Sunday, December 31, 2017

St. Lawrence sentencing delay units off Ramapo residents 

Former Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence’s sentencing on federal corruption and fraud convictions has been delayed. U.S. District Court Cathy Seibel wants to determine what his crimes cost investors who made decisions based on cooked books that covered up the failing finances of the town and Ramapo Local Development Corporation.

But what about the cost to the town’s reputation? And future town property taxpayers? Many lohud commentors wondered what St. Lawrence’s misdeeds mean for a town that‘s already wracked with community tensions. Those circumstances may not factor into St. Lawrence’s sentencing, but it certainly weighs on many town residents’ minds. 

“The bond holders are not the only people that are affected by this,” . “We … are the ones holding the bag because we are the ones PAYING the bonds back. The judge should take into consideration We The Taxpayer!!!”

“The entire town was damaged as a result of St. Lawrence’s behavior,” said . “The (amount) of money is less important than the loss of confidence in the system.” Fitzgerald also wondered how one could calculate the town’s damaged reputation on property values, and by extension, the property tax base.

that consideration should extend beyond bondholders. “I for one would appreciate the prosecution coming up with a quick summary of the financial harm to the Ramapo taxpayer for the stadium,” she said, referring to St. Lawrence‘s schemes to finance the construction of the Palisades Credit Union Park, home of the independent league Rockland Boulders. St. Lawrence‘s fabrications helped hide the floundering finances of the town and the RLDC, which St. Lawrence once led and which built the stadium.

Munitz was among those who pointed out that property taxpayers sooner or later foot town bills. If the prosecutors sought them, she said, “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people (would be) willing to sign a victim statement.”

Many also want St. Lawrence to pay for his role in feeding tensions in town — especially between longtime residents and a growing ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community — and for opening the floodgates to rapid development with terrible land-use policies and lax enforcement.

Those issues, though, were not part of the federal case against St. Lawrence, which focused on securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy and forced him from the supervisor‘s seat after more than 16 years leading the town.

Seibel will start hearings on Wednesday to determine the accuracy of prosecutors‘ estimate that St. Lawrence‘s crimes cost investors $2.3 million. If that figure sticks, prosecutors can push for an enhanced sentence of 14 years in prison. Probation officials, meanwhile, have recommended 24 to 30 months, while St. Lawrence‘s attorney is advocating probation.

Former Ramapo Assistant Attorney and RLDC executive director Aaron Troodler is due to be sentenced Dec. 12, that is, if St. Lawrence‘s sentencing occurs. Troodler pleaded guilty to securities fraud and other charges in connection with the same scheme and testified against St. Lawrence. Troodler has been disbarred.

As for St. Lawrence, whatever Seibel’s determination of the cost of his crime, and his subsequent sentence, will likely leave many longtime Ramapo residents frustrated and still concerned about their town’s future.



Saturday, December 30, 2017

Target forced to apologize after selling a card game that jokes about 'torturing Jews' 

walmart cards against humanity

Cards Against Humanity, a card game where players answer fill-in-the-blank prompts with pre-written responses meant to shock and offend their fellow players, has come under fire for an expansion pack of cards that targets Jewish people.

The "Chosen People Pack" contains prompts and responses that reference the Holocaust, including one response card that reads "Torturing Jews until they say they're not Jews anymore." The cards are sold as the "Jew Pack" on Cards Against Humanity's website.

"Fun fact: 100% of the Cards Against Humanity writers are Jewish. Can you believe it? A Jewish comedy writer! Anything is possible in 2017," reads the product description on the game's site. It adds that the expansion pack contains "30 cards from our big brains full of facts and sadness."

Target drew criticism for selling the cards after pictures of the expansion pack were posted on Twitter.

"Available at your local Target. Despicable beyond," the tweet by Mike Lieber read.

Target's guest service account replied to the tweet and apologized for carrying the product.

"We are aware of this extended card pack of the game Cards Against Humanity and are in the process of removing it from our stores," the company said. "We apologize for any disappointment as it is never our intention to offend our guests with the products we carry."

Cards Against Humanity has previously drawn attention for unconventional marketing strategies, like purchasing land near the US-Mexico border to disrupt President Donald Trump's proposed border wall and digging a hole for as long as customers would fund it.

As of Thursday afternoon, the card pack was still available on Walmart's website.

Cards Against Humanity and Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.



Friday, December 29, 2017

N.J. town rescinds parks ban alleged to target Orthodox Jews 

Facing state and federal lawsuits alleging it used local ordinances to discriminate against Orthodox Jews from nearby New York state, a northern New Jersey town on Thursday night rescinded one of the measures that stoked a controversy that has roiled the town in recent months.

By a 6-1 vote, Mahwah's council amended an earlier measure that would have restricted parks and playgrounds to local residents. The ban was prompted by some town residents' complaints about overcrowding at the parks and their use by Orthodox Jewish families coming from towns across the nearby New York border.

Earlier this month, the council reversed part of an ordinance that effectively banned eruvs, pieces of plastic piping attached to utility poles that serve as boundary markers delineating areas where Orthodox Jews can carry items and perform some activities during their Sabbath.

A lawsuit filed by the state in October sought to block the ordinances and to secure the return of more than $3.4 million in state grants the town has received from the state Department of Environmental Protection. It characterized the town's actions as resembling "1950s-era white flight suburbanites" who sought to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods.

In an emailed statement late Thursday, state Attorney General Christopher Porrino didn't comment on what effect the council's action might have on a potential settlement of the suit. But he cautioned other towns.

"Our message to local officials in other towns who may be plotting to engage in similar attempts to illegally exclude, is the same: We will hold you accountable as well," Porrino wrote.

Thursday's meeting wasn't as contentious as previous council meetings, but there was no shortage of passion on both sides. A young man who said he is Jewish said he never experienced anti-Semitism in Mahwah. But 23-year-old Mahwah resident Susan

Steinberg, who also is Jewish but not Orthodox, told council members she "has never felt anti-Semitism in this town until this year" and said the tone in the town has turned ugly.

"This is a wonderful, sharing, lovely community, but it's taken a turn that's not good," Steinberg said.

Council president Robert Hermansen, who has denied the measures were motivated by anti-Semitism, defended the town against what he called incorrect portrayals by the media.

"I know a tremendous number of people in this town who are Jewish and don't feel the way you do," he told Steinberg.

The town's attorney said the legal fees related to the state's lawsuit are roughly $100,000.
Town officials don't have to look far (or far back) to find a similar dispute. Tenafly, a borough just north of the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City, was forced to pay a Jewish group more than $300,000 in legal fees and allow the group to keep its eruv up after a six-year legal battle.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

I nearly lost custody of my children because I’m gay 

Chavie Weisberger will never forget the day in October 2012 when her friend came over and told her that her ex-husband, Naftali Weisberger, was suing the formerly Hasidic mom for sole custody of their three young children. The following month, a judge ordered that the kids be immediately removed from her care.

"I was shocked. He was so absent," Chavie, now 35, says of her ex. "I [had] tried to get him more engaged in the children's lives with so much resistance."

After divorcing her husband in 2009, Chavie had eventually come out as a lesbian, shocking her friends, family and ex-husband, who had since remarried and started a new family.

"To him, you can't raise Hasidic kids with a queer mother," Chavie tells The Post. Naftali, who declined to be interviewed for this article, argued that she had violated the religious-upbringing clause in their divorce agreement, which required that she bring up their children in a strict Orthodox environment. According to court papers, he maintained that she had "radically changed her lifestyle" — including coming out to her eldest daughter and living with a transgender man.

The courts agreed with him. In 2015, Brooklyn Judge Eric Prus awarded Naftali sole legal and residential custody of their two daughters and one son — and even forbade her from discussing her sexuality with her youngest children.

"I felt terror," she says of the 2015 ruling. "The whole world came crashing down on me."

Life wasn't always so turbulent for Chavie, who had a typical upbringing — at least for someone raised in the ultra-Orthodox enclave upstate in Monsey, where she grew up. One of 10 siblings, she was forbidden from interacting with boys or anyone less observant than her. "When I was 12, my father gave me a prayer to start saying every day to get a good shidduch [arranged marriage]," she says.

In March of 2002, at age 19, Chavie married Naftali. The nuptials took place just six months after Chavie first met him at her's sister's home. (They got together a second time not long after, and then her parents informed her that they were engaged.)

After the wedding, the pair moved to Borough Park, and she soon became pregnant. But with no college education, she says she "felt trapped." She started seeing a Hasidic therapist within the first year of marriage, to whom she admitted being in love with women.

"He said, 'You're a lesbian,' and I said, 'What's that?' I was attracted to girls always, and I thought it was wrong, but I also didn't quite understand what it was," she says.

But Naftali wanted to maintain the status quo, so she stayed in the marriage and gave birth to her first daughter at age 20. "I wanted to be a good mother and make enough money to support our family," she says. In keeping with certain ultra-Orthodox traditions, Naftali studied the Torah while Chavie was the breadwinner, working as a teacher, running an after-school program and tutoring on the side.

Problems in the marriage continued, and Chavie asked for permission to go on birth control. "I almost felt guilty bringing more children into a marriage that wasn't sustainable," she says. But her rabbi, who makes the call on such family matters, initially denied her request.

The pair finally divorced in 2009.

"[I] couldn't live a lie, married to a person I didn't love," says Chavie, who readily agreed to raise their children, ages 2, 3 and 5 at the time, Hasidic, according to the Jewish divorce papers or "get."

"I was still super religious," says the young woman, who had no legal representation throughout the process. "I just signed it."

She continued to shave her head, wear a sheitel [wig] and drape herself in long skirts as she walked the streets of Borough Park. She also dutifully went on dates with men her mother arranged, but they never felt right.

Over the next three years, she slowly found a community outside the austere ultra-Orthodox one from which she was raised never to stray. That community included Jewish LGBT members, whom she introduced to her children. "I thought there was room for me to be a good parent and still be true to myself and my sexuality," she says.

"We had conversations — [that] different people have different sexualities," says Chavie. "I didn't want to hide parts of myself to people who were closest to me: my children. I wanted a legitimate, honest, whole life with my children."

Her family wasn't supportive. While they knew she was attracted to women during her marriage, they remained hopeful she would work through it and "cure the flaws," she says. When it became clear she wasn't going to do that, she says they started siding with Naftali.

"'We want the children to be religious, so we're going to support your ex-husband,'" she recalls them saying. "It was so painful … It was an awful time."

Then, in November 2012, a judge ordered the kids to be removed from her home. "It was awful and traumatic, and I had to keep a brave face and act like it wasn't a big deal," says Chavie, who eventually got lawyers pro bono through the nonprofit organization Unchained at Last, which helps women escape arranged and forced marriages.

After three years of legal battles, she received the judge's decision via e-mail from her lawyer. She was allowed limited, supervised visitation and she had to stick to the script: no acknowledgment of her homosexuality to the youngest kids.

The new arrangement took a toll on the children, at this point pre-teens, and every moment felt like a test. "It was a delicate dance — we could only discuss certain topics," she says. "It was hellish. I was living on tiptoes, in constant fear."

Shortly after the 2015 court decision, Chavie was hired as a community engagement coordinator at Footsteps, the organization that helps the ultra-Orthodox adapt to the broader world.

She fought the decision, and this summer, an appeals court reversed the ruling, granting the doting mom full custody of her kids, now ages 10, 12 and 14 — provided she keeps a kosher home and continues to keep the children in Hasidic schools. Naftali is granted weekend and holiday visitation.

"A religious-upbringing clause should not, and cannot, be enforced to the extent that it violates a parent's legitimate due-process right to express oneself freely," wrote the panel of three judges.

The best part? "Now when the children are with me, I don't have to pretend to be someone I'm not," she says. "That's the biggest thing. I can share my full self and raise my children as who I am."

These days, she's settled on a secular lifestyle, but she insists she has no intention of exposing her kids to anything that flies in the face of the court ruling. "I'm Jewish, and I love the culture and history and food and I feel very connected to the tradition — I just don't believe in God," she says.

Rather, she says she's raising them to be open-minded.

"My kids have so much more information [than I had at that age] — they are empowered," she says. "I just want them to go to college and not get married at 18."


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

East Ramapo fails to ensure quality education for most kids: View 

When Deborah Wortham was appointed superintendent of East Ramapo in 2015, she was touted as a visionary leader who would bring desperately needed change to a district whose board stood accused of gutting public education to serve the interests of private religious schools.

What a tragedy, then, that Superintendent Wortham is not only not aiding but is actively impeding a change in East Ramapo schools that is urgently needed. Many, perhaps most, students in East Ramapo are receiving little or no instruction in math, English, science or social studies. I am referring not to the 8,000 students in public school but to the 20,000 who attend yeshivas.

I have been trying to meet with Dr. Wortham to discuss this issue for almost a year. The only time she did meet with me was when education activist Steven White made the appointment and invited me to come along. Our attempts to follow up with her have been delayed and postponed for months, so I decided to try speaking at a recent public board meeting.

What I encountered at public meetings is that she runs down the clock with lengthy, low-content presentations, such as her patronizing show-and-tell using pictures of rocket ships to illustrate supposed improvements in data. A Hasidic parent who mustered up the courage to join me to speak before the board and the superintendent about the sub-par education his sons and other Hasidic boys are receiving had to leave before having the chance to speak.

Superintendent Wortham earns a prorated base salary of $250,000 in a district where the per capita income is $21,627 and 26 percent of the population is below the poverty line.

Perhaps she has forgotten that she serves the people, not the other way around. Those of us who attend board meetings after a hard day at work aren't being paid overtime to do so.

We want the opportunity to air our grievances about the state of East Ramapo's public and non-public schools and the thousands of Hasidic children who are being denied a basic education — grievances Superintendent Wortham is turning a blind eye on. We want to read to her and to the board the  that outline the superintendent's and the board's responsibility to bring East Ramapo's non-public schools into full compliance with the law, ensuring that all children get the education they deserve. We demand the right to be heard, and we won't stop until we get it.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Pence story reaction shows double-standard 

I've heard numerous versions of this story but I'll go with the one reportedly told by Dr. Abraham Twerski, a renowned psychiatrist and Orthodox rabbi. (I've trimmed and paraphrased it a bit.)

The bearded Twerski goes to the airport in his Hasidic garb — the hat, the long coat, the buttoned white shirt. Another Jew, this one modernly dressed, is annoyed by Twerski and unloads on him: "What's wrong with you? Must you insist on parading around in that medieval get-up as if it were Purim? Don't you realize how ridiculous you look? You bring nothing but scorn and embarrassment upon us Jews!"

After letting the angry man continue for a while, Twerski says: "I fail to understand what thee art saying. You do realize that I'm Amish, don't you?"

The modern Jew's anger quickly turns to embarrassment. "Oh, I beg your pardon," he says apologetically. "I didn't realize that you were Amish. You look so much like those Hasidic fellows. You should know that I have nothing but respect for you and your people — keeping to your ways without bowing to society's wills and whims."

The kicker comes when Twerski says, "Aha! If I were Amish, you would have nothing but respect for me. But since I am a Jew, you are ashamed of me. Hopefully one day you will have the same respect for yourself that you have for others."

But that's not the moral of the story I have in mind.

The Washington Post ran a , and lots of people are outraged or repulsed that two evangelical Christians do things that are fairly normal for evangelical Christians to do. Specifically, Mike Pence apparently doesn't dine alone with women or attend events where alcohol is served if his wife doesn't accompany him. Perhaps this practice started when he was in Congress, a place where many a politician has ruined his marriage and career by not following such rules.

In response, there's been a lot of cheap mockery from prominent liberal writers and activists. It's an affront to working women! He's a Christian weirdo! He thinks a meal with any woman will lead to sex!

A lot of conservatives have leapt to the Pences' defense — and rightly so. Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist concentrated on how these rules help prevent infidelity: "Good on Mike Pence for acknowledging these truths and knowing his limits."

I agree. But it's worth pointing out that infidelity needn't be the issue. I doubt Pence would be a lothario save for those rules. Perhaps he followed them simply to reassure his wife?

Or maybe this is none of our business? That would certainly be the attitude of many liberals if Pence were a Democrat and had actually cheated on his wife.

Last summer, when Bill Clinton spoke about his wife at the Democratic convention ("In the spring of 1971, I met a girl …"), liberals gushed at the "love story," and the rule of the day was that marriage is complicated and the Clintons' ability to stay married (though practically separated) was admirable. Besides, "Who are we to judge?" — no doubt Bill Clinton's favorite maxim.

It's a very strange place we've found ourselves in when elites say we have no right to judge adultery, but we have every right to judge couples who take steps to avoid it.

But ultimately, I don't think the important double standard is about marriage or adultery. It's about traditional Christians.

If the Pences were Muslims and followed similar rules, as devout Muslims indeed might, I doubt there'd be anything like this kind of liberal scorn.

Of course, that's unknowable. But liberals spend a lot of time and energy defending accommodations for religious Muslims — burqas, veils, gender segregation, etc. — that they would never make for committed Christians.

Part of it is coalitional. For instance, the feminist march on Washington — the one with all those women wearing female genitalia hats — was co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, a committed Muslim who at times defends Shariah law (including the Saudi ban on female drivers, for instance).

But part of it strikes me as a crude form of partisan bigotry born of a kind of self-loathing of America's traditional culture. Orthodox Muslim views on women are exotically "other" and somehow courageous, like the imagined Amish traveler. Orthodox Christians are embarrassing, like the Hasidic one.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, The Kailver Rebbe, Thanks Trump For Recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel 

The Kaliver Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, 94, sent special blessings to President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.  He is the Rebbe of the Kaliv Hasidic dynasty. Born in Transylvania in 1923, he is seventh in a direct paternal line to the founder of the dynasty, Rabbi Yitzchak Izak of Kaliv, a disciple of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk.

The ailing rebbe mustered up his strength to offer gratitude to President Trump and to bless him. “My dear president of the United States, I am very very happy since I saw what the president of the United States, a young president, had the greatness to talk to the whole world [about recognizing Jerusalem], you love everybody. Now let me tell you my dear president,” he said.

My dear President, I am now more than 90 and I am broken from everything, 90% of my family were killed in the holocaust, now to hear from the President of the united states, saying these words. People are jealous that the president did such nice things for Israel”

“After I was in Auschwitz, they wanted to throw me in a fire. I said to the almighty, help me, ‘Shema Yisrael’, my G-d let me live, and I was saved. so miracles after miracles , the almighty helped me. These words what you said , made the world world believe that if you do, you will get help from the almighty. I was very happy to hear while I was lying in [sick] in bed, that the president came to Eretz Yisrael and was by the Kotel [Western Wall].”

“I want to wish u from the depths of my heart that you should have great success., don’t worry if people are talking bad about you, the almighty is with you and he should help you and the world should know that the US helps everybody, anytime. Thank you very much and a lot of blessings to you, thank u very much.” The Kaliver Rebbe concluded.

In 1944, the Kaliver Rebbe was deported to Auschwitz, where he was experimented on by Dr. Josef Mengele. Because of “chemical burning experiments”, he is unable to grow facial hair and is also unable to have children.

Taub’s first wife, Chana Sara, died in 2010. In 2012, he remarried to 55-year-old Sheindel Malnik of Bnei Brak.



Sunday, December 24, 2017

Watch van driver's vile 'Hitler was a great man' rant at Jewish road-rage victim 

A van driver has been caught on camera saying "Hitler was a great man, he knew what he was doing" in a vile rant at a Jewish road-rage victim.

The incident was allegedly sparked by a row over parking on Friday in London's Stamford Hill area.

Stamford Hill is known as a Jewish area and is home to a large population of orthodox Hasidic Jews who often wear distinctive black clothes and hats.

The driver, who is black and speaks with a Caribbean accent, repeats the racist phrase several times when asked by the Jewish man.

In the brief clip, the Jewish man can be heard saying: "One more time, say it again."

The driver replies: "Hitler was a great man. He knew what he was doing."

He adds: "You think you own the world. You don't own the world.

"This is Stamford Hill, this ain't Israel, okay?"

Stamford Hill Shomrim, a Jewish neighbourhood watch group, said they have passed the footage of the incident to the police.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, president of the organisation, said in a statement: "The words used in this antisemitic rant is absolutely abhorrent and disgusting.

"I am deeply shocked that a person can hold and feel free to express such despicable views."



Haredi man arrested after hit and run in Kiryas Joel 

New York State Police have arrested a hasidic resident of the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel, a village within the town of Monroe in Orange County, New York, for the hit-and-run of a young child.

Police say that 24-year old Yudah Zimmerman struck an eight-year child with his delivery van near Kiryat Joel's Siget Court back in November 2016 before fleeing the scene. The boy was only found an hour later and was taken to Westchester Medical with severe internal injuries.

Police tracked down Zimmerman after an exhaustive investigation and he was charged him with leaving the scene of an accident and endangering the welfare of a child by the Orange Country Grand Jury on December 17.

Zimmerman was imprisoned at the Orange County Jail after failing to pay the $25,000 bond.



Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jewish Santas deliver goodies to first responders 

The initiative — the First Responders Project — is coordinated by Charleston Jewish Family Services and the Charleston Jewish Federation, which sign up dozens of volunteers to bring food to fire stations and police departments throughout the tri-county metropolitan area on Christmas Day. It’s a way for members of the Jewish community to express their appreciation for first responders who must work on the holiday.

“The first year we reached about 20 different stations,” said lead organizer Sara Chesley. Initially, volunteers visited only fire houses. “This year there’s 40-plus.” And they will include police.

Some volunteers cook hot meals, others prepare sandwiches. Some bake or buy sweets. They sign up with Chesley, who makes assignments, seeking to spread the good cheer far and wide.

“A lot of us are looking for things to do besides Chinese food and a movie,” she said. “You can drop off your cookies on the way to the movie.”

She said perhaps 50 people will register to participate in the First Responders Project, but they often get their families involved, so the real number of volunteers can exceed 100.

“A lot of people want to bring their children, because how fun is it to go to a fire station?” she said. “Some form teams and treat it as an event, so it’s really taken on special meaning for families.”

Chesley said the project is one way to realize the Jewish moral imperative of “tikkun olam,” which translates to “repairing the world.” It has come to connote social outreach and charity, but its meaning is deeper than that. It has its origins in the Kabbalah, a mystical Jewish text.

Tikkun olam refers to the divide between the holy and materialistic, the perfection of God and the brokenness of human kind. It includes notions of good and evil, and of the spiritual quest to achieve wholeness so that God’s divine light, currently scattered, might shine its brightest.

To do this, Jews worship together to emphasize the sacred over the profane, and they do good deeds in an effort to gather together the shards of holy light, little by little, over the ages.

Charleston’s interim fire chief John Tippett said the department is overwhelmed by the generosity of area residents and is very grateful. The gesture is especially meaningful because of the large number of people working on Christmas Day.

“All of our stations are fully staffed with firefighters every day of the year,” he said.

Neil Gewirtzman, a Kiawah Island resident, is one of the growing number of volunteers. Last year, he made a point of taking photos with the firefighters.

“People saw the pictures and thought, ‘How great is that?’ So more people got involved,” Gewirtzman said.

He and his wife Marsha are preparing baskets of goodies to bring to four stations on Christmas Day this year, he said.

“Somebody’s doing the work and protecting,” he said. “We just wanted to thank them.”



Friday, December 22, 2017

Rubashkin release corrects a huge injustice 

Veteran American jurist and former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz responded to the commutation of Sholom Rubashkin's prison sentence by US President Donald Trump.

Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the Iowa kosher slaughterhouse executive who was sentenced to 27 years in prison for fraud and money laundering.

The decision was "encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch," said a statement from the White House.

Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children. He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country's largest kosher meat-processing company. In 2009, he was convicted of bank fraud and later sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Dershowitz told the Hamodia newspaper that the president did the right thing in commuting Rubashkin's sentence,

"I was outraged by the sentence, because it appeared to me to be about ten times longer than sentences for comparable cases involving non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews," Dershowitz told Hamodia.

"I think if he weren't a Hasidic Jew, he would not have gotten that sentence. And the evidence of that is there are other cases in this district involving non-Jews where the sentences were much lower for more serious frauds and crimes.

While Dershowitz would not say whether he thought Rubashkin received such a harsh sentence because of anti-Semitism, he said that there was clear "animosity" towards Rubashkin" by the prosecutor and by the judge."

He accused the prosecutors of having "manipulated the sale price of the business, to bring the sale price down, to cause the losses to go up to increase the sentence."

Dershowitz also said that the conduct of the presiding judge, Judge Linda Reade, was "disgraceful: right from the beginning, where she helped engineer the search and then stayed on the case; the fact that her husband is invested in prisons for profit; the sentencing in the case – the totality of the circumstances creates the impression of bias."

He said that he had raised the issue of the issue of Rubashkin's unjust sentence with the Obama Administration, to no avail, and continued to raise the issue with the Trump Administration.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Religious Jews Celebrate as Trump Commutes Sholom Rubashkin’s Sentence 

There was dancing in the streets of Brooklyn on Wednesday as President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, a former supplier of kosher meat who was sentenced to an unusually long prison term of 27 years in 2010 after being convicted of fraud the year before.

Rubashkin's slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant in Iowa was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008, who found illegal aliens working there. Later, he was arrested on various fraud charges. Though the charges relating to hiring illegal aliens were later dropped, he was convicted of the fraud charges. The judge, Linda Reade, handed down an unusually long sentence that critics suspected had been motivated by antisemitism. Critics pressed President Barack Obama for clemency, without success.

Those efforts were renewed once Trump took office. A February letter signed by several former Attorneys General and legislators from both political parties urged President Trump to use his presidential powers to grant clemency to  Rubashkin, describing his sentence as "particularly unjust and draconian … far longer than the median sentences for murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse, child pornography and numerous other offenses exponentially more serious than his."

On Wednesday — which happened to be the eighth day of Chanukah — President Trump announced that he had granted Rubashkin clemency after serving more than eight years of his sentence. In a statement released by the White House, President Trump said:

Mr. Rubashkin is a 57-year-old father of 10 children.  He previously ran the Iowa headquarters of a family business that was the country's largest kosher meat-processing company.  In 2009, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced thereafter to 27 years in prison. Mr. Rubashkin has now served more than 8 years of that sentence, which many have called excessive in light of its disparity with sentences imposed for similar crimes.

This action is not a Presidential pardon.  It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin's conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin's sentence.

The President's review of Mr. Rubashkin's case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community.  A bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin's case and the severity of his sentence.  Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin's case.

News of Rubashkin's release spread rapidly in the Orthodox Jewish community, and was greeted with jubilation by the Lubavitch Chabad Hasidic community to which Rubashkin belongs. Crowds thronged the Rubashkin family home in Monsey, New York, and the Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Rubashkin was greeted by thousands of singing and dancing supporters who carried him on their shoulder.

The celebrations that greeted Rubashkin in Monsey and Brooklyn echoed in religious communities around the world.

Religious Jewish news sites covered the celebrations. Videos showed participants praising President Trump and proclaiming Rubashkin's early release on Chanukah as a positive sign for the world.

In the cheering crowds, a few red "MAGA" hats could be seen among the traditional black fedoras. Speaking to the throngs at 770 in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, Rubashkin thanked Trump effusively: "God bless him," he said, prompting loud cheers. Rubashkin also noted Trump's recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Most observers agreed that Trump had done the right thing. Alan Dershowitz tweeted: "Today Pres Trump commuted the excessively unjust sentence of Sholom Rubashkin to the 8+years he has already served. Dems & Repubs asked him to commute. He did the right thing."


Trump Commutes Jail Sentence Of Sholom Rubashkin, Kosher Meat Exec 

Jailed kosher meat executive Sholom Rubashkin, whose Iowa-based meatpacking firm Agriprocessors was the subject of what at the time was the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, will go free following a commutation issued Wednesday evening by President Trump.

Rubashkin’s firm was the subject of a major Forward investigative series in 2006 and 2007. The Forward uncovered poor treatment of workers and animals at the plant.

In 2009, Rubashkin was found guilty of 86 counts of bank fraud and sentenced to 27 years in prison. In the years since, the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic group, of which he is a member, and other Orthodox Jews have campaigned for his freedom.

In a statement, the White House said that the commutation was not a pardon. “It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation,” the White House said.



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cuomo vetoes bill that would allow wards for school board elections 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill Monday that would have allowed school districts to create wards for the election of school board members.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, and Sen. Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall-on-Hudson, and was approved by the Assembly and Senate in June.

It was delivered to Cuomo on Dec. 6, and he had until Monday to sign it. Had Cuomo not acted on it, the bill would have automatically become law, according to Richard Azzopardi, spokesperson for the Governor's Office.

The bill called for a public referendum for a district to approve the adoption of wards. Once approved, a school board would have been able to divide the district into three to nine wards.

Supporters in the Pine Bush School District have discussed the idea since 2014, said school board member Roseanne Sullivan, but others opposed the bill, with some critics calling it anti-Semitic.

Joel Petlin, superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District, applauded the veto Tuesday. He had written a letter to Alphonso David, counsel to Cuomo, saying the true reason for Pine Bush's advocacy for the bill was to limit the number of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish people who could sit on the board.

In his veto message, Cuomo said he supports a path for local districts who decide an equal voice is ensured through a ward system.

"As drafted, however, the bill does not provide adequate protections to guard against disenfranchisement or discrimination against citizens or groups of citizens," Cuomo wrote.

Cuomo added that the bill does not require prior analysis of potential disenfranchisement or discrimination.

"It also lacks requirements to ensure that election wards appropriately represent communities, and it does not require school districts to provide open, transparent, and fair voting procedures to ensure a true determination of the public's desire to adopt such an election system," he said.

Larkin will revisit the bill to address Cuomo's concerns and "ensure ward voting becomes a reality," he said.

"I am extremely disappointed that the Governor vetoed my legislation ... Despite the Governor's veto, I am undeterred," Larkin said in an emailed statement.

Sullivan, who was involved in the drafting of the bill, said she wants to hear from the public before working with legislators to revisit the bill. She wants grassroots efforts to lead the next push for wards in school elections.

"Obviously, (Cuomo) has heard not enough from one side and overwhelmingly from another. The only thing that's going to change that is the voice of the people," Sullivan said.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Don’t paint Orthodox Jews with broad brush 

In the Asbury Park Press’ otherwise admirable and helpful coverage of Lakewood schools, the Vaad, busing, overcrowding, public housing and the budget, one missing distinction is between the Modern Orthodox and the Haredi Jewish communities. The term ultra-orthodox is sometimes used for Haredi, but has negative connotations to many Orthodox. The term Haredi is better known in Israel than in the U.S.

The Modern Orthodox and Haredi branches of Judaism have different views of their roles in society, affecting interactions and contributions. The Modern Orthodox assume contemporary dress, and participate freely in commerce and in social events. An Orthodox scientist or physician is most likely Modern Orthodox. Devout religious practice implies adhering to Jewish law, or Halakha, including strict dietary laws and avoidance of technology on the Sabbath: hotel elevators that stop on every floor, pre-arranged Ubers, or a companionable walk from synagogue to home. For many Jews, including Reform and Conservative, the Modern Orthodox stand as a model of religious observance and assimilation.

Haredi choose not to assimilate. The highest calling for a young man is to study Torah. Beth Medrash Govoha, BMG, in Lakewood is a Kollel, an acclaimed undergraduate institution where some 7,000 married male students study Torah intensively. Frequently they are fathers supported by their wives and the community. Additionally, there are 60 or more high schools, yeshivas, in Lakewood, most for males only, some for females only, and a few co-educational.

The Haredim of “Greater Lakewood” include Hasid, Yeshivist and other Orthodox styles, which are represented in the teachings at BMG and other yeshivas, making Lakewood an integrated Haredi community. The typical dress of the Haredi is black suit and black hat for men, and head covering for women. On airline flights, passengers are asked to relocate so that a Haredi man does not sit next to a woman.

Men and women sit separately in both Modern Orthodox and Haredi synagogues. The Modern Orthodox strongly pursue traditional higher education, while only gradually the Haredi do, and then especially women. Whereas Modern Orthodox may stroll in Central Park or Holmdel Park un-remarked, a recent Passover brought an outing of Haredim to Deep Cut Gardens in Middletown. The sea of black was good to see, yet it was difficult to interact, with no greetings except for just one Haredi who broke the silences.

There is much to learn and understand about Orthodox Judaism, and about the Haredi especially. One is the significance of Halakha in everyday life, and the “Haredi nuances,” where a Haredi with an issue goes first to the rabbis, who might resolve the issue or go to the legal authorities. Federal and state law trump Halakha, but religious accommodations can be made when possible.

The separateness of the Haredi, following Jewish law, requires secular leadership, and thus the Lakewood Vaad, council of Haredi leaders. In the political process, and in welfare applications, the Vaad provides guidance across the entire region. Jared Kushner, seen to be Modern Orthodox, is not beholden to the Lakewood Vaad or to any other Vaad. Ralph Zucker of BellWorks studied at BMG and yet clearly participates freely, and wonderfully, in commerce. Of the reform, conservative and orthodox Jews in our region, it is the Haredi who raise concerns, not for the practice of religion, but for societal impacts on other Americans.

A Dec. 13 article in the Press described an interim agreement to construct an eruv in Jackson. Agudath Israel, a Haredi advocacy organization, took a leading role in discussions. Demographic changes will likely follow construction of the eruv, with the non-Haredi who can moving away, and others choosing not to move to the area. Haredi population growth is fueled by a high birth rate, “replacing those lost in the Holocaust,” and displacement from gentrifying Brooklyn. The Haredi community in Lakewood, “Israel in America,” is a significant accomplishment, yet the current leadership, whether it is the Vaad or the Township Council, needs more than ever the moderating influence of organizations such as Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., the Lakewood Senior Action Group, and strong women in leadership positions and as role models.



Monday, December 18, 2017

Miami-area village passes landmark anti-Semitism ordinance 

A Miami-area village council passed an ordinance that helps police define and investigate anti-Semitic acts as hate crimes.

The Bal Harbour Village Council unanimously passed the ordinance, which the Miami Herald reported is the first of its kind for a municipality.

The ordinance passed last week by the five-member council took effect immediately.

It points to the State Department's 2010 definition of anti-Semitism but gives law enforcement discretion in determining whether to call a crime a hate incident.

Under the ordinance, police officers may consider whether a crime had an anti-Semitic motivation and investigate it as a violation of the ordinance in addition to state and federal hate crimes laws.

Mayor Gabriel Groisman, who worked to pass the measure, told the Miami Herald that since there is no codified definition of anti-Semitism, police departments throughout the United States have a hard time identifying and investigating hate crimes.

While there have not been any recent anti-Semitic acts in Bal Harbour, which has fewer than 3,000 residents, there have been several in neighboring municipalities. The village is home to a large number of Jewish families.

In December 2015, the village became the first major municipality to pass an ordinance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. More than 20 U.S. states have passed such legislation.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

In Budapest, Hanukkah comes out of the shadows and onto the ice rink 

The outdoor ice skating rink — the largest in Central Europe — in Budapest’s city center has been part and parcel of Hungary’s Christmas tradition for nearly 150 years.

Stretching across 3.5 acres between Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle, the Budapest City Park Ice Rink draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the country each winter. They come for the Christmas market, the winter festival, and the promise of smooth ice and affordable skate rentals.

It’s an enormous and enormously popular attraction, so City Park Ice Rink is busy nearly every day with the Christmas revelers. Except, however, on the first night of Hanukkah.

On that evening, the rink is populated with hundreds of Jews. They gather to sing Hanukkah songs as they watch rabbis on skates light a large menorah built by EMIH, the local branch of the Chabad Hasidic movement. With help from a donor in Budapest, they rent the rink for $12,000, and distribute sufganiyot and tea to holiday revelers who have pre-purchased tickets.

The City Park Hanukkah celebration started just over a decade ago, and it is unusual in that it’s one of just a few places in Europe where the North American “Hanukkah on ice” tradition has taken root. In the US, Chabad rabbis organize dozens of Hanukkah on ice events each year featuring the ceremonial candle lighting, munching on the deep-fried Hanukkah delicacies and ice skating, with games for children and training for the inexperienced.

But in Budapest, the event is part of a broader “coming out” of Jewish communities in the former communist bloc, where after years of practicing their religion underground, Jews are now celebrating Hanukkah in very public ways.

“Hanukkah used to be low key in Budapest, as was everything else connected to Judaism during socialism,” said Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, one of the early organizers of Budapest’s Hanukkah on ice tradition. Back then, Jews feared that practicing any religion — and Judaism especially — invited persecution.

“But it’s not good for Judaism when things are low key,” he added, because it made people leave the tradition. Throughout the Soviet sphere of influence, decades of religious persecution compounded the Nazi-caused devastation. Unaware or ashamed of their Jewish identity, countless Jews in that part of the world assimilated, distanced themselves from Judaism and produced children that no longer regarded themselves as Jewish.

Against this background, Hanukkah has a special significance in the post-communist world, said Oberlander, a Brooklyn-born rabbi who settled in Budapest 28 years ago as an emissary of Chabad.

Oberlander isn’t just referring to public events at ice skating rinks — there’s also the longstanding practice of placing Hanukkah menorahs on the windowsill, specifically for all to see.

“Meaning, don’t be low key!” he told JTA.

Oberlander, 53, does not skate himself, he said, explaining he’s “not very good at it.” But in his community, the event is one of the most popular because of how it combines seasonal amenities, sports and religious ceremony in a fun, family-friendly setting.

His interpretation of how Jews should celebrate Hanukkah is shared by many rabbis all over the world — Chabad rabbis, in particular — who stage large, public menorah lightings in central squares of major cities. New York, for example, boasts two such massive events: The Grand Army Plazas in both Manhattan and Brooklyn have been in competition over which holds the title of World’s Largest Menorah.

Such displays inspired Jews to think big in western Europe, ending decades in which communities traumatized by the Holocaust had shunned initiatives that advertise Judaism.

Since 2013 in the Netherlands, for example, the chief rabbi has been lifted in a crane (along with the Israeli ambassador) to light the first candle of a 36-foot menorah built for the Jewish community by Christian Zionists who say it is Europe’s largest. In Berlin, a giant menorah is lit at the Brandenburg Gate monument.

Like the massive menorah lightings, Europe’s growing Hanukkah on ice trend — which this year can be observed in Budapest, Moscow and London — also started in the United States, where it is occurring this year in locations from Wollman Rink in New York’s Central Park, to Houston to San Mateo, California.

In Moscow, the popular Hanukkah on ice event, which began in 2012, is eclipsed by what may well be the largest celebration of Hanukkah in Europe: the annual gathering of 6,000 Jews at the State Kremlin Palace for an evening of dance and performances, as well as the bestowing of awards to communal VIPs. Organizers say the venue is important to them for symbolic reasons because it produced some of the world’s worst anti-Semitic policies after the fall of Nazi Germany.

In Budapest, the city’s summertime Jewish cultural festival is also an example of Jews reclaiming their place in society. Judafest, which was held for the 10th consecutive year, draws thousands of Jews and non-Jews to the historically Jewish 7th district for sessions, activities and exhibitions connected to Jewish cooking, dancing and Yiddish.



Saturday, December 16, 2017

Call for permanent museum to mark Welsh Jewish heritage 

Dr Cai Parry-Jones said Wales has no permanent institutions or projects dedicated to this aspect of its past, despite a recent increase in awareness.

His comments come as uncertainty remains about the future of the old synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil.

It has been suggested the building, constructed in the 1870s, could be developed into a museum.

Awareness of the history of Welsh Jews has increased in recent years, according to Dr Parry-Jones, the author of a book on Wales' Jewish communities.

"Since devolution, more is being done because Wales is starting to understand and see itself as a multi-faith and multicultural country," he told the BBC's Welsh language services, Newyddion 9 and BBC Cymru Fyw.

"In the last decade, a couple of books have been published on the history of Judaism in Wales.

"There have been some temporary exhibitions also, but nothing solid and permanent - so more could be done, I believe."

He said the situation is different in England and Scotland, where dedicated archives and museums have been established.

The synagogue in Merthyr - which has not been used for worship for many years - is the oldest synagogue still standing in Wales.

It is currently for sale, with planning permission granted for it to be converted into flats; this has been the fate of many other old synagogues in areas where there is no longer an active Jewish community.

The neo-gothic building, which is listed, is architecturally "unusual" when compared to other synagogues in the UK, according to Dr Parry-Jones.

Its style, he says, was influenced by other iconic south Wales buildings of the period, such as Castell Coch and Cyfarthfa Castle.

It has been suggested by some in the area Merthyr Tydfil council could take over the privately-owned building and turn it into a museum.

BBC Wales has asked the council for a comment.

In another part of Wales, a member of the Jewish community says maintaining it and its heritage is a challenge.

Prof Nathan Abrams from Bangor says Jewish people in the north are dispersed and the area lacks a synagogue and other community facilities.

However, the small community manages to put on some cultural events - such as a Hanukkah celebration held with Bangor University's chaplaincy team earlier this week.

"I try to put on things like films, things to do with food - because everyone likes food," said Prof Abrams, professor of film at the university.

"And we had an exhibition at Gwynedd Museum around 10 years ago to teach people about the Jewish history of north Wales.

"We try all sort of things, but it is difficult."

Although the future of Merthyr's synagogue is uncertain, for those who want to see more recogintion of Wales' Jewish history, it could be key.

Along with potentially transforming the building into a museum or heritage centre, it has been suggested it could be moved to the National Museum of History in St Fagans, near Cardiff.

The museum - which is home to many of Wales' historically siginficant buildings - has examples of Christian houses of worship, but none from other faiths.



Friday, December 15, 2017

Why this non-Jewish lawmaker quoted a famous Hasidic rabbi 

"A Very Narrow Bridge" is a popular Hasidic song, one that is embraced by Jews of all denominations.

The words to it, which are from the writings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th-century founder of a Hasidic sect, are "The entire world is a very narrow bridge; the main thing is to vanquish fear."

It's a good song for the Sabbath table, or when a friend needs solace.

Also, we now know, for a congressional hearing.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who is a cable news favorite for his confrontational posture toward President Donald Trump and who is not Jewish, quoted Rabbi Nachman in advising Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to stay the course however hard the times.

Rosenstein appeared Thursday before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to field questions about the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into alleged ties between Russia and Trump's campaign and transition team. Rosenstein hired Mueller and because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, is the only man who can fire him.

Rosenstein repeatedly defended Mueller against calls by Republicans that the special prosecutor should step down because of allegations of bias on his team.

Swalwell had a sometimes tense exchange with Rosenstein, who refused to divulge the nature or even frequency of his conversations with Trump. Swalwell wanted to know if Trump was attempting to influence Rosenstein or press him to fire Mueller. But Swalwell also made clear he admired Rosenstein's forbearance in defending Mueller and advised him to stay the course.

"Mr. Deputy Attorney General, your investigation is a very narrow bridge," Swalwell said. "The important part, I believe for our country is for you to not be afraid. In these trying times, we need you to be fearless. We have a president who is willing to involve himself in ongoing investigations that involve he and his family."

I asked Swalwell about the quote's origins. "It's a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav," he said in an email. "Occasionally, it comes to mind."


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hasidic Village’s Massive Condo Development Will Be Denser Than Manhattan 

Officials in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, in New York, gave final approval this month to a major development that will increase the village's population by 40 percent over five years, the Times Herald-Record reported.

Kiryas Veyoel Gardens, a 1,600 condo development, is expected to bring 9,000 residents to a currently undeveloped 70-acre plot of land. At full capacity, the development would be significantly denser than Manhattan.

The plans include designs for 69 closely situated condo buildings along with two community centers. The development will be linked by a pedestrian bridge to the rest of Kiryas Joel, which lies on the other side of a county road.

Kiryas Joel, one of the poorest communities in the country, has seen its population more than triple since 1990. The development is expected to relieve overcrowding in the town, inhabited almost exclusively by members of the Satmar Hasidic group.

The development is expected to be completed in 2025.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Developer sentenced in scam to build Hasidic Catskills village 

Shalom Lamm (Uriel Heilman/JTA)

A prominent New York Jewish real estate developer, the son of a former Yeshiva University president, was sentenced to 10 months in prison for conspiring to commit voter fraud in an upstate New York village.

Shalom Lamm, 58, also was fined $20,000 and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service at his sentencing last week in Manhattan federal court, The New York Jewish Week reported. Lamm had pleaded guilty in June.

His co-defendant, Kenneth Nakdimen, pleaded guilty a month earlier and was sentenced in September to six months in federal prison.

Lamm, the son of former Yeshiva University Ppresident Norman Lamm and a married father of five, was planning to build a 396-unit housing development for Hasidic Jews in Bloomingburg, a village of 400 in the Catskills. As he encountered opposition from locals, Lamm and his colleagues allegedly attempted to commit voter fraud to elect politicians who would back the project.

They were accused of back-dating leases, and putting toothbrushes and toothpaste in apartments to make it seem like the falsely registered voters were living there. The scheme led to 150 new voter registrations, most of them fraudulent.

At the sentencing, Judge Vincent Briccetti called the crime a "brazen attempt to corrupt the electoral process," according to The Jewish Week. He also dismissed the many letters sent to the court that vouched for Lamm.

"Good deeds are not more important than the crime itself. What about compassion for your neighbors?" Briccetti asked. "This case is about the lack of compassion for your neighbors. Neighbors be damned. Why? To make millions."

At the sentencing, Lamm expressed regret for his actions. "In 2014, my actions and the actions of others – attempting to interfere with the election in Bloomingburg – the good people of Bloomingburg deserve more than that," he said, according to the Times Herald-Record.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader Shteinman dies at 104 

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the spiritual leader of Israel's non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews of European descent and one of the country's most influential and powerful rabbis, died on Tuesday. He was 104.

Shteinman was hospitalized several weeks ago with shortness of breath and passed away early on Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands took part in a funeral procession in the central Israeli ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

Police blocked major highways and roads around the cemetery and emergency medical services were on hand to deal with the flood of people clamoring to get a close look. The emergency service Magen David Adom said even before the funeral began it had treated about 70 people for injuries resulting from the dense crowd.

Shteinman was a longtime political kingmaker whose orders were strictly followed by his representatives in parliament. His influence, however, far surpassed just that and he was seen as the leading voice of the entire community on many issues of religion and state. Following the 2012 death of his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, he was widely regarded as "Gadol Hador," or "leader of the generation."

The ultra-Orthodox, known in Hebrew as "Haredim," or "those who fear God," are the fastest growing sector in Israel. Due to their high birth rate, they now number more than 1 million people, or about 12 percent of Israel's 8.7 million citizens, with the majority living beneath the poverty line.

Shteinman was known for his rabbinic scholarship, his relatively pragmatic rulings and extremely modest lifestyle. He was often called to judge on sensitive matters such as how much the traditionally insular community should integrate with the larger Israeli society, embrace technology, pursue higher education, work or agree to serve in the largely security military. In recent years, he had faced a challenge from a more extremist rabbi in Jerusalem who sent thousands into the street to protest the small numbers of ultra-Orthodox who have enlisted.

Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox community, said that until just recently Shteinman was of clear mind and hosting followers who sought his advice.

"He was a person who knew very carefully how to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the individual," he said. "His legacy is greatness of scholarship ... but at the same time a very nuanced leadership."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin praised Shteinman as a leader who "carried on his shoulders the existential weight of the Jewish people."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him a "giant of Jewish learning."

"The Jewish people have lost a lighthouse of spirit, heritage and ethics," Netanyahu said. "(Shteinman) established an important link in the chain of thousands of years of Torah, and his memory will rest forever in the annals of our nation."


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