A Result of Chasidic Culture or American/Western Culture?

Everyone is up in arms with this article that was published yesterday, an interview with a Chasidic developer from Brooklyn. When I first read this article I was utterly shocked and my immediate response was that this Chasidic guy is so stupid, he has no inkling that he is doing and saying something wrong. At best, this guy is a stupid ignoramus; at worst, he’s an outright racist and a bad person.

Many (including my friends and fellow bloggers Fred MacDowell and Shulem Deen) have commented extensively on this article, some pointing to some inherent flaws of Chasidim as a society that causes such behavior. I would like to examine this issue from two different and unique perspectives and show that this has nothing with the Chasidic society as a whole. If the Chasidic society can be blamed for something it is for the ignorance portrayed in this guy’s bold and blatant way of saying these statements – so matter-of-factly – in a public medium. But first I would like to state clearly my strong opposition to such behavior regardless who perpetuated it. I have actually written on this topic before and called some of them out on this blog and on other forums.

The ignorant bigoted and superstitious statements are possibly a result of the Chasidic upbringing but the behavior is in my opinion a result of the American dream.

The American dream says that anyone and everyone can be successful. Success in America is measured by the bottom line on your balance sheet, how much money you earned, how much real estate you own etc. We exalt making lots of money more than anything else. The sharks on the popular TV show ‘Shark Tank’ are heroes to millions of Americans, including many Chasidim. Hundreds of books are published every year on how this person or those people went from rags to riches and how YOU can do it too. These books are extremely popular. No one will read a book on how a person didn’t have a job, how they went into real estate and when they reached an earned income level of two hundred thousand dollars, they were satisfied and stopped working. No one will publish a book that tells the story of how someone was an honest hard working plumber all his life, paid his bills and never went to Cancun or Hawaii for vacation.

This is the world that we live in. People grow up knowing that it is their duty to work hard, take risks and become as rich as possible. People see it as their duty to make sure that their business runs as efficiently as possible to turn the highest profit possible. Some paint it with an altruistic paint brush and say that it is their duty to the shareholders of their company. They will say whatever makes them feel better, but at the end of the day they are the ones going home with millions or billions in their bank account, not the shareholders.

This isn’t a result of the Chasidic upbringing; this is a result of an American capitalistic greedy upbringing. When a CEO takes home a million dollar bonus, flies in a private jet and parties on a luxury yacht, while hundreds of (black) employees in his company toil away seventy hours a week to bring home a minimum wage salary that doesn’t cover their expenses, is that a result of the Chasidic society? How about when banks foreclose on homes while turning a multi-billion dollar profit “for its shareholders”? Is that also a result of the Chasidic upbringing? When companies lay off thousands of workers, thus rendering them and their families homeless, whose fault is that?

Isn’t this exactly what these shark real estate investors are doing? Aren’t they simply running a business as efficiently as possible to bring in the most money they can? Why when these people behave so atrociously do you blame the Chasidic system? This has nothing to do with the Chasidic system; this has to do with the American system, one which the separatist and sheltered Chasidim have unfortunately not succeeded in protecting themselves from.

I know many developers who do this, many are Chasidim, as are most people I interact with on a daily basis, but many are secular or non-Jewish altogether. I judge these people very harshly but not differently than the way I judge any other ambitious businessman – that will do whatever they can within the grey confines of the law and still get away with it – to make more money and become richer, while people around them suffer because or despite of them.

Another point that needs to be taken into account, in order to gain some perspective, is the archaic and somewhat unfair nature of rent control laws in some areas. I’m not very familiar with the specific laws in order to be able to comment on the topic on an intellectual level, but I do know that most of the shenanigans that we are discussing here happen mostly in these areas that have such properties that are protected by these laws. I have read many explanations as to why it happens. The point is that the government needs to do a hard examination on those laws and see if they aren’t ending up hurting those same people that they are meant to protect. Sometimes the Talmudic idiom is correct, “the mouse isn’t the thief; the hole is the thief”.


An Important Lesson That My Kid Taught Me

Sometimes we are so self absorbed that we don’t notice our own kids and how they morph into this unique human being. We see our kids as extensions of ourselves, as a being that we need to help shape and form. We dismiss them as little kids with no sense of morality and fairness. They receive the most attention when they do something that makes US look really good or really bad. But we need to take a step back every once in a while and view them not as OUR kid, or not as a kid at all.

There is much that we could learn from our own kids, if only we could learn to listen to them and respect THEM more. I learned this one day when I had the following conversation with one of my kids.

He came home from school very upset and distraught.

Me: Why are you so upset today?

Him: My rebbe hit me today.

Me: I’m sure you aren’t claiming that he just hit you out of the blue for no reason at all. What did you do?

Him: I tore up a paper into tiny pieces and my rebbe told me not to. Later someone passed my desk and all the papers went flying all over the class floor. My rebbe got very upset and he hit me on top of my head. It’s not fair! I was in the process of throwing the papers in the garbage, that boy passed and they all flew away. It was not intentional.

Me: Giving him a big hug, I told him that people make mistakes, rebbes are human beings and they could also make mistakes.

At this point his eyes welled up and he says in a choking voice: That’s exactly my point! I understand that he made a mistake, but why can’t he understand that I too am a human being that makes mistakes sometimes?

I gave him another hug and I said: You are so right.

I was amazed how this little human being picked up on this great point that we adults fail to see. We expect from kids what we don’t expect of ourselves. We give ourselves and other adults the benefit of the doubt in areas that we wouldn’t do it for kids. We really should.

When a Community Became So Heartless – Part 2

This week, in the Satmar newspaper ‘Der Blatt’, there was a letter to the editor from supposedly a local school administrator. Here’s a rough translation of the letter.


Dear editor,

You may hear your friends besmirching the schools and the leadership because their kids weren’t accepted to a school. Instead of giving the schools credit for keeping the schools pious and on a high standard, people are talking bad about and defaming the school’s reputation.  

If you hear such slandering you should know that most of these originate from the loathsome ‘Whatsapp’, where people incite each other with lies and deceit.

As a school administrator I can assure you that we judge every single Jewish soul in full earnestness and the decisions aren’t taken easy. If the decision (to reject a child) is due to the parent’s behavior, well, for this it says “The wise have eyes in their heads”.

In short, there is no problem at all with our school system and its terrible selection process, the problem is Whatsaap.

Divergent – The Biggest Threat To Our Society

di·ver·gent – diˈvərjənt,dī- – adjective – tending to be different or develop in different directions.

I am not a big fan of futuristic fantasy movies but somehow this movie resonated with me very strongly and I found it extremely entertaining. It wasn’t the storyline or the acting that got me; rather it was the underlying messages and motifs that hit so close to home.

‘Divergent’ is a story set in in a futuristic dystopian Chicago. After world war destroys society, the remaining people are divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest) – they become the judges and lawyers, Dauntless (the brave) – they become the law enforcement, and Erudite (the intelligent) – they become the scholars, scientists, inventors etc.

At the age of sixteen every boy and girl undergoes a serum-based aptitude test that indicates the faction into which they would best fit. The child is then free to choose which faction they want to join. After passing a grueling initiation process they become official members of that faction. If they don’t pass the process they are relegated to society’s fringe group, the faction-less (homeless). Once a faction is chosen, there’s no changing and there’s no going back home. All this is done to ensure the peace and harmony, and that “human nature” won’t interfere and harm what is deemed the progress and betterment of all the people.


The biggest threat to society is the ‘divergent’, because the divergent doesn’t fully fit into any of the five factions, the divergent is intelligent, the divergent is an independent thinker, the divergent follows the path which nature dictates them rather than simply following the herd. There’s always the fear that they won’t conform to hierarchy. The divergent must be found out and eradicated from society at any cost. Members of all groups (besides Abnegation) are trained and programmed to spy on their friends in an effort to weed out those few divergent.

Divergent members who succeed in fooling the system must quickly learn to play the system, or they will be found out and face the harsh consequences. The divergent in ‘Dauntless’ has to learn to think, speak and act like a Dauntless. The divergent must do things that go against their beliefs and against nature or they may lose their lives. The divergent doesn’t have the liberty to express their real thoughts and beliefs, they definitely wouldn’t dare to wonder aloud and question the standard principles and opinions, as this might give away the fact that they are actually divergent and this is deemed the greatest threat to society.

When one divergent finally recognizes another divergent among their peers, they could allow themselves to express their real thoughts and feelings without fear. They can also help and support each other navigate in their tough deceptive lives. This makes it easier for the both of them and they could each look out for the other.


I don’t want to ruin the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t share the rest of the plot. I wonder, how many of you can identify with this idea? Some people say that they feel like a square peg being fitted into a round hole. I don’t think that there are square pegs or round pegs in society. I think that there are people in society. Every person is made up of different and diverse personalities which includes being somewhat square, somewhat circle, somewhat triangle etc. Trying to fit anyone into anything isn’t anyone’s greater good other than the fitter’s. This, though, is only concerning being squeezed and uncomfortable, as opposed to the divergent, for them it is a matter of life and death. There are so many more thoughts to share on this idea, but we’ll leave it here for now. I strongly recommend this movie, if any of this resonates with you. Enjoy!

When a Community Became So Heartless

I came across this article in an old Ami magazine that brought me to tears. Due to lack of time, I won’t repost the whole article. A short synopsis, some quotes and a picture of the full article should suffice. I urge you all to print it and spread the word, so that we can create awareness and hopefully stop this nonsense that has gone way too far for way too long.

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This five year old kid was rejected from schools where she was expected to attend, because supposedly the parents weren’t good enough for those schools. After sitting at home for five months, while all her friends were at school, askanim intervened and secured an interview for the mother and child. This is what happened at the interview:

After some discussion the principal whipped out a ruler and commenced to measure my sister’s (the mother) hemline, neckline and shaitel, tweaking, poking, pulling and pushing. She informed Shaindy that if the school were even to consider Miriam; Shaindy has to report on an ongoing basis to a rebbetzin of the school’s choosing. The rebbetzin will either approve or disapprove of Shaindy’s wardrobe.

As the principal critiqued her clothing, Shaindy glanced furtively through the window at the teachers and secretaries in the adjoining office, embarrassed that she could be seen. She hid her trembling fingers behind her back and said, “I went through the school’s list of rules and warnings about tznius and I saw very few that apply to me.”

“And that’s exactly the problem!” the principal replied accusingly….. “We aren’t looking for the high and mighty who come thinking they’re already perfect. You must submit and act in accordance with OUR wishes.”

Shaindy was stunned. But the principal wasn’t finished. “Who is your mother? What kind of person did she bring you up to be? Do you consider yourself balebatish? Because if you do, we don’t want you.”

The article goes on revealing more of the ugliness that is unfortunately the daily reality for so many of us. The principal explains that they deliberately waited to grant this interview till five months into the school year “if we’d met then, you wouldn’t have been willing to change. At this point maybe you will be ready to do as we say.”

This is unbelievable! Some of you probably think that this story is highly exaggerated. I don’t know anything about this particular story, but I do know many similar stories (including the inspections, rulers etc.) that happened in Boro Park, Lakewood, Williamsburg and of course in – the holy of holies – Monsey. How did this happen to us? When did we become such a malicious and hateful community with no regard to our neighbor’s feelings? The term ‘achzarim binei rachmanim’ seems more appropriate and fitting than the original one.

There are many unfortunate people in our community who are in a lot of pain. There are families with a terminally ill patient, mothers with sick children, children with abused and abusive parents, people who got in trouble with the law and are in jails and many more. There are so many benevolent organizations to care for these people and their families. But what about our foundational institutions, the schools for our children? What happened to them? Is there anyone out there who cares for the healthy and legally responsible people who are going through terrible and painful experiences at our own hands? Is there an organization caring for those kids who can’t go out of their homes because of the excruciating feelings of guilt and shame? Is there anyone who is willing to wipe the flooding tears of all these people who have been wronged and hurt? Are there any leaders, just one responsible leader, who cares enough and stand up to these monsters with no hearts and stop them?

This subject is too painful for me and I don’t have the strength to continue to write. All I can say is that this nonsense must stop now! We must go back to our Jewish roots and start caring for our brothers and sisters. We must fight these people who have strayed from the Jewish path and have taken our schools hostage! It’s a time of cheshbon hanefesh for all of us and its time that the schools and their leaders make a cheshbon hanefesh too.



Rabbi Warns: Lose Your iPhone or You’ll Lose Your Wife and Kids

In a short essay that I posted a few weeks ago, the day after the women’s ‘Internet Asifa’ in Boro Park, I asked the following questions. What exactly is expected from the women? Are they supposed to control their men? Is it their responsibility? These and similar questions were raised by BP women like my wife.

Well, this week there was a women’s ‘Internet Asifa’ in Monsey, and Rabbi Chaim Faivel Schnebalg, a leading Rabbi in the area, was the keynote speaker. In his speech, Rabbi Schnebalg addressed precisely this issue. Rabbi Schnebalg was addressing the women directly and telling them that the kedusha of their home and their kids is their responsibility, and they must make sure that smartphones and other technology don’t infiltrate their home, chas v’sholom. Rabbi Schnebalg then related the following story. A woman was doing everything she could to shield her kids of the evil technological devices, but her husband kept on bringing them into their home again and again, and he refused to get rid of his personal smartphone. One day the woman gave her husband an ultimatum, either get rid of your smartphone within twenty four hours, or I will take the kids back to my parent’s home. “This is the courage that a  yiddishe mama needs to have, to stand up for the chinuch of her children”, thundered Rabbi Schnebalg.


Let’s take a moment and try to look at this from their point of view. Let’s say that these rabbis have made the calculation that the probability of children who grow up in a home with a smartphone, going off the derech, is very high. Did they ever compare this to the effect on children growing up in a home with only one parent? Is breaking up families such a light matter in their eyes?

I’m not here to rebuke Rabbi Schnebalg, or any rabbi for that matter. I’m here to warn you, my dear readers, know what these chachamim have in mind for you. Don’t think that this is just another speech where you’ll here a dvar torah, maybe some hisoirerus to do teshuvah and a bracha from the skulener rebbe. This is what you could expect to hear nowadays at any and every gathering, incitement to break up families. “My way or the highway” is their new motto.



The Evolution of the Four Inch Tznius Rule

In the last ten fifteen years, every frum woman knows that their dress or skirt is supposed to end at least at four inches below the knees. Everyone knows this to be a “halacha”. The problem is that in the Shulchan Aruch, the basis to traditional orthodox halacha, there isn’t even the slightest mention of this. What then is the source of this so called “halacha”?

The one and only book source for this “halacha” is Rabbi Eliyahu Falk’s ‘Oz V’hadar Levusha‘. The reasoning behind this “halacha” is as follows. The knees must be covered at all times, and only if your skirt/dress is four inches longer than the knees is it possible to keep them covered even while sitting or ascending/descending stairs. This is a nice explanation, but nice reasoning doesn’t create “halacha”. This isn’t what I want to discuss here.

The bigger issue is that if this four inch “halacha” is so a clear cut, how come the rabbis of previous generations didn’t seem to know about it? Some might argue that women in previous generations didn’t wear such short dresses and skirts, so there was no need to address this matter. This is so not true. I challenge every one of you to look up pictures from twenty, thirty and forty years ago. You’ll find that women, from the most chareidi families, wore dresses that barely covered their knees (while standing), and that five, six and even ten years old girls practically wore mini dresses. It seems clear that no one knew of this four inch “halacha” back then. Here are some pictures from a wedding of a prominent Satmar family, around 1970. You can clearly see that the dresses were shorter than what most Satmar women wear today.

Satmar wedding

Women in background

More Satmar women

On the Yiddish language forum kaveshtiebel.com, there has been many discussions about the evolution of the tznius rules and in particular this four inch rule. The discussion intensified when certain chasidic communities decided to become holier than the pope and up the ante by enforcing a five-seven inch rule. You might think that this is a joke, but this is the absolute truth. In their opinion, Rabbi Falk isn’t stringent enough, after all, which yekke is stringent enough for a chasid? So if Rabbi Falk says that the “halacha” is four inches, then the REAL “halacha” must be more than that.

When Satmar School of Kiryas Joel published their new regulation pamphlet, which included a letter from their rabbis claiming that according to “halacha” the skirt/dress must be five-seven inches longer than the knees, they didn’t anticipate what some might find in archives. Reuvein posted the archived minutes (attached here) of a general meeting held in 1977; the early days of Kiryas Joel. At that meeting the speaker proposes a “NEW rule”, that in Kiryas Joel women should not wear clothes that doesn’t cover their knees, not only women, but every girl from three years and older. Notice that there’s no mention of an extra four inches, let alone seven inches. It is pretty clear from the context that this rule was especially established as a stringency for the holy village of Kiryas Joel, that three year old girls should also wear their dresses/skirts ‘TILL’ their knees. 

Minutes of general meeting

In another comment, Reuvein posts letters from the Beth Din of the Eida Chareidith of Jerusalem and other Israeli rabbis, in it the rabbis proclaim that women must leave their dresses ten centimeters (approx four inches) longer than the knees. Their reasoning seems to coincide with Rabbi Falk’s. The question though is, was their decree accepted by all the other rabbis? The answer is a clear and resounding no!

eida chareidith

10 centemeter

In yet another comment added a few hours ago, Reuvein posts a picture of Rabbi Moshe Ber Beck’s ‘Bayit Yehudi‘ on tznius. [Rabbi Beck is the leader of the Neturei Karta and the Jewish burka movement in the US. I doubt that you can be more machmir than him.] In this booklet – published in 1978 – Rabbi Beck tries to find the most stringent tznius rules. When it comes to the rules pertaining to the length of the skirts, he complains that frum chareidi women wear their dresses shorter than the knees (image 1), those who do make their kids wear them till their knees, are looked down upon as crazies (image 2) and he quotes the above mentioned four inch ruling from the Beth Din of the Eida Chareidith of Jerusalem, and he adds that the rabbis of Williamsburg haven’t accepted this stringency, they only require the dresses to be ‘TWO INCHES’ longer than the knees.

image 1

Image 2

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This explains why the planned massive tznius gathering in Monsey has been postponed twice already. The organizers cite that the posponements are due to the scheduling conflicts with Rabbi Falk’s schedule. Why is Rabbi Falk so important for such a meeting? Well, now we know why. Rabbi Falk is the source of all these rules, without him there are no hilchos tznius.

It’s pretty clear that this whole issue has no basis at all, it’s a stringency like all the other stringencies, והמחמיר תבוא עליו ברכה. Those who do want to abide by these four or seven inch rules, should remember that it’s a stringency and not a “halacha”. This means that the women who decide to be more stringent with lashon hara, tefila and not with this, aren’t any less special. No one should think for one moment that this was always the accepted rule, it clearly wasn’t.

Here is a family portrait of the Satmar Rebbe’s kids. Notice the length of the dress of the – apparently – five-six year old daughter, Satmar rebitzen of Monsey.

berech moshe

I want to commend Reuvein and the kaveahtiebel admins for bringing all this information to the forefront and making sure that history isn’t revised. We need to remember what our parents did, or else we put our whole mesorah into question.