an autopsy based on what our folks saw in the field,” King said Friday.

After a two-hour hearing on Dec. 16, Tollefson signed an order barring the medical examiner’s office from conducting an autopsy. He required that the body be released to the family by 3 p.m. the same day. The judge authorized Clark to draw blood or perform an X-ray or non-invasive imaging.

Clark said he didn’t do either of these things because there wasn’t time. Clark said the judge found that Grobois’ recovery on federal property diminished the county’s standing in the case.

But he maintained there’s been a long-standing practice for the medical examiner’s office to investigate deaths on the 14,411-foot mountain A transcript of the hearing was unavailable Friday.

The court is on holiday recess, and Tollefson couldn’t be reached for comment. A member of Grobois’ family also couldn’t be reached. Clark, in consultation with the prosecuting attorney’s office, decided against another appeal. “We were afraid that if we lost the second level of appeal that would set a precedent that would be dangerous not just for us, but for every other medical examiner system in the state,” he said. He said he wasn’t influenced by calls that the Grobois family and its supporters made to his office and to other officials.

Clark and Heber said this is the first time they’ve been involved in a court case to stop an autopsy based on religious objections. Clark said when he worked in North Carolina, a few families asked that autopsies be conducted quickly for religious reasons so the burial could occur the same day.

The medical examiner’s office released Grobois’ body by the court’s Dec. 16 deadline. The family flew back to New York with his body the following night after their sabbath and flew to Israel the evening of Dec. 18.

Grobois was buried in Jerusalem on Monday, in accordance with his wishes. Heber said the family is confident that Grobois died of hypothermia doing what he loved. “They’re totally at peace with it,” he said. The case ended with no such certainty for Clark and his office. On Grobois’ death certificate, it listed his cause and manner of death as “undetermined.” Another line gives the reason: “Examination prohibited by court order 11-2-16652-5.”



Friday, December 23, 2011

Israel's real Rosa Parks takes to the buses 

On a sunny afternoon early this week, an ultra-Orthodox woman boarded a bus in the enclave of the Gur Hasidic community in Ashdod and took a seat in the second row. The bus, Egged line 451, was headed for Jerusalem. It quickly became clear that this simple, everyday act - choosing a seat to her liking - was enough to transform her presence in the bus into a palpable challenge to the rest of the passengers. I sat down across from the woman, fearing the worst.

Not only did the woman, whose name is Yocheved Horowitz, blatantly ignore the tacit agreement among the bus' riders to adhere to the most stringent religious practices - in this case, an unwritten rule that men sit in the front and women in the back. And not only did she not conform to the seating arrangements dictated by men - that is, those in authority. This was also a woman who, judging by her appearance, seemed to come from within the community.

A young girl who boarded the bus at one of the stops in the Zayyin quarter, where the Gur compound is situated, apparently couldn't have imagined that an ultra-Orthodox woman would relate dismissively to the highest social stricture of segregation by sex. Even as she saw Horowitz heading for the second row, she whispered to her, as if trying to save her before it was too late, "Mehadrin, mehadrin" - a term usually employed in connection with food, but which in this case referred to the adherence on the bus to the strictest religious principles; the girl also gestured to her to sit in the back.

After raising her tone a bit, without succeeding in moving Horowitz from her seat, the girl finally left her alone and continued to the back of the bus, where several women were already sitting. After her, a mother and daughter who do not belong to the Hasidic public riding the bus, and who are thus not obligated to its rules, got on board. Stopping next to Horowitz, they said to her, smiling: "What, they haven't thrown you out yet?" They themselves headed toward the back.
The smiles evaporated the instant the bus began to move. "Mehadrin, mehadrin," said a bearded man sitting behind me, raising his voice. When I did not get up from my seat across from her, he continued to shout.

"Women to the back," he called out like a conductor. "To the back, to the back." He trembled with anger. A man sitting in the first row whose appearance revealed him to be a Gur Hasid, shushed him, with a finger to his lip. But the shouter paid no attention to him. "Men's area," he continued to shout. "Women to the back."

Now Horowitz turned around and said loudly and clearly: "What do you mean by 'men's area'? A geographical area?" she wondered. "What is mehadrin? Are you talking about an etrog, a lulav?" she queried, referring to two of the principal symbols used during the festival of Sukkot. "Nowhere in rabbinical law does it say that it is forbidden to sit behind a woman, not in the Shulchan Arukh and not in the Yoreh De'ah [two classical compilations of Jewish law]. What is written in the Torah and in rabbinical law is that it is forbidden to humiliate sons and daughters of Israel."
Like a deflated balloon, the man became quiet, and maintained his silence for the rest of the bus ride.



Matisyahu Apologises For Breaking Photographer's Camera 

Jewish reggae star Matisyahu has apologised to a photographer for breaking her camera during a New York concert on Wednesday night (21Dec11), confessing he "reacted impulsively out of frustration".

The King Without a Crown rapper was partway through his performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn when he became frustrated with Paper magazine snapper Rachel Smeyne for constantly taking his picture.

Smeyne alleges the star booted her camera out of her hand, telling Rolling Stone, "It was a slow kick but when someone's foot lands on your face deliberately, a kick is how I describe it."

Addressing the incident on his Twitter.com page, a regretful Matisyahu writes to Smeyne, "Sorry about last night. I totally snapped. I wouldn't call it a kick, more like stepping into the crowd. And being that you've shot so many shows you should know how distracting a huge flash in your face is. Seemed like you were there everywhere I turned with that flash. Next time, be more sensitive to the performer."

And, in an additional statement to Paper magazine, he adds, "I regret what transpired when I tried to remove the camera from the photographer's hands last night. As an artist on stage, it is very distracting and disorienting to have a camera flashing in your face for an extended period of time. I reacted impulsively out of frustration and for that I apologize."



Thursday, December 22, 2011

‘Inbred’ outrage Jewish insult by Leiby-slay lawyer 

A lawyer for the Borough Park man accused of butchering little Leiby Kletzky sparked a firestorm yesterday by blaming the accused killer's crime on "inbreeding" in the close-knit Hasidic community.

"Look, everybody knows when blood relations have offspring, there can be genetic defects. It's something that needs to be investigated down to the ground," said Howard Greenberg, the lawyer for suspect Levi Aron.

"He suffered a severe head injury as a young man. There's a history of schizophrenia. There's inbreeding in that community," Greenberg said.
"That's an aspect of his familial history," he added, declining to elaborate or offer any evidence.

Aron, 35, is accused of kidnapping 8-year-old Leiby off a Borough Park street in July, then killing and dismembering him.

Aron's parents, Jack and Basya Aron, declined comment, shouting, "Please leave!" to a reporter who sought to ask them about Greenberg's insinuation.
The lawyer's remark prompted an angry reaction in the Orthodox community.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind lashed out at the lawyer's claims, branding Greenberg as "sick" and "pathetic."

"This lawyer is simply out of his freaking mind," Hikind fumed. "He's a sick, self-hating Jew who's making a mockery of this case. It's insulting and degrading to our entire community."

"He's a perfect match for Levi Aron," Hikind said.

But Rabbi Bernard Freilich, a community leader in Borough Park and other Orthodox neighborhoods, acknowledged it's not uncommon for cousins to marry, but said that doesn't make their children murderous psychopaths.

"There are thousands of [married] people in the community who are related and there's no problem. It's preposterous to say that because there's a possibility of his parents being related, [Aron] would be crazy," Freilich said.

"Aren't there other children in [Aron's] household? Are they nuts?" Aron has two brothers, Rocky and Joe.

Aron did not appear in person for his latest date in Brooklyn Criminal Court, but instead appeared on a television screen, slumped over and alone at a table at Rikers Island.

The lawyer repeated outside that he will pursue an insanity defense, even though Aron has been found fit to stand trial.

The flamboyant attorney previously vowed to quit the practice of criminal law if Aron isn't found to be insane.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Judge tosses lawsuit over Jimmy Kimmel sketch 

At a taping for the ABC show on August 10, 2010, host Kimmel told audiences that James had met with Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto to seek "business advice" -- a meeting which had in fact occurred that month, according to the website TMZ.

Kimmel then told the audience he too met with Pinto, and he showed a video of himself in a car talking with an individual dressed in Jewish religious clothing and speaking in a different language.

In fact, Kimmel never spoke with Pinto. The footage of the conversation was assembled using a video of Kimmel in his car spliced together with footage of the plaintiff, Brooklyn, New York's David Sondik, taken from a series of YouTube videos showing Sondik greeting people on the street and talking animatedly. The videos refer to Sondik as the "flying rabbi."

Sondik, described as a "neighborhood character" by his attorney Robert Tolchin, objected to the show's use of his image. He sued in December 2010 accusing the Kimmel show of falsely presenting him as Pinto and failing to seek his permission before turning him into the butt of the joke.

Because "Jimmy Kimmel Live" is produced and filmed in California, Sondik sued under California law -- which recognizes a common-law right to sue based on an invasion of a person's right to privacy.

But in a ruling December 14, Justice David Schmidt disagreed and dismissed the suit, holding that it must be brought under New York law because Sondik lives in New York and the alleged injury took place in the state. New York law does not recognize common-law actions based on violations of privacy or publicity rights, Schmidt noted.

In his ruling Schmidt also said New York law allows unauthorized use of an individual's image for "newsworthy events or matters of public interest."

" review of the DVD of the segment supplied by defendants demonstrates that the clip of plaintiff at issue was used as a part of a comedic (or at least an attempted comedic) or satiric parody of Lebron James' meeting with Rabbi Pinto, itself undoubtedly an event that was newsworthy or of public interest," Schmidt wrote.

The judge also dismissed Sondik's claims of defamation against Kimmel.

"Even though plaintiff is not a public figure, there is no allegation in the complaint or inference that can be drawn from the DVD suggesting that the use of plaintiff's clip was mean-spirited or intended to injure such that its use would be excluded from First Amendment protection," Schmidt wrote.

Tolchin said his client intended to appeal the ruling that Kimmel's use was protected by the "newsworthiness" of the James story.

"A story about LeBron James and Rabbi Pinto is perfectly valid, you can put that on the news," Tolchin told Reuters in an interview. "But my client is a private citizen. Jimmy Kimmel took my client's image and said it was Rabbi Pinto, which he isn't. That's a lie."

"My client was the butt of the joke and made to look like a fool in front of millions of people," Tolchin said.

Calls to an attorney and a network representative for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" were not immediately returned Wednesday.



When A Mystical Rabbi's Charity Spends $77,000 On A 3-Week Hamptons Rental 

Today, the NY Times delved into the world of a mystical rabbi, his celebrity followers, high-power publicists, and, not least of all,
the rabbi's charity's missing millions as it reported on Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto: "The rabbi's close followers are disclosing what they say is the source of many of his troubles. They said they told federal investigators that the rabbi had been the victim of a bizarre embezzlement and extortion
plot that was carried out by two former members of his inner circle, who stole his congregation's money and tried to frame him."

Last year, the Forward described, "A rabbi in the Moroccan mold, Pinto is something between a guru and a Hasidic rebbe. A kabbalist interested in the esoteric elements of the Jewish tradition, he runs a number of yeshivas, religious schools, in Israel and the United States, and sponsors a social service organization that feeds needy families in Israel, mostly in Ashdod. He speaks Hebrew and no English, and his followers in the United States draw heavily from the expatriate Israeli community." Pinto has risen to fame as "Rabbi to Business Stars," even consulting with Lebron James and, allegedly, Anthony Weiner.

The Times reports, "The rabbi's followers and lawyers said they told federal investigators that a former aide to the rabbi, an Israeli named Ofer Biton, 39, had pocketed millions of dollars in donations that were intended for the rabbi's charity... Further, the rabbi's followers have also charged that Mr. Biton and Ronn Torossian, a public relations agent based in Manhattan, engaged in a scheme in which they leaked purportedly damaging information about the rabbi to reporters. Then, the followers said, Mr. Biton pushed to have Mr. Torossian put on retainer to help put an end to the bad publicity."  That's straight out of The Sweet Smell of Success!

Biton and Torrossian, an infamous figure on Gawker, deny any wrongdoing—Torossian calls Pinto a "crook"— but "federal investigators in New York City, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed [to the NY Times] that they were examining the roles of Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian in the disappearance of the money from the rabbi's congregation, but they would not provide details."  A former charity administrator claimed things got bad last year over real estate:

The rabbi's relations with Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian ruptured in March 2010. The rabbi had been staying temporarily in an apartment in the Essex House in Manhattan, a rental that Mr. Biton had helped to arrange, but the rabbi decided to stop renting it. One night, Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian confronted the rabbi over the decision, according to Ms. Cohen, who said she was there at the time. Ms. Cohen said she heard Mr. Torossian demand $500,000 from the rabbi, as well as five months' rent for the Essex House apartment. Mr. Torossian threatened the rabbi with a spate of negative publicity if he did not agree, she said.

And when negative comments were made about Pinto on Wikipedia, investigations from Wiki looked at the IP addresses and other info about the commenter: "Given the CU result, below, it's possible that even if they're not all the same person they are all employees of Torossian." The Forward has some of the ridiculous expenses from Pinto's charity: $77,000 for three weeks rental of Hamptons home in 2008; $40,000 for two weeks at the same home in 2009; "75,000 bill for a month-long stay at a luxury hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a $65,000 ring; and $28,000 for fine men's clothing."



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Israeli synagogue silences pre-Shabbat melody after neighborhood outcry 

For the past several months, the Belz Hasidic synagogue on Ahad Ha'am Street in the center of Tel Aviv has been playing a Jewish melody from loudspeakers on the roof of the building just prior to the onset of Shabbat. After neighbors in the area complained, the volume of the music was turned down, but that did not satisfy some people in the area, which is just a stone's throw from the symbol of secular Israeli popular culture, Sheinkin Street. Now the synagogue's management has agreed to stop playing the pre-Shabbat music altogether.

The synagogue posted notices about its decision to stop the music around the neighborhood. "We know that many residents (including secular residents of the neighborhood) will regret this decision," the notice said, "but to avoid a commotion and bad atmosphere in the neighborhood, we understand that this is the right step."

One of the members of the synagogue management, Rabbi Moshe Breish, who signed the notice, said his congregation had received complaints from people who considered the music an intrusion on their privacy, but others went further and claimed that it was an effort by ultra-Orthodox Jews to take over the neighborhood and an example of religious coercion.

"We have lived here in the neighborhood for 50 years," Breish said. "We have never made an effort to exert any kind of control and are not forcing anything on anyone, but if people feel that way, we don't need [the music]."

He expressed regret over having to stop it, however.

"It's a shame. It was nice. It was a minute and a half of music, [the song] 'Lecha Dodi' prior to Shabbat," he said, noting that a secular woman who lives in the area called him to ask why he had stopped playing the music.

He acknowledged, however, that a similar attempt to play music two years ago was also stopped after neighbors complained.

One neighbor told Haaretz that she had viewed the music as religious coercion but did not believe there was any tension between religious and secular residents of the area.

For its part, the Tel Aviv Municipality said city hall had not received complaints about the music, adding that municipal noise ordinances do not specifically address this situation, but they do bar the use of loudspeakers and public address systems in residential areas unless it is in connection with a public event. Under those circumstances, it requires city approval and cannot be unreasonably loud.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Hasidic teen critically hurt 

A Hasidic teen was fighting for his life this morning after he lost control of a machine in a Brooklyn armory last night.

Yanky Stein, 17, was part of a crew cleaning up the Williamsburg site following Saturday night's celebration of the 67th anniversary of the late Satmar founder Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum's escape from Auschwitz, said community spokesman Isaac Abraham.

The young man lost control of the lift machine at around 6:15 p.m., smashing his head into a beam on the ceiling. He was rushed to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition.

Stein is "a very good kid," said Abraham. "That he was there to help disassemble and clean up the party shows just what a good kid he is.

"It's a tragedy beyond belief. His family is devastated and so is the community.

"He needs a lot of prayers.''



Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hanukkah Boosters Light a Fire Under Holiday 

The Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska traditionally hosts an art show to celebrate Hanukkah. This year, however, Rabbi Joseph Greenberg wanted to go bigger.

So on Tuesday, the first night of the holiday, the center will present Cirque de Hanukkah. A troupe of professional acrobats is flying into Anchorage to perform feats including using their bodies to create a living menorah—the traditional candelabra lighted during the eight nights of the holiday. There will be carnival games, and kids will be invited to take whacks at a piñata shaped like a dreidel.

"I know it's not directly Hanukkah-ish, but we're going to make it Hanukkah-ish," Rabbi Greenberg says. Any congregation that hopes to stay relevant to modern American Jews "has to do a big Hanukkah," he adds. "That's the key."

For years, many American Jews have treated Hanukkah as a low-key holiday celebration, giving children gifts, inviting friends over to light the menorah and decorating with blue-and-white lights. But now, all across the nation, Hanukkah celebrations have shifted into overdrive.

Young adults are hosting "vodka and latkes" parties where the alcohol is served along with traditional potato pancakes. Hip-to-Hanukkah musicians are updating the holiday's slim repertoire of songs in genres like heavy metal, reggae, hip-hop and rap.

And then there are the Schlep Sisters, two burlesque dancers who have booked the 400-seat Highline Ballroom in Manhattan for their Menorah Horah show, a striptease shot through with Hanukkah history. The Sisters have been performing the act for five years, to ever-bigger crowds, on the theory that Hanukkah needs to be more fun.

"It's not like Yom Kippur, where you sit in synagogue and fast," says one of the Schlep Sisters, who goes by the stage name Minnie Tonka and says she has a master's degree in Jewish education.

Even the stodgy dreidel, the little wooden top which children traditionally spin for chocolate coins at Hanukkah, has gotten an update. An outfit called Major League Dreidel sponsors spinning tournaments across the country, held on game boards called, of course, Spinagogues.

All this would make Rabbi Benjamin Blech weep, except, he says, "it is almost hysterically funny."

Rabbi Blech, who teaches Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York, says Hanukkah commemorates a clash in about 165 B.C. between a pious Jewish community and the rather raucous Greeks who had conquered much of the Middle East. The Jewish group, led by the ragtag Maccabee army, beat back the Hellenist hedonists. Then they purified a defiled temple by lighting a sacred flame—which miraculously remained lighted for eight days, though there was only enough oil for one night.

Hanukkah should be about Jews standing proudly apart from mainstream culture, resisting frivolity and assimilation, Rabbi Blech argues. For Jews today to celebrate Hanukkah with carnivals, rowdy parties—even piles of presents—"means not only losing the rationale for the holiday, but distorting it in a very dangerous way," he says.

Jennie Rivlin Roberts, an Atlanta psychologist, begs to differ. She runs a website, ModernTribe.com, that sells all manner of Hanukkah knickknacks, including menorah-shaped cookie cutters. She also created a game that combines traditional tops with poker: No Limit Texas Dreidel.

December "is a very difficult time for Jewish families in the U.S. because Christmas is ubiquitous," Dr. Rivlin Roberts says, describing questions from her 7-year-old daughter about Santa's dominance. Decorating the house with blue and white lights doesn't fully compensate, she says—which is why she's all about making the holiday more fun.

"We're OK with embracing Hanukkah 100%," she says.

So is Daniel Flaster Siskin of Long Beach, Calif., who invented a vengeance-themed board game called "Operation: Maccabee" in which players use a dreidel to defeat Nazis during World War II. He has big plans for the humble top: "Why not a million dreidel games?" he asks.

Of course, some elements of Hanukkah are easier to amp up than others. The heavy metal band Gods of Fire struggled trying to write a hard-driving song about potato pancakes for their 2009 album "Hanukkah Gone Metal."

"What's metal about frying latkes in oil? Nothing," says Seth Diamond, who plays keyboard and guitar. The group finally decided to write about a mythical quest to procure a precious supply of latke oil that was guarded by a fierce dragon.

"We made it into a 'Lord of the Rings'-style epic," Mr. Diamond says.

He sees his album as its own sort of epic quest—to make Hanukkah "more relevant, modern, fresh and fun," especially for young adults who have outgrown the sheer joy of getting presents eight nights in a row.

Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday on the Jewish religious calendar. But enterprising entrepreneurs have long seen its potential.

Back in the 1870s, when Christmas was just starting to come into its own as a mass-market cultural phenomenon in the U.S., two Cincinnati rabbis looking for a way to cheer up Jewish kids who felt left out—and bring more young families into synagogue—launched the first big Hanukkah festivals, with games, music and plenty of good food. The concept was wildly popular and soon spread across the country, says Dianne Ashton, a religious scholar and author of the coming book "Hanukkah in America."

Today's Hanukkah promoters share the goals of the Cincinnati rabbis: Making the winter season fun for Santa-deprived kids; giving Jews a reason to reconnect; and boosting the holiday's profile among the general public.

So Jews in Metairie, La., will celebrate this year with a "latkes on roller skates" party at a skating rink. In Dallas, Rabbi Zvi Drizin has requested approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fashion a celestial-scale menorah by beaming searchlights into the night sky on each night of the holiday.

And in Boulder, Colo., a vodka-and-latkes party for young adults will feature presentations on topics ranging from roller derby to gender roles to racier fare. The hosts expect all 200 tickets to sell out, as the event did when first held last year.

"There are not a lot of Jewish events that people talk about," says Joel Wishkovsky, who is helping to organize the party. "People are talking about this."



Friday, December 16, 2011

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 'Out and About' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


A Store Where Toys Must Be Kosher 

IN this toy store, Batman and Spider-Man are not heroes. For one thing, said Barbara Shine, manager of Double Play Toys in
Borough Park, Brooklyn, the characters encourage interest in television, and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish families who make up her clientele do not watch television. More important, those toys might also teach lessons Hasidic parents don't want their children to learn

Thomas the Tank Engine "is a kosher character," she said, illustrating her store's philosophy. "He's not hitting and killing people. We don't want kids to learn violence." Even if gift-giving is not central to Hasidic celebrations of Hanukkah, which begins Tuesday evening, toys are crucial year round. Families tend to have flocks of children, and mothers need ways to amuse them when the fathers are at synagogue or study hall and when the parents take their customary Sabbath naps. So Mrs. Shine, an effervescent mother of seven who is strictly Orthodox but does not follow any sect's grand rabbi the way most Hasidim do, knows she has a ready market.

And her business flourishes because she understands the neighborhood's unwritten codes. The store is not the kind of airy boutique that might be found in one of the city's tonier neighborhoods. Its aisles are narrow and the shelves run floor to ceiling, crammed with all manner of toys and games so her customers — dark-suited men, and women in long skirts and wigs — can pick out what they need. "You have something for an upsherin?" a bearded Hasidic customer asked on a recent Friday, inquiring about a gift appropriate for the celebration marking an Orthodox boy's first haircut, usually on his third birthday.

Mrs. Shine steered him toward a tool set. Little boys with coiling earlocks and girls in long sleeves do come in for toy figures like the Mitzvah Kinder or the magnetic building set Magna-Tiles, though school days that stretch to 5 p.m. limit their presence.

Hula-Hoop-like toys are a hot item, but Mrs. Shine keeps them tucked away because the packaging has pictures of scantily clad women. "We have a certain code of dress," she explained. She said she had persuaded the manufacturer of the popular card game Perpetual Commotion to change the packaging because she considered the clothing immodest. Double Play has been in business since 1994, when Mrs. Shine, now 42, founded it in her home to earn some income for her growing family. She is now on 14th Avenue. Mrs. Shine, who grew up in Minnesota — her mother went to a Zionist camp with Bob Dylan when he was still a Zimmerman — was not raised Orthodox, but she was deeply influenced by her Minneapolis yeshiva. She sold the store 11 years ago, but remained as  the manager.

One customer, Alexander Rapaport, a father of six who is executive director of the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, said the community had confidence in her judgment. "She is her own mashgiach," he said, using the Yiddish word for a kosher inspector. Mrs. Shine knows not to sell stuffed lions to a Lubavitch family because members of that movement do not want their children playing with animals not kosher to eat. She is very careful about stocking books because some themes may not sit well — like the "Chronicles of Narnia" series and its Christian symbolism.

On the other hand, she is not afraid to sell an Advent calendar that consists of intriguing small toys. Though the set literally counts down to Christmas, it does not trade in religious imagery or mention the holiday by name, only Advent. "And nobody in the neighborhood knows what Advent is," she said



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Judge won't toss New Square charge 

A New Square judge refused to dismiss a misdemeanor charge Wednesday of violating a court order of protection against an 18-year-old man also charged with attempting to murder a religious dissident by setting him on fire May 22. Shaul Spitzer's lawyer, Kenneth Gribetz, said his client will fight the second-degree criminal contempt charge at trial on Feb. 6 in New Square Court. Spitzer faces more serious charges of attempted murder and arson in criminal court in New City on accusations of trying to kill Aron Rottenberg during an arson attempt. Rottenberg had been targeted for months before the attack by the Hasidic Jewish community's leaders for refusing to pray in Grand Rabbi David Twersky's synagogue in New Square. Rottenberg led a contingent of men who prayed at the Friedwald Home on the Sabbath. Ramapo police accused Spitzer, who lived in Twersky's house and performed butler duties for the Skver Hasidic Jewish community's spiritual leader, of walking past Aron Rottenberg's Truman Avenue house on Oct. 4 in violation of a court order to stay away from family members, their home and business.



Crackdown on Sex Crimes Continues 

Alleged child molester Hershel Taubenfeld of New Square has turned himself in to Ramapo Police as of 10:30 a.m. this morning. Previously he had fled the area when word of his impending arrest got around. 
Sources said Taubenfeld is a well-connected resident of the Hasidic village. Recently a victim of Taubenfeld came forward willing to go through with the prosecution of the case and the sources said police are likely to arrest others in Taubenfeld's circle in the coming weeks. Police have taken a heightened interest and been more successful in pursuing such cases within the Hasidic community, since certain activists like Brooklyn Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg have made light of the abuse.
Others have also helped, though most would rather not have their names known. These activists have been setting up support networks for victims of abuse, as the most difficult aspect of prosecuting abuse charges is finding a victim willing to go through the trauma of the legal process.
Ramapo Police reported that after receiving a complaint, in early November 2011, of a possible sex abuse incident in the Village of New Square the department began an investigation. On December 7, 2011 charges were filed against New Square resident Hershel Taubenfeld. On December 14 (today) at 10:30 a.m. Hershel Taubenfeld turned himself in to the Village of New Square Court. Taubenfeld, who was represented by counsel, Kenneth Gribetz, was arraigned on the following charges:

10 counts of Forcible Touching (Class A Misdemeanor)
10 counts of Endangering the welfare of a Child (Class A Misdemeanor)
10 counts of Sex Abuse in the 3rd degree (Class B Misdemeanor)

The charges against Taubenfeld resulted from his actions with a minor male over a five month time period between March 2011 and July 2011, police said. The alleged incidents of abuse, between Taubenfeld and his victim all occurred at Taubenfeld's residence at #92 North Garfield Dr. in the Village of New Square.
Judge Salas of New Square Village Court set bail at $15,000 with a return date of February 6 at 6 p.m. in the New Square Village Court. Taubenfeld was transported to the Ramapo PD by RPD officers where he was processed. Due to the nature of the offense and age of the victim police said his name and age will not be released.



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs law that bars insurers from forcing people to use mail-order pharmacies 

Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday he signed into law two controversial bills regulating insurance companies, including one blocking them from requiring policy-holders to get medication from mail-order pharmacies.

The other measure, pushed by the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, prevents insurers from tacking on extra co-payments or other costs to those who purchase fertility drugs from local drug stores and not mail-order pharmacies.

In a message announcing his approvals, Cuomo said he supported the bills' objectives only after lawmakers in the Legislature agreed to address his "concerns" in amendments that are expected to be passed early next year.

Among the amendments is a provision stating that retail pharmacies must agree in advance to accept the same reimbursement rates and terms that insurers now have with mail-order pharmacies.

"With the understanding that these amendments will be passed, I approve these bills," Cuomo wrote. The bill prohibiting insurers from requiring policy-holders to use mail-order pharmacies generated months of heated debate in the Legislature.

Supporters warned vetoes would limit consumer choice and put neighborhood pharmacies out of business. Backers from the pharmacy industry said there would be no problem in forging agreement on accepting the provisions now in place between mail-order services and insurers.

"Gov. Cuomo's action will send a signal to the entire country that New York believes in competition and consumer choice," said Ray Macioci, president of the New York City Pharmacists Society. "Let the market decide who can best serve consumers."

On the other side, the mail-order industry, business groups and the U.S. Postal Workers Union had urged vetoes, saying it would save insurers and businesses money to have policy-holders use only mail-order services.

The Federal Trade Commission called the bills "problematic" and warned they would drive up prescription drug prices. Opponents of the bills said Tuesday they were buoyed by the pending amendments Cuomo announced. "While we still believe that a veto would have better served New Yorkers, the amendments agreed upon today will help to keep the cost of prescription drugs for small businesses and consumers from dramatically increasing," said Jonah Houts, a spokesman for mail-order company Express Scripts.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu shaves beard, says he no longer needs lots of religious rules 

New York City-based Hasidic reggae superstar Matisyahu (ma-tis-YAH’-hoo) is on a new religious path, but it’s unclear which one.

The Jewish singer shaved off his beard and posted the bare-faced photos Tuesday on Twitter. He says on his website he once felt the need for lots of religious rules so he wouldn’t fall apart. Now he says he’s reclaiming himself.

But it’s unclear whether he’s leaving Orthodoxy. He says he’s still going to synagogue each day.

His spokeswoman says he isn’t giving interviews.

Matisyahu was a musical curiosity who became a mainstream star after his 2004 debut, “Shake Off The Dust ... Arise.” He sported the bushy beard, flat-brimmed black hat, black pants and white shirt worn by Hasidic men.

His biggest single, “King Without a Crown,” was a crossover hit.



Hallmark Hasidic Holiday Gathering Changed to Wednesday 

Due to popular request and to not conflict with the Mattisyahu concert, the Hasidic Holiday Celebration changed to Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 6:30 pm at 4900 Sioux Drive, Boulder.

While most Jews celebrate Rosh Hashonah at the beginning of the school year, Chassidim tend to add extra times for celebration and introspection.  This Wednesday night and Thursday is the 19th day of the month of Kislev, which is celebrated as the new year of Chassidism.  It was on this date, in the year 1798, that the founder of Chabad Chassidism, (and noted author of the Tanya)  Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), was freed from his unjust imprisonment in Czarist Russia due to libel on him from his opponents.  More than a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the "inner soul" of Torah teachings that has positively influenced all practice of Judaism today.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Israeli lawmaker proposes ban on mosque loudspeakers 

The latest installment in a series of controversial legislative efforts in Israel is a proposal to restrict use of loudspeakers in houses of worship, which really means mosques as the other main religions don't use them. 

Lawmaker Anastassia Michaeli insists her proposal isn't aimed at silencing the Muslim call to prayer for religious or political reasons but for environmental reasons: it's too loud.

Michaeli -- whose bill doesn't have sufficient ministerial support at this point to become law -- complained that she's wrongfully accused of being politically motivated because she's a member of Yisrael Beitenu, the right-wing party of foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"I don't want the issue to become a religious-national-cultural symposium, it's purely an environmental matter," she wrote in the

But Israel already upgraded its anti-noise legislation last year, when the Ministry of Environmental Protection took on leaf-blowers, parties, car alarms and even piano lessons during certain hours, in an effort to give citizens some relief in the dense country where quiet residential life is becoming increasingly rare.

The problem isn't lack of law but enforcement, Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute told Israel Radio Sunday "Michaeli's bill doesn't solve a problem but creates one, by proposing a sweeping ban that undermines freedom of religious worship even in cases where the noise level is perfectly reasonable," he said, noting Michaeli's overlooked wording about restricting use of loudspeakers for "religious and national content."

Politics and religion aside, a problem does exist. Israel's a small, crowded place and more Jews hear the Muslim call to prayer meant for the country's 20% Arab population than don't, including the one before dawn. Loud music, fire-crackers and occasional festive shooting from late-night weddings and celebrations in Arab communities don't discriminate between Jewish and Arab ears either and in recent years, the noise level is straining relations between neighboring or mixed towns.

In this battle over the airwaves, Jewish communities occasionally fight back. The northern community of Kfar Vradim enlisted Bach and Mozart to blow away the Arab neighbors' nightly loud music during the summer wedding season. The affluent Caesarea is considering an acoustic barrier to block the noise from the adjacent Arab town of Jisser A-Zarka (although the neighbors call it a racist fence meant to hide them entirely).

A Caesarean resident told local media recently that they've given up on pleading with the neighbors to keep it down, and they too are buying a sound system to blast classical music at the Arab neighbors at double the decibels. Sleep deprivation could drive them to violence, she warned, saying one day someone would pick up a machine gun and shoot the loudspeakers.

A different case involved veteran right-wing activist Baruch Marzel rented a sound system to blast Hasidic music around the clock from within the Jewish settlement in the West Bank Palestinian city of Hebron, where he said Palestinians were using the mosque loudspeakers "just to make us miserable."

If law enforcement is lax on noise, efforts have been made to make religious practices more neighbor and environmentally friendly. In recent years, several towns -- including the mixed city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa -- have connected their mosques to one system in an attempt to control the sound level and to synchronize the call to prayer. However, synchronizing a handful of mosques is an easier feat than similar efforts being made in some Arab countries, where synchronizing
thousands of mosques is proving more complicated and expensive.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog