Same Sex Marriage Debate At University Of Judaism
I was in hog heaven Wednesday night enjoying a combative but civil panel discussion on same sex marriage (Dennis Prager and Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky against and Conservative Rabbi Elliott Dorff and Orthodox-ordained Rabbi Steve Greenberg for) moderated by kindly Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman.
I arrive to UJ an hour early. I chat about Jewish journalism with Rob Eshman. I wouldn't have the patience to deal with the whingeing that he and managing editor Amy Klein must get every week. Jews know how to complain in the most dramatic terms. While I prefer to gouge out the eyes of my subjects, the Journal always plays it responsibly.
Dennis Prager ambles up. He spots me, has a start of recognition, and ignites into a huge smile.
"So where are you theologically?" he asks me. We shake hands.
"I [affiliate] Modern Orthodox," I say. "Just like baseball has rules, I accept that Orthodoxy defines the rules for Jewish life."
"You won't like our [Jewish Journal] cover story on gay marriage then," says Eshman. It's by the kindly Julie Fax (Orthodox), who everybody talks to because she's so nice.
Eshman is such a gentleman that it makes me feel bad that I hate his newspaper.
The only reason Rob feels safe setting foot on UJ is his good relationship with its head of adult education, Gady Levy, who organized tonight's event.
The Journal lost $60,000 in Chabad advertising when they ran some lengthy (in my view ponderous and dull, in LA Times style) stories on a financial dispute in Marina Del Rey over a Chabad shul.
I tell Dennis, "But when you must do historical [or literary] scholarship for things like the historicity of the Exodus, then you must leave religion behind and only follow the evidence. So, I don't think [modernity] and [Orthodox] Judaism are compatible."
I don't have as much faith in Judaism as Prager, the great Jewish synthesizer does, even though in some ways I'm more observant and I affiliate with more traditional shuls.
Organizers expected the event to sell out immediately. Some stupid Fiddler on the Roof program did. But this did not. Dennis Prager talking about the program on his radio show this week and plugging it on his website brought in dozens of people.
If it had been a traditional UJ program, it would've weighed 90-10% liberal. Tonight, I sense by the applause that the crowd is in favor of gay marriage and other liberal nostrums by 65-35% (but other observers thought it was 50-50).
I hear Rabbi Kanefsky (the most liberal Orthodox pulpit rabbi in the West, he played the documentary Trembling Before God at his shul, only one to do so in the West) was initially reluctant to take part in the program. I think he feared that the crowd would be 90% against him and he'd get booed and hissed.
I wonder if he also feared that Orthodox zealots would burn down his home for taking part in a panel discussion on same sex marriage. Orthodox Judaism opposes it. Reform Judaism accepts it. Conservative is torn but leaning liberal.
There's a support group for Orthodox homosexuals in Southern California, and to the best of my knowledge, Rabbi Kanefsky was the only Orthodox rabbi who would talk to the group, and only on the condition that the meeting was opened up to everybody, and it was not just a specifically homosexual group (because the practice of homosexuality is completely against 3000 years of Jewish tradition, while it has been rampant elsewhere in the world until Christianity).
One of the panelists asks me if I'm living with Cathy Seipp ("Flattering to you," says Cathy Thursday), the love of my life and my reason for being. No, it only seems that way. I am at her house often for movies, munchies and malicious gossip. Thursday night we'll have beans and Shadow of a Doubt.
Wordsmith David Finnigan, the best writer to regularly grace the pages of the Journal, is covering tonight.
The crowd is excited. "I thought you'd be here," say several friends. They know I love controversy. Nothing like a good fight to get me excited.
I see an Orthodox rabbi friend who teaches classes on compassionate communication. I teach virtual classes in savagery.
Class is now in session. Achtung! Pay attention! Work means freedom.
All of the panelists get vigorous applause. Rabbi Dorff, a UJ professor, and Dennis Prager get the loudest.
Eshman is a superb moderator. His questions are short and to the point.
A pro-same-sex law professor, Marcy Strauss, from Loyola Marymount hopes Americans can return their attention to same-sex marriage and away from the butchery in Iraq. She gives a five minute lecture on American law and receives polite applause.
Now the fight begins.
Dennis Prager is my hero and tonight is just another reason why. His charisma, learning, and powerful oratory outshine everybody else. His humor is the sugar on the traditional pills he dispenses.
In all the pictures of Rabbi Steve Greenberg, I've seen a soft kindly, well, gay clean-shaven man with grey hair. Tonight he sports a savage black beard and it transforms his face into that of a warrior.
I'm shocked to learn that Rabbi Greenberg, the first (and only?) avowedly practicing homosexual ordained-Orthodox rabbi lectures regularly at the new left-wing Orthodox seminary Chovevei Torah (started by Jewish activist Rabbi Avi Weiss) as well is a lecturer at Rabbi Yitz Greenberg's CLAL.
About half the crowd vigorously applaud the notion of same sex marriage.
About 80% of the male crowd (which I estimate is about 5% Orthodox) do not wear head coverings and only a handful of married women cover their hair (traditionally required in Judaism).
Rabbi Greenberg admits that the Torah pictures love exclusively in heterosexual terms.
All this love talk by Orthodox rabbis creeps me out, reminding me of my Christian heritage. Guys, if I wanted to hear about God and love, I'd embrace Christ and my father.
R. Greenberg says it is impossible for him to imagine that God does not believe there is a way for two people of the same sex to express their love in some marriage ritual.
As God's beliefs are unknowable, R. Greenberg is on safe ground. All we have is Torah text.
Rabbi Kanefsky furrows his brow, shakes his head, bobs and weaves and generally exudes more compassion, care and concern than heterosexual men are generally thought capable of.
Rob to Rabbi Kanefsky: "Rabbi [Joseph] Hertz wrote that the two primary purposes of marriage are building a home and raising a family. If you agree with this, what in this formulation precludes gay marriages?"
Rav Yosef, as he prefers to be called: "Rabbi Hertz would never have [allowed for gay marriage].
"If there is a wonderful movie playing at 8PM and Shabbat is not over until 8:34PM, an Orthodox does not have a thought of trying to catch that movie. Our belief in the Torah as the word of God is so absolute... It is often that a child will run up to me Friday night or Saturday morning wanting to know the bracha (blessing) to say over an icecream sandwich. An Orthodox person submits to the word of God, to the wisdom greater than mine."
Rob and Dennis are on first name basis as they are the only non-rabbis on the panel.
"Yes, Mr. Eshman," says Dennis.
Rob asks Dennis why is gay marriage not just another form of evolution in the Jewish tradition.
Dennis says there's a difference between evolution and revolution. The Torah started an evolution away from slavery but there is no basis in Jewish sacred text for sanctioning same-sex marriage. That would be a revolution.
DP recalled a debate he had with Alan Dershowitz at the 92nd Street Y. They agreed on nothing. DP told Alan, "When you disagree with the Torah, you believe the Torah is wrong. When I disagree with the Torah, I believe I am wrong."
DP pleaded with same-sex marriage advocates from within the Jewish tradition to state explicitly that nothing in the Jewish tradition sanctions this and that they believe they know better on these matters than the Torah. DP praised David Ellenson, a leader of Hebrew Union College (Reform seminary), for doing just that in a speech reported in The New York Times (which is regarded as almost holy writ by many Jews).
After Prager delivers a particularly blunt point, one man in the audience yells "bullshit," and several others scream at Dennis.
DP said that while he held to traditional standards, he had compassion in his personal relations. He asked R. Greenberg back stage if he had a partner and if his partner was here tonight. DP said he tried for years to find a boyfriend for conservative homosexual KABC talk show host Al Rantel.
Rabbi Dorff says the Torah uses the word "abomination" for eating shrimp and violating Shabbat.
He says society has an interest in promoting marriage, including same-sex marriage, so that people will take care of each other and society won't have to. Heterosexuals are being complicitous in promoting homosexual promiscuity by not allowing for same-sex monogamous marriage.
DP: "I won't respond to the promiscuity but I will respond to the shrimp."
He noted that the text in Leviticus which calls homosexuality an abomination is a general proclamation, not limited to the Jewish people, as the "abomination" outburst against shrimp is. Also, the ban on same-sex male sex in Leviticus comes between the ban on bestiality and the ban on child sacrifice.
Prager seems to thunder down as if from Sinai. All the other panelists speak softly and sensitively.
Rabbi Kanefsky looks in deep pain. He says there is no room in the texts of Judaism for same-sex marriage. He says there are no prohibitions in the Torah that the Talmudic and later rabbis overturned.
He shuckles (sways back and forth, as though in prayer).
Dennis sneezes repeatedly.
Rob asks Rav Yosef if a two-guy couple applied for a family membership at his shul Bnai David, would it be granted? Rav Yosef said no way.
Rav Yosef: "How can respect go only one way? How can the Orthodox community be asked, as they should be, to respect others regardless of their sexual orientation, and not accept that a person who is homosexual would not respect the standards of the synagogue they choose to participate in."
The Jewish couple next to me are intermarried. He's a Republican. She's a psychologist and a liberal. They applaud for opposite punchlines.
R. Greenberg says Rav Yosef is a man of "incredible heart and generosity" and his shul is more welcoming than many Orthodox shuls. The two men almost hug.
R. Greenberg asks three things of Orthodox shuls:
* No condemnation of homosexuality and no ridiculing of homosexuals.
* Allow homosexuals to be open about their homosexuality and say they are not interested in being set up with the opposite sex because they have a gay partner.
Rob: "After they call an ambulance..."
R. Greenberg: "Orthodox shuls have not fully adjudicated this question.
"It is improper to agitate for gay and lesbian advocacy in an Orthodox synagogue."
* Some point about compassion that eludes me because my manly mind does not think in these terms.
Rav Yosef: "We have adjudicated [same sex marriage by forbidding it]. We will observe the law. When it comes to judging individuals, we will leave that to God."
My mating instincts are more along the line of the caveman who smashes a woman over the head with a rock and drags her by her hair five miles home to his hovel.
Back stage, Dennis asked Rav Yosef what he thought about same-sex civil marriage and DP indicates Rav Yosef was ambivalent.
All week I've been getting phone calls from a fervent Orthodox rabbi who believes Prager will be stronger against same-sex marriage tonight than Rav Yosef. My friend has little to fear from Rav Yosef's stalward defense of Jewish Law in its Orthodox interpretation.
R. Greenberg wants to interpret the Leviticus ban on man-on-man action as forbidding rape and forceful sex (isn't all sex forceful?). Prager puts out the prohibition is right next to the one against bestiality. Does that bestiality one only applying to forceful bestiality? Of course not.
DP: "The issue of lesbianism is not addressed in law but it is addressed [in the Torah]. That a law does not exist in the Torah does not mean that the Torah is not against it. There is no law in the Torah, 'Thou shalt not rape.' There is not even a Hebrew Torah word for rape. The absence of a law against rape in the Torah does not mean that the Torah is not against it. It's primarily a matter of values. The value in Torah is male-female.
"Rabbi Soloveitchik said the issue was loneliness. I do not agree. Adam was not lonely. When God says it is not good for man to be alone, it is not Adam saying that. He was having a great time. What is good for man? A woman. The Torah would have to have neon lights to make it more obvious that it wants a man and a woman to bond. For 3200 years, there has not even been a minority voice that same-sex marriage is OK.
"If there is same-sex marriage, [Rav Yosef's Orthodox synagogue Bnai David Judea] will be declared in a few years morally equal to racists. Because homophobia, in the popular culture, is considered as vile as racism."
"I don't know why you are applauding [or for which side of the argument]. Canada has hate laws more rigid than we do. In Canada, if you say it is not as good to bond with the same sex as the opposite sex, you are now liable to hate laws. You are verbally discriminating. You are hating same sex couples.
"Ultimately, his synagogue may be considered legally racist. Just look at what the Boy Scouts are going through.
"We don't know diddly squat about the etiology of homosexuality. We don't know zilch. We don't know if it's genetic, pre-natal, post-natal, psychological... Ask Anne Heche [sexually confused actress]. Many lesbians had perfectly wonderful sexual lives with men and then were battered by a man and decided they could get more tenderness from a woman. They will because women are more into tenderness than genital contact.
"Homosexuality was universal. One book said it shouldn't be. The Torah. Now Jews are saying the Torah is wrong. I don't know what use the Torah is if when one passionately disagrees with it, one drops it."
Rabbi Dorff to Prager: "You want a lot of people that the Torah wants put to death, put to death?"
Rabbi Dorff: "The book allows slavery. A person who's a...mamzer [bastard] can't enter the Jewish people for ten generations. If you are going to be fundamentalist, then you have to be fundamentalist all the way. Stoning rebellious children."
Dennis: "This really arouses the passions of people. See, the Torah really is a piece of crap."
Rabbi Dorff: "No."
Dennis: "Please. Be honest. The Torah is great when it agrees with you and it stinks when it doesn't.
"I'm not Orthodox and I will answer that. We don't have any record of kids stoned."
Rabbi Dorff interrupts.
Dennis: "Wait. I didn't interrupt you, and it was difficult for me. The Torah has many laws on the books to be laws on the books. The Torah teaches us how to evolve. Families, if you want total control over your children. OK. But before you kill your kids for being disobedient and bringing dishonor to the family, you can't. You must bring them to a court. They'll do it for you. The Torah was ingenious. It abolished the ability of a parent to kill a child, something that still happens among Israel's neighbors (tens of thousands of honor killings a year). Did any Jewish court in history stone a kid? We have no record of it.
"I don't base my opposition to same-sex marriage on punishments. I base it on the values of the Torah.
"The Torah allowed slavery under such conditions that, as the Talmud put it, a man who buys a slave ends up buying himself a master.
"How do we know the Torah does not want slavery? By its stories and its values. How do we know the Torah wants male-female marriage? By its stories and its values."
Rabbi Greenberg: "It's hard to listen to Dennis because of his positivist readings of text and your personal... You're not an Orthodox Jew. You hold a scripture of halacah (Jewish Law) as an ideal that you don't keep. You describe yourself as a person who rejects [Torah Law]."
Dennis: "Not true. I reject some of the rabbinic laws. I don't keep Yom Tov Sheni (extra day of Jewish holiday in the diaspora, started two thousand years ago because of uncertainties over the Jewish calendar, when the moon over Jerusalem was full). Rabbi Dorff keeps Yom Tov Sheni.
"I apologize. I shouldn't personalize it. The Conservative movement is racked over redefining marriage but they don't have the courage to knock out Yom Tom Sheni. It's so weird."
Rabbi Greenburg: "I just want to understand. Evangelical Christians believe that God has a single divine intent in every verse and their pastor knows what it is. We believe that God hides multiple meanings in every verse and it is our job to figure them out.
"The rabbis [of the Talmud], who you sometimes like and sometimes don't like. Sometimes you use them as evidence for your opinions and sometimes you reject them out of hand. This is what they did and this is what Elliott and I are doing. Are you a fundamentalist or not?"
Dennis: "I don't know what fundamentalist means because it is only used as a perjorative. It's like saying, are you a schmuck?"
"I believe the Torah is divine. I don't believe it has such elasticity that despite all its verses against homosexuality and for the heterosexual ideal, we know better. I don't think the rabbis are divine. That's why I'm not wearing a yarmulke and at Rabbi Kanefsky's shul. I'm prepared to change rabbinic law. I am not prepared to change Torah law. I don't know why that is so bizarre."
Rabbi Greenberg: "The law is inviolable. Let's apply it correctly."
Rav Yosef: "There's a piece in the last 15 minutes. More than anything else, I'm sad. I'm upset. I'm not going to sleep well tonight."
Rav Yosef mentions a story from when he was an assistant rabbi in Riverdale (to Avi Weiss). He wouldn't marry a Cohen to a divorcee because it is prohibited by the Torah. Rav Yosef cried when he told the couple and he seemed to be crying tonight. Rav Yosef said we should all be crying over this.
A lot of women and compassionate men in the audience eat up his approach. Frankly, the only reason I think there should ever be for tears in public is if the Dallas Cowboys fail to advance in the playoffs. That's when I tear my garments and wear sackloth and ashes.
Rav Yosef: "Adhering to the law [in this respect] without tears is as unfaithful to the Torah as changing the law."
Rabbi Greenberg: "The notion that homosexuality is born of [social trends]... If we have models of real people living decent lives that are gay and lesbian that that will engender people to become gay is preposterous."
Dennis: "That's a sleight of hand, which you did not engage in once this evening. I did not say that they [kids] will become gay [once that possibility is socially acceptable]. I said they will consider the same sex as a marital possibility."
Heckling from the audience.
"Sorry, folks, that is a fact. Unless you believe that Greeks are genetically different from Americans... In ancient Greece, women were for procreation and boys, if you could afford one, were for sex. You don't think society has any effect on who we are attracted to? If it is so fixed, how come [men have sex with men] in prisons, on ships? It is 0-6 [Kinsey scale, where zero means heterosexual in deed and in fantasy] and because of the Torah, I want to keep it as close to zero as possible."
Rabbi Dorff: "It is not enough to have tears. That's abdicating responsibility. We have to get rid of those aspects of our social policy that cause such tears. The same kind of moral obligations I would impose on straights [getting married], I would apply to gays.
"It is better for a child to have two parents rather than one."
Rabbi: "We have homophobia in this country that is dressed up as religious. It looks like it came from the Torah."
Rob Eshman says his Conservative rabbi wife Naomi Levy (author of books on loss and prayer) wants another man around the house (and in their marriage?) every day to fix things.
Firm in my belief that Judaism does not allow for same sex marriage, shedding no tears, I go home and sleep soundly. Thursday morning, I awake refreshed to do the will of my Creator.
Come, Let Us Reason Together
I consider myself bound by halacah. I take particular pride in my continence. Around Los Angeles, I'm known as Luke "Chastity" Ford. Despite the temptations constantly thrust my way by virtue of my status as a guest blogger on Protocols, I polish my Torah observance and refuse wordly delights.
I try to live in accord with Biblical prophecy. My dad, Desmond Ford, did a 1000-page paper on Daniel 8:14 and the Investigative Judgment. The saying from my parents that most haunted me as a child was, "Be sure your sins will find you out." They were right. I always got caught until I got older and got better at lying.
Still, while I hold myself to the highest Torah standards, I try to view the behavior of others with good sense. If someone commits sex crimes with a string of teens, I say ban them. But, let's say a rabbi works day and night for the Jewish people. He exhausts himself in gemara. Then one evening, he finds himself unable to sleep. A 16 year old girls offers herself to him, and in a moment of weakness, never to be repeated, he succumbs. (I would never succumb, and have never knowingly succumbed to anyone under 18.)
Why should we not weigh up the enormous good he does with this one sin? In many states and countries, such as Australia, 16 is the age of consent. In past centuries, Jews 14 years old were getting married. That's the Torah's way.
Many 14 year old girls these days are more sexually experienced than most Orthodox rabbis.
Remember the novel and miniseries, The Thornbirds? It was by succumbing to sin that the priest was able to elevate himself to a higher place and overcome his pride.
Shlomo Carlebach did enormous good. Yes, he used to call up women like my ex-girlfriend with sexually charged yearnings at 2AM. But he sang great songs that inspire people like me to greater Torah observance.
What about all those Orthodox rabbis who never get oral sex from 14 year old girls but bore their congregants every Shabbos morning. It's not a crime of sex, but I think it is a serious averah (sin).
Often, the most dynamic, charismatic outreach rabbis who use kaballah are more prey to the sins of the flesh. As the Gemara says, the greater the man, the greater the yetzer hara (though the Talmud exhorts us to overcome our sinful propensities).
Let's weigh up the bad people do with the good. If a person has sinned once but they are not a danger to the community, let's not thrust him out.
Gender Identity Crisis
I went to a Jewish singles event this week (same sex marriage debate at UJ). I met an attractive young lady who's becoming a Conservative cantor. She's getting out of a 16 year relationship with a Japanese shaygetz (Gentile man) who just went through a gender identity crisis and decided to become a woman. And how was your week?
BornJew writes Protocols : "True story: I'm Jewish, but I am tall and have blonde hair and a surfer's body and a goyishe name, so not many people know it. I make extra money working as a shabbos goy in Brooklyn, and it is a blast. Also so the "side benefits" too. What are those? Well, let's just say not every Jewish woman is being taken care of. Seems a Jewish man can indeed spend too much time in shul. Word to the wise."
Which group make for the best shabbos goys? * Puerto Ricans * Mexicans * Guatemalans * African-Americans * Vietnamese refugees * Lesbians * Unitarians * Born agains
Pronoun writes: "Poles make the very best shabbos goys. They know enough about Judaism so that we don't have to explain too much, and it gives them funny stories that they can tell other Poles over beers and pretzels. As for all this vile criticsim of Luke, remember this people, if Judaism is to survive in the United States, it will be because it can attract new blood like that of a Luke Ford."
Iraq scandal is 'Perfect Storm' of American culture
I saw this movie at Cathy Seipp's home Thursday night with Cecile du Bois.
Last time we watched Psycho. Cathy says my personality tends to oscillate between Norman Bates and Uncle Charlie.
Cathy writes Cecile: "And why hasn't Luke blogged about his fantastic evening watching "Shadow of a Doubt"? Is it that he's not spiritually there yet? Note: The bean recipe was great! The three of us ate the entire thing, even though it said between 4-6 servings..."
Do these quotes sound like me?
Uncle Charlie to Young Charlie, his gorgeous niece:
Uncle Charlie on women:
I talk to her by phone Friday morning, May 14.
Luke: "Stephen Bloom traces a flurry of what he would call 'valentines' to your article in the April Hadassah magazine."
Jennie: "I don't think I had anything to do with that Hallmark documentary."
Luke: "He said the articles in the Washington Post, JTA and the Forward followed yours."
Jennie: "That's flattering but I don't think that is the case."
Luke: "How did you come to write that article for Hadassah?"
Jennie: "I was in Iowa at that time [she did her undergraduate degree in English Literature at Iowa's Maharishi University of Management] and I'd always been intrigued by Postville. I'd never been there. I didn't think there was a whole lot going on in Jewish life [in Iowa] at the time other than Postville."
Luke: "Bloom called it agenda-journalism. Did Hadassah only want a feel-good piece on Postville or is that what you genuinely encountered?"
Jennie: "I think both things are partly true. I don't think Hadassah told me they wanted a feel-good piece but if you are writing for different kinds of audiences, different things will be an issue. There's investigative reporting where you go into the slaughter house and look at what is going on. My piece was on the school. It's a different topic than what he covered. I don't think the topic required as much digging up... It was about what they accomplished by creating a Jewish school in the middle of Iowa.
"I did go out of my way to get many sides of the story. I spoke to the local superintendent and to a teacher. They found it difficult to work within the Jewish system. I spoke to some high school kids who said the Jews kept to themselves.
"Because Stephen Bloom so covered one angle of this [story], it frees other journalists to look at other angles. Anyone who goes in there will have read his book."
Luke: "Did you want to feel good about what was going on in Postville or is this primarily a reflection of what you encountered?"
Jennie: "That's an interesting question. On the one hand, I want to live in a world where everyone respects each other and if I felt that the people there were causing strife, I wouldn't feel comfortable reporting that in a positive way. If I had found that people had not nice things to say [about the Hasidic Jews], that would not have been something I could've covered up in a story.
"I was happy to find that things have improved. When Aaron Goldsmith [became the first Hasidic Jew to sit on the city council...] At the time of his campaign, there was a lot of hate mail sent to residents of Postville by a neo-Nazi group nearby. That crystalized a lot of things. People in the town felt that they weren't just operating in a bubble but were on a world stage and had to overcome a lot of the pettiness happening on both sides.
"I don't know if Bloom has such a high opinion of Aaron Goldsmith but I think [Goldsmith] did a lot to bridge the gaps in the town. Before he came, there were two distinct groups that hadn't really met anyone like the other before.
"Hasidic Jews do keep to themselves. They are not politically correct modern liberal people. I didn't feel the need to harp on that. The readers of Hadassah tend to know that. They are not going to be Hasidic Jews. They're going to be Reform or Conservative. I wouldn't say that I came there and found Hasidic boys dating Iowan girls. There's also a kosher issue. [Hasidic Jews] can't eat at [the houses of people who do not keep strict kosher].
"A lot of it is urban vs rural. Iowans have a different social fabric. The Jews in Postville are fast talkers. They're New Yorkers. They're businessmen. You wouldn't expect to see them bonding but they seem to be getting along all right. There's a range. Some Jewish people are more worldly and some are more sheltered."
Luke: "Do you want Hasidim and Iowans to get along? For goodwill between different groups?"
Jennie: "I don't think anyone would say they have a yearning for people to not get along."
Luke, thinking about himself: "I think some misanthropes do."
Jennie: "I'm not as interested in that style of journalism. I wanted to find out what makes these people tick. I explored some avenues that were just not as interesting to Stephen Bloom because that is not his personality. I'm more philosophical. I found it interesting to have long discussions with people and to find out what their beliefs were."
Luke: "How much do you think who we are influences the stories we write?"
Jennie: "Absolutely. My story is not the most positive one [on Postville] to come out. There are people who come out with a completely rosy picture and don't interview any naysayers at all. Every story is so complex. Even if you spent 15 years living with a group of people, someone else could come in and see a completely different side that you did not focus on. Sometimes, the longer you are with a story, the more you form your hardened crystalized ideas and you just continue in that track for the rest of your exploration. We need lots of different perspectives on any story, whether it is this or the Iraqi prisons."
Luke: "Have you ever felt like you owned a story and then you resented when other people came in and did not do it as well as you thought you had?"
Jennie: "No. I haven't gained the kind of high profile that Stephen Bloom has. I can imagine that he would probably feel that way. I can't think of any time that has happened."
I often feel proprietary towards stories I feel like I own. I resent it when other reporters come in and, in my view, get it wrong. I resent it even more when they get it right and show up my shoddy reporting.
Jennie spent from November to the end of January 2004, on and off, working on the piece and she says she spoke to dozens of people in Postville. "My editor kept having me go back and talk to more people after I had written my first draft. Like Stephen Bloom, I stayed in people's homes."
Luke: "Was it hard to get access?"
Jennie: "No. In his book, he describes that as being difficult. There was a professor who gave him a hard time and did not return his phone calls. I called [Stephen Bloom] before I did my story because I wanted to find out how difficult it would be [to get access]. It wasn't hard at all. Lubavitch of Iowa publishes a calendar and send it to everyone they can find who's Jewish in Iowa. In almost every square, there's a family that wants to invite you to come to their home in Postville."
Luke: "Did you present yourself as a reporter or as a religious seeker?"
Jennie: "I presented myself as a reporter for a Jewish magazine."
Luke: Did Stephen Bloom's book make it difficult for you to follow in his footsteps?
Jennie: "I had a lot of people ask me if I had read his book. They were suspicious about that."
Luke: "They wanted to know your reaction to it before they spoke to you?"
Jennie: "Yes. I told them the truth. That I felt he had explored one aspect of it.
"I had other experiences writing about communities where a group from the outside, like a university vs the local town community... You can always find some shocking story. In his case, he wrote about these two Hasidic boys who came for a summer and committed a crime [attempted murder]. Obviously, that makes for a better story, but personally, I'm not so sure that reflects what is going on [in Postville]. I'm not sure the people there can be held responsible.
"I told people that he presented things in a certain way that made for an interesting story but..."
Jennie: "You could say that. I think he was trying to prove a point with that. He was trying to show a connection between people committing that crime and people turning up their noses at their neighbors. I'm not so sure that connection can be drawn, to merit two chapters in the book about the crime.
"He spent a lot of time on Doc Wolf [secular Jewish doctor who lived and died nearby]. Some of the families who had gone to Doc Wolf's bedside had a very different impression of what Doc Wolf's desires were at the end of his life [from what Bloom described]. I met some of the boys who had gone there as teenagers and I didn't get the impression they had gone there with an agenda. They did have an agenda to bring him closer to Judaism at the end of his life but I don't think they were trying to win people over for the vote coming up in town."
Jennie identifies with the Conservative stream of Judaism.
"I think [Postville] was a good read. I don't feel it was the complete story. I wanted to be extra conscientious not to just stand on his shoulders and use his book as my manual for what happened in Postville. I went the extra distance to form my own opinions.
"I interview a Conservative family that lives [in Postville]. They send their kids to public school. The mother was great, really honest about both sides of the issue. The dad thought it was great that some Jews were following the letter of the [Torah] law. [The Hasidim] are preserving a lot of the traditions. Whether or not I choose to follow those, they're all valuable.
"Hasidic Jews are mystical. I had a fascinating conversation with one of the Rubashkins. I have more of a philosophical background [than Stephen Bloom] and I love going into the kabbalistic issues and the subtle aspects of their beliefs and traditions.
"It does rub me the wrong way if anybody does not relate to other people as human. [Many of the Hasidim] did not think about non-Jews as part of their world. I would like to see that change. But in general, I don't have any anger towards them."
I read to Jennie Stephen's harsh letter to Hadassah.
Jennie: "That's not surprising. My focus was on the school. It would've been outside of my story to investigate crime rates and all that. I didn't write about the Mexican or Ukrainian immigrants. So when he talks about substandard living conditions, I assume he's talking about the immigrants.
"I'm a vegetarian. I've never [intentionally] eaten meat in my life. In the '70s, my parents became interested in health.
"I didn't want to have anything to do with the slaughterhouse. If I had seen one slab of meat hanging... That took a lot for me to accept that they could have other beliefs [about eating meat]. They have this kabbalistic belief that it elevates the animal for them to consume it. I don't feel that. I felt that was a test of my own journalistic maturity to let that part go.
"I wonder what he expects other journalists to find when we go there. It's part of our natures to want other people to have the same impressions we do. I get the impression from his letter that he would've only been satisfied with a piece that reported all the same things he found. We all know about those things because he wrote about them. We all read his book cover to cover."
Luke: "Is there a particular tone to your work? Do you prefer cheery and winsome?"
Jennie: "If there's conflict, I prefer to go one level deeper and get to the source. I think journalism has a two part role: One, to inform people. Two, to influence the world in a positive way.
"I think he honestly feels that his book did good and it may well have... It may have made some people more open and tolerant. I didn't feel that was so much needed now. I didn't feel like it was my role to go and do a huge expose. My skill as a journalist is getting into the subtleties of people's thinking and their psychology more than to go through all the records and find scandals.
"I have written grittier pieces. I won't say that I didn't enjoy the fact that I found nicer people and nicer situations than I expected."
Luke: Even if there had never be any story written about Postville and you had a book contract to do it, I feel that you would've written a very different book from Bloom's.
Jennie: "You could say that. I would've gone into other issues, things such as the yeshiva, which wasn't as hot a topic. I wouldn't have chosen to write about pollution issues at the slaughterhouse.
"When people are very strong in their religion, in one sense it is the most beautiful, because they are vibrant and get to the deeper levels. On the other hand, they are more narrow. They close themselves into that world more. That's the challenge in Postville and why so many people have written about it."
Luke: "Tell me about your parents. Were they hippies?"
Jennie: "No. My dad went to Columbia as an undergraduate and then to NYU medical school. My mom got her Masters from Columbia. They were New York intellectuals. It was in medical school that my dad first heard about TM [transcendental meditation]. They're idealists. They never dropped out and went around in a flower bus through the country.
"My dad has always tried to incorporate TM and natural medicine into his medical practice.
"I was born in New York. I lived in California as a child. Then we moved to Iowa. My dad [Stuart Rothenberg] had a medical practice at the Maharishi University and he also taught in the natural medicine department. Now they've been setting up health spas, incorporating Western medicine and Ayurveda medicine, a system of natural medicine that originated in India thousands of years ago. He is now the medical director of a health spa in the Renaissance Hotel in Orlando, Florida."
We chat about befriending the subjects of our stories.
Jennie: "I had a lot of professors [at UC Berkeley journalism program] who prided themselves on, for example, spending quality time with Hillary Clinton, going on tour with her, becoming her best friend, then blasting her in Vanity Fair. In that case, it seemed frivolous. It didn't seem like people's lives were going to be improved. It was just that she got a good story.
"If you are going to spend time with people on a personal level you owe it to them to present some of the subtle nuances of their life. If you are going to stay in someone's home, you're going to show that they are at least a complex individual who have sides to them. Not just spend time with them, disregard everything that is positive and only write the negative.
"Humans tend to think in patterns. You like to come away with things that fit your hypothesis. At a certain point along the way, you crystallize what you think and everything has to support that. And what everyone else writes on the story in the future has to support that too.
"Growing up in a world that people like to make fun of [transcendental meditation]... People would come in and go out of their way to find the one person who would say something negative. I went to Israel with my father when I was younger and watched the press interview him.
"One man interviewed him and wrote in the first draft of his article that he was a fancy doctor swilling research papers out of a leather briefcase. My father commented that he did not have a leather briefcase. He had a canvas blue bag from Lands End. In the final draft, he was a hippy swinging a bluejeans pack over his shoulder. The journalist was determined to ridicule him no matter what.
"I'm extra sensitive not to do that whenever possible. I'm not the type to go for the jugular."
Luke: "I don't feel like you're the person looking to be judge, jury and jailor."
Jennie: "We need people like that in the world but that may not be my role. In the case of Postville, I didn't feel like there was a need for that. I feel like everything is going along there pretty well.
"I'm not from the school of journalism that is all sweetness and light. But if there is a chance to go to a deeper level, I try to do that rather than spur of the moment impressions."
Luke: "I saw you interviewed Harold Bloom for The Atlantic. Did he rest his hand on your knee [like he purportedly did to Naomi Wolf during her undergraduate years when she invited him over for supper and to read her poetry]?"
Jennie: "No. He called me my dear, my darling. It was grandfatherly. Sweet. When you're 70 years old, you can get away with more. He's eccentric. I didn't get any sexual harassment vibes. I could see why someone might."
Luke: "As long as he wasn't priestly."
Jennie: "He's Jewish."
When May A Man Cry Publicly?
On Shabbos morning, you will usually find me in shul acting like the country gentleman that I am - intricately discussing the cricket. And up on the bima my rabbi will be crying about the latest terrorist attack in Israel.
I ponder - when is it OK for a real man to cry publicly? I say, when you cry for others.
As for the cricket, Australia has had the best test team for a decade now and the English are a bunch of wankers.
Shlomo writes: "Real Jews don't talk about cricket or other such goyishe nareshkeite in shul. They may talk about changes to accounting principles, they may talk about their ailments or those of others, they may even talk about the merits of this or that model Lexis, but we do not talk cricket."
Scott "Shmarya" Rosenberg, apparently a rabbinics student who was recently excommunicated from the only shul in town for blogging, has written a chilling critique of Chabad at FailedMessiah.com.
It's been ten months since I last spoke to University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom, author of the book Postville.
Thursday morning I read on Forward.com about a glowing documentary on Postville by Hallmark, ludicrously titled, The Way Home: Stories Of Forgiveness.
Stephen: "The producers wanted a blurb from me estolling the virtues of the show."
I about fall off my chair laughing. "Do you think they read your book?"
"I was the one responsible for Hallmark going to Postville. About the time I connected with you, I got a phone call from an independent producer who was contracted by Hallmark [to Faith & Values Media, a coalition of feel-good Jewish and Christian groups]. He'd been asked to come up with several different story ideas.
"They said they'd read my book and the story interested them.
"I said, 'This is not a story about reconciliation. This is more like a civil war saga.' That was the last I heard from them.
"The initial people I talked to bowed out of the project. Hallmark got involved. They did go to Postville. It's one of three episodes on this hour-long documentary."
Luke: "What did you think about what they came up with?"
Stephen sighs. "Umm, hang on a second...Oh, it was terrible. You ought to look at it. You're the media. You can plug a show or damn a show.
"It's interesting how the press works. Why is there this sudden revival of interest in Postville? Because Hadassah magazine (April) has a cover story on Postville ['Torah Amid Corn' by Jennie Rothenberg, a UC Berkeley grad student in journalism and a contributor to The Atlantic]. Are you familiar with Hadassah?"
I think, "Hadassah is about little old ladies. It's about the most unhip thing around, though there's nothing wrong with being out of this sinful old world."
Stephen: "Hadassah came out with a valentine on Postville saying things are just so great up there. It's like the United Nations. I thought the story bordered on being unethical. The reporter talked to me a long time ago.
"It's what we call in the business agenda-journalism. Hadassah had an agenda. And this reporter fulfilled that agenda. I wrote a letter to the editor attacking the piece. I don't think they'll ever print it.
"After Hadassah run this piece, the Washington Post runs a story on Postville. A short story on A-2, inside the cover."
Stephen: "The reporter called me. Frankly, I wasn't impressed by the reporter. She didn't ask informed questions.
"The the JTA[.org] piece appeared because they'd seen the Washington Post piece. It's dominos.
"Because the JTA piece appeared, I get a phone call from The Forward [reporter Steven I. Weiss]. None of these pieces refers to the preceding piece.
"The [Hallmark] video is an embarrassment. It's contrived. It's an audio-visual Hallmark card. It's cheery, upbeat, positive.
"Ever since Postville has come out, I've been interested in what the Japanese call Wa -- how Japanese society is run. It means harmony. In Japan, Wa is very important. It's rare in Japan for a vote in a corporation or the parliament that is not unanimous. All the differences are aired in private. By the time the public is clued in, everyone is on board, even the most vociferous critics.
"It's most important to live in a harmonious society where disagreement is eliminated. In America, journalism is generally opposed to the Wa. We journalists look at issues and we don't say, 'George Bush is doing a great job.' That is not a news story. We say, 'George Bush is screwing up big time.'
"There seems to be a tremendous attempt by the Jewish community, as prompted by the Hadassah piece, JTA, Forward, and this Hallmark presentation, to say that two different communities can flourish in America today. Postville is an example of that. There's a tremendous sense that readers and viewers need to come away with a feel good response. 'That stuff that Stephen Bloom did is water under the bridge. That was a long time ago. That was terrible. But now there's been forgiveness, reconciliation and harmony.' That's what the [Hallmark] show is all about.
"They make up a story line that when the Gentile head of the slaughter house, Donald Hunt, who's in my book, I call him a Caesar Romero lookalike, died about a year ago. His death brought together the distinct factions in Postville and began to heal the wounds. There's footage of Hunt's funeral and locals as well as Lubavitchers at the funeral. They use that as a point of entry for establishing a premise that things are going along just great.
"The people I talk to in Postville say things are not going along great.
"This latest skirmish is the slaughter house dumping some 30 tons of salt a week into the aquifers of ground water... There seems to be a journalistic mandate to remind everyone that Postville has reached Wa status. That's not what journalists do. Journalists are supposed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."
Luke: "But isn't that what Jewish establishment journalism has always done [protect the establishment and project a feel good message, however contrary to the facts]?"
Stephen: "We've talked about this. That's right.
"Postville was not reviewed by too many establishment Jewish magazines. It was reviewed favorably in Hadassah until the last sentence, which said Bloom is a self loathing Jew.
"There have been some courageous [almost all liberal] places that have invited me to speak. I spoke at a Reform synagogue in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was a huge crowd. People were enthusiastic about my book. There's a tremendous backlash among progressive Jews about the Lubavitch and what they're doing.
"Even at Reform synagogues, I still get people screaming at me, 'Shame, shame, shame. For a Jew to say this, shame on you.'
"My parking myself in Postville for five years was the best way for me to deal with any incipient issues of anti-Semitism. I'd go up there and say I was Jewish and some of the responses would be, 'You're Jewish? We thought Jews wore big hats and long black coats and call us anti-Semites if we disagree with them.' If I've done my mitzvah, it is to allow people in a small town to know that not all Jews are Hasidic Jews."
Luke: "Do you have any reason to believe that the situation in Postville has significantly improved from the latest version of your book?"
Stephen: "No. The people I talk to in Postville are waving a white flag. They've lost. There's nothing they can do. The slaughter house is the industry in town. There used to be a turkey processing plant. It burned down. Agriprocessors [owned by the Hasidim] is going great. You've got to get with the program.
"There was a small piece in the Chicago Tribune December 26 about discontment in Postville. The Hasidim were up in arms because the local merchants [and/or city council] laid out about $10,000 for non-sectarian holiday decorations in the downtown. There were no creches. Jesus Christ was not on every lamp post. And the Hasidim said no. We want menorahs up. If you are going to put up what we perceive as religious, then we want menorahs up.
"But there's a sense of Wa. That you don't talk about these kind of things."
Luke: "In media or in Postville?"
"After the story appeared, the one city council member, Ginger Medberry, who spoke out against the Hasidim in Postville was reamed. She was censured for speaking negatively to a reporter. She was hung out to dry."
Stephen: "Her fellow council members crucifed her.
"Isn't it interesting that in the Hallmark video, there is no mention of alcoholism. No mention of crime. To work in a slaughter house, you don't need to speak English. You need two things -- a strong back and a strong stomach. It's dirty bloody work. The liquor store is doing box office business. When people leave their job, they just anesthetize themselves with alcohol. But we don't talk about that with Hadassah. We don't mention that in the Hallmark show. We don't mention the attempted murder in Postville by a Hasidic man [convicted]. This isn't even on the radar of Hadassah or Hallmark."
Luke: "This [Hadassah] writer, Jennie Rothenberg, is supposed to be a regular contributor to The Atlantic."
Stephen: "She sent me an email a while back. She was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. She wanted to know if she would have access to the Hasidim. But she never called me back.
"Before I came to the University of Iowa, I worked for the Sacramento Bee in San Francisco. One of the reasons I left that newspaper is that I was asked to do all these agenda-journalism pieces. 'Tell us what a weird, wacky place San Francisco is. How it's Sodom & Gomorrah falling off into the ocean. Why Sacramento, implicitly, is such a great place.
"Minnesotans have jokes about Iowa. There's always a stupid pecking order. Don't let the truth get in the way of the story is what Hadassah is suggesting.
"There used to be a columnist in San Francisco [Chronicle] for many years, Herb Caen. My wife worked at the Chronicle for many years. Her favorite saying was, 'Check 'em and lose 'em.' You check the facts and you lose the story. So let's not check 'em. There was no attempt by Hadassah and Hallmark to do a truthful story.
"I believe there is a difference between truth and accuracy. Truth is of a higher order than accuracy.
"There's an old expression -- is it good for the Jews? Sandy Koufax. Good for the Jews? John F. Kennedy. Good for the Jews? For a lot of good reasons, those words have stuck. I guess Hadassah feels it is not in their purview to run a story that gets at larger more important issues."
Luke: "Or painful issues."
Stephen: "It's just easier [to wimp out]. My aunt, 82, alerted me to the Hadassah story. She said, 'I'm glad to read that things are copacetic now. When you were out there, things were different but now things seem better. I feel better about it now.'
"There's a sense of -- let's make a picture we can all live with.
"We can go further with this and talk about why these photos from Iraqi prisons [showing American servicemen humiliating Iraqi prisoners] are so upsetting."
Luke: "Because it destroys the picture of what we're trying to do."
Stephen: "Operation Iraqi Freedom? This is George Orwell. 1984."
Luke: "There is so much pack mentality in journalism. Few people are willing to blaze a trail."
Stephen: "That's why the Faluja pictures [of American bodies in Iraq being burned by angry Muslims] were so important. American contract workers hanging from a bridge. It was important for American newspapers to put that on A-1, above the fold. It wasn't so much the charred remains of these men. It was the sheer delight of the Iraqis. The most graphic of those pictures were not printed in mainstream American newspapers. They were printed in Europe. There's an amazing Reuters photograph of a body being burned that was run in the New York Sun.
"Do you know the Eddie Adams photograph in The New York Times around 1967? It's of an alleged Vietcong guerilla soldier shot on the streets on Saigon. The picture is so famous because this is frontier justice being administered. It's the actual shot, you can see the moment of impact, the moment of death of this kid."
Luke: "Isn't there a video of it too?"
Stephen: "Yes. The publication of that photograph and of the My Lai photograph [of a young naked girl running screaming down a street after an American napalm attack]... There was a sea change of opinion [after the publication of those photos]. It's hard to be Chicken Little and say the sky is falling. It has not been easy these four years to speak at public venues and for Jews to scream at me.
"I spoke to about 250 people in a tiny town in Illinois. Two upset older Jewish people came up and read me the riot act. Just yesterday I got a phone call from someone in Miami who took me to task. 'You put race relations back 50 years.' That's the job of a journalist, to afflict the comfortable and to seek justice, tikkun."
Luke: "Or to just follow the story. Reporting. How do you feel about the term 'journalism' as opposed to reporting?"
Stephen: "There's a wonderful old movie, Deadline USA, starring Humphrey Bogart (playing a savvy salty editor of a paper about to be bought out by a larger newspaper). There's a line in that movie: 'The journalist makes himself the hero of a story. A reporter is only the witness.'
"The old kind of reporting is to witness events and you're not there. A journalist puts himself at the crosshairs and reflects the meaning of the story. That's one reason the alternative, press, the Internet, and Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailor, became famous. That's an old definition of the New Journalism.
"The reporter's job today in America is to impart some meaning. Not just merely report what the officials say, but to also say whether what the official said is accurate and truthful.
"In China, the newspapers are owned by the government, and they are effective. If the government wants everyone to get SARS vacinations, they can disseminate that quickly. But that is not the job of the media in America.
"I tell my students that news is coverage of an event, trend, or sentiment that people care about or should care about. And it's the 'should care about' that makes a big difference to me. The job of a journalist is to let people know why this news is important to them."
A serious charge was raised in the comments section of the Protocols blog. Kettle Called Black (a Talmudist in Lakewood) writes about Stephen Bloom, author of Postville:
Stephen Bloom replies:
A Rebel Without A Shul
A Fly on the Wall posts to Protocols:
I just spoke to Stephen for an hour about the forthcoming Hallmark documentary on Postville.
Where's Luke? Guest Blogging On Protocols
Cathy Seipp writes:
On his radio show, Dennis Prager (DennisPrager.com) and Michael Ledeen from the American Enterprise Institute said it appears that Islamic terrorists in Iraq are selecting Jews (such as Nick Berg, Daniel Pearl) to slaughter (behead) while the rest of the people they murder, such as the Italian, are simply shot to death.
Prager has devoted the last six hours of his radio show to the murder of Nick Berg. He played every hour on his show yesterday (as did Michael Medved) the sounds of Berg screaming while being murdered. He also linked to video of the murder from his website (though warned that children under 13 should not watch).
Lock and load baby, and follow me over the trenches. Charge at the old fogies.
I'm encountering stiff resistance as I try to bring the Gospel of Luke to the Protocols. I'm trying to bring it at the point of the sword. Is that so wrong?
I need all my friends in the Los Angeles Orthodox community to follow me to the Protocols.
As the first black blogger, I particularly want my African-American readers to give a brotha a hand. Yo, be down wit this.
Here's a sampling of comments so far in response to my first day guest blogging:
The fearsome Rabbi Gadol writes: "If the Jewish People are to have a future, then it bears the face of Luke Ford, genetic gentile and convert to the Hebrew faith. It is the Luke Fords of the Faith who give the lie to the assertion that Judaism is a race and not a religion. Rock on, Luke Ford, rock on.
"One more thing: Luke Ford had the tip of his penis severed while an adult, just to join our fine faith. How many of you can say the same?"
LukeIsStraight posts: "Rumor has it that child-molesting, transsexual, raikke loving, BDSM, sub/domme, orthodox christian/muslim/jew/gnostic monk, Luke Ford is, in fact, just exaggerating. He is straight and has no predilictions towaeds perversion. The only thing true about Lukes homo/hetero/autosexual orientation is that he is good for one thing, and one thing only. Luke, in essence, is an asshole."
JMT writes: "Still making friends wherever you go, I see, Luke."
From a biography of George Orwell by Jeffrey Meyers: "Still, the BBC was not all bad. During the war it continued to pay Hitler royalties, through neutral Sweden, for excerpts from Mein Kampf." (Pg. 217)
Rabbi Michael Ozair Interview
In 2002, Rabbi Ozair pled no contest to one count of oral copulation in 1997 with a minor (a 14 year old girl who was not his student).
Contrary to some reports, at the time of the crime, Rabbi Ozair was not a rabbi.
I talk by phone with Rabbi Ozair May 12.
Luke: "When did you receive semicha (ordination as a rabbi)?"
R. Ozair: "Fall of 1998."
Luke: "Tell me more."
R. Ozair: "I was involved with a small congregation in LA [Happy Minyan] and speaking every Shabbos and holidays and teaching. Rabbi Abner Weiss [head rabbi of Beth Jacob at the time] was my mentor rabbi. He suggested I get ordination. At first, it was going to be done in Israel, but it was going to be too expensive to live there. The next option was Monsey, New York. I went for an interview to [Kol Yaacov Torah Center] and was accepted. I was told it would be a year to a year-and-a-half for the basic semicha, taking into account my past years of Torah learning."
R. Ozair has a BA in religious studies from California State University of Northridge and a Masters in Education from the University of Judaism.
R. Ozair: "We flew the family [R. Ozair has two kids]. I learned in the yeshiva for a year. Then I got a job offer back in LA. I needed to cut short the semicha program to get the teaching job. I agreed to come back to LA if I could still be ordained privately. The yeshiva wouldn't ordain someone who left the program early. I made an arrangement to have a private ordination with Rabbi Yehoshua Reich from Efrat, Israel. I have the semicha at home. You're welcome to see it." Luke: "I will come by and take a picture of it.
Luke: "According to Wendy J. Madnick's [8/23/02] article in the Jewish Journal, there were never any complaints about you at the schools you taught at."
R. Ozair: "Correct."
Luke: "The Wendy Madnick article says this criminal charge came to light through the girl's therapy. As I understand, the charge came to light through your therapy. You went to a brand new therapist and he took what you said in therapy and went to the authorities."
R. Ozair: "Correct."
Luke: "What should a religious community do to persons who've sinned like you did?"
R. Ozair: "First I would like to see an opportunity for rabbis on www.theawarenesscenter.org to make amends to the public if they choose, because as it is, reporters can say anything they want to, make assumptions and then it goes straight to print. Everybody makes mistakes – even reporters, and yes, even rabbis. Mine came out when I disclosed the information to a therapist who I did not know. He had a legal obligation to report me. There was not a moment that I was in denial that what I did was wrong. I managed to successfully destroy much of my life in a moment of absolute misjudgment that I deeply regret.
"What should the religious community do? In our tradition we have a teaching that states that before G-d even created the world, He created the idea of teshuvah. The Creator Himself knew that He was creating an imperfect world that would be subject to flaws, but that there should also be a way a person can return. If this is so, then there has to be a program for Jews to correct their ways. A way that they could tangibly demonstrate that they are committed to living a life of decency and are striving to become the person who G-d intended them to be. Beit T’shuvah seems to be the only program in the entire United States that gives Jews that opportunity. I feel blessed that I was able to do my teshuvah properly….What should the religious community do? That’s a hard one. They got the first part down – separating a person from the camp, as they did in the Torah. The question then becomes what are they doing to reintegrate a person back, as they did in the Torah."
Luke: "What sentence did you serve?"
R. Ozair: "I served two months in LA County Jail and a year at Beit Teshuva [similar to house arrest]."
Luke: "Regarding the Forward article, why did you use the name Rabbi Michael Ezra and why did you use the nickname Kabbalah Coach?"
R. Ozair: "I did not want to use my last name on the Internet for obvious reasons. I used "Rabbi Michael Ezra" because "Ezra" was added to my first name as part of my teshuva process. If you read the Jewish Laws of Repentence as outlined by Maimonidies, that one does a shinui [difference] with one's name. Add a name. Add a letter. I added "Ezra," which means help or assistance to my first name. I did this in front of about 35 people on Yom Kippur. About half a dozen other people also changed their name that day.
"I have a private practice as a life coach. For marketing reasons, it is good to create a niche. Most of my clients are looking for higher purpose in their lives. My coaching involves no kabbalah. Yet, the name was a nickname given to me by my clients. It stuck."
Luke: "Why did you take down your site www.kabbalahcoach.com?"
R. Ozair: "It was attracting negative attention."
Luke: "How many people in your religious community, when the bad news about you broke, approached you to hear your side of things?"
R. Ozair: "Nobody in the religious community."
Rabbi Ozair recently became engaged to be married.
Wrestling With Boys: Pederasty in the Jewish tradition
If you think the following satire is creepy, why is it any more creepy than Sandee Brawarsky's article in The Jewish Week? Precisely why is pedarasty more creepy than homosexuality? I am not arguing that they are equally creepy. I just want to know on what basis one would make that distinction. If your values do not come from the Torah, which unambiguously condemns homosexual behavior, then where do they come from? Your feelings? You can say homosexual behavior among adults is permitted by law while pedarasty is forbidden. But since when does legal equal moral? Murdering Jews was legal in Nazi Germany.
Personally, I can't get upset about any form of consensual sex between the consenting who are post-pubescent (while my ideals hold with Orthodox Judaism which condemns all sex outside of heterosexual marriage).
Cathy Seipp writes: "You'd get upset about it if you ever showed signs of going in this direction yourself, and I then not only kicked your ass but refused to ever talk to you or let you in the house again. Thank God they didn't link you in my NRO column today."
Nasty satire to follow:
Folks, I'd like you to think of me as a homosexual (not practicing) Orthodox (putatively practicing) rabbi (ordained at Yeshiva Mishagos) and address me as, "My moral leader."
In three months, the University of Wisconsin will publish my book, "Wrestling With Boys: Pederasty in the Jewish tradition." It's really not about the Jewish tradition at all. Rather, it's all about me and my obsessions and how I twist Jewish text to justify them.
Though I like having sex with little boys, I stopped practicing this upon my conversion to Judaism because the Torah says not to. I now run a 12-step program for Orthodox pederasts. Step one is we catch the little buggers. Step two, we put chlorophyl-laced handkerchiefs over their struggling faces. Steps three through twelve are not appropriate to describe before a family audience such as this.
"Like peeling an onion," is how I describe my coming out as a pedarast. I am the first Orthodox rabbi who's an openly homosexual pedarast (in inclination only, not behavior).
In my new book, I describe my journey (lots of hot stuff). I offer new readings of traditional Jewish texts related to pederasty and bestiality and I argue for inclusion for the so-called perverse practicioners of these purportedly dark arts in the Orthodox world.
"We all have internal pieces that are not so clear to us; in our recognition and articulation of them, we come out," I say, sitting in my hovel a couple of miles from the Museum of Tolerance, where I am a senior fellow in Ethics. "It's a metaphor of growth and self-actualization."
My stance in this book is confident. I present a Judaism that is both loving and accepting, where the act of engaging tough questions is essential.
The origins of my pedarasty are murky. I remember I was in yeshiva as a kid and this one rabbi touched me very deeply and very often. He'd often examine me in his office on my gemara and if I was not up to par, he'd punish me.
What I've always enjoyed about Orthodox Judaism is the male camaraderie and physical affection, the spiritual passion and intellectual head-butting.
Yes, I have a conviction for statutory rape. That did put me in jail. But, she was fifteen years old, going on thirty-five, and, uh, she told me she was eighteen and she was, uh, very willing, you know what I mean...I practically had to take to sewin' my pants shut. But, uh between you and me, uh, she might have been fifteen, but when you get that little red beaver right up there in front of ya, I don't think it's crazy at all now and I don't think you do either...No man alive could resist that, and that's why I got into jail to begin with. And now they're telling me I'm crazy over here because I don't sit there like a goddamn vegetable. Don't make a bit of sense to me. If that's what's bein' crazy is, then I'm senseless, out of it, gone-down-the-road, wacko. But no more, no less, that's it.
Aware of my attraction to boys, I visited a great sage in Jerusalem. He told me, "My dear one, you have twice the power of love. Use it carefully."
Thanks to the power of reparative therapy, I am marrying a woman who was formerly a dyke. Often while we're davening on opposite sides of the mehitza, we're filled with memories of our previously sinful life (for graphic description of this, read The Onion).
I understand that reparative therapy is not effective for everyone. Many pedarasts marry and ignore what they know about themselves. Many are shamed and end up leaving the community.
In my book, I want to demonstrate the breadth of the tradition, the audaciousness of the rabbis. Many are not aware of how shockingly bold rabbinic thought can be.
The texts of Leviticus do not silence me. They call me to speak my testimony.
My speaking style is warm and rabbinic, frequently quoting verses of text, then translating, always teaching. My face as I write this is expressive, showing sings of pain, empathy, freedom and joy. I gesture with my arms like real rabbis do, punctuating my words.
In my book's final section, I construct the parameters of a respectful conversation between a pederast and an Orthodox rabbi, suggesting ways they might hear each other.
I want to belong not to a gay synagogue, but to a synagogue with gays and straight people, old and young. But particularly young. Lots of boys, if you know what I mean, squire.
If the aims in terms of community acceptance seem modest, what are my dreams? I want 12 year old boy in an Orthodox day school who discovers that he is gay to kow there's decent life inside the community that he can plan for. And I want him to come see me, privately, to discuss this serious matter.
What's the funniest book you've ever read about pedarasty? I think it is Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. There's a disturbing lack of humorous writing about man-boy love these days.
A Guide For The Emotionally Perplexed
El from the Luke Ford Fan Blog writes:
I asked Joseph Joyrides Mailander to write an epilogue for my memoir. He emailed:
A Doggy Story For Cathy Seipp
From Jeffrey Meyers' book Robert Frost: A Biography:
What Is Heather Mac Donald?
She writes: "I guess I'm a Bush hating conservative. Would've voted for Dean. Now may sit it out. I guess I voted for Bush."
95% of all outstanding warrants for homicide target illegal aliens
Heather Mac Donald writes: "In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens."
I'm washing my hands about six times an hour while trying to work on a book. Do I have a problem? Do I feel guilty for the dirt I'm writing? Out, out damn spot.
Sex Offender Becomes 'Kabbalah Coach'
Rabbi Michael Ozair was a former teacher of mine who was particularly skilled at reaching out to non-Orthodox Jews. I went to a dozen of his classes, so I must've gotten something out of them. I wouldn't be bothered by his crime (as long as the sex was voluntary and with a post-pubescent girl) except that he was married, and an employed Jewish teacher. I believe he was twice voted teacher of the year at Shalhevet High School where he was fired in the summer of 2000 (before the sex scandal) for allowing some senior students on a field trip to Mexico to buy a couple of beers on July 4th.
What's the big deal here? If we restricted Kabbalah coaches to those who have not commited sex crimes, there would not be enough to go around in Hollywood, let alone the wider world.
I say, those who have not had oral copulation with a 14-year-old-girl, let them throw the first stone. A lot of these ninth grade girls are going on 28 and very willing, if you know what I mean, and a teacher has to take to sewing his pants shut before he goes over the Cuckoo's nest.
At least he wasn't priestly and making it with a boy. Give him points for that.
I remember my eight grade teacher at Pacific Union College Elementary School ran off with one of her girls.
Why does this repressive bourgeois society insist on criminalizing love? Just a few months ago, three students at Milken High School were ejected for making and distributing a freely consensual porn movie where they wore nothing but the Reform values they were taught. Sheesh, I would've given them extra credit for theater class.
My partner (his name is Spot, pics here, he's the one with the big black balls) and I had to move to Los Angeles from a Southern state to get away from the persecution of fundamentalist Christians.
I heard Rabbi Gafni speak for an hour during a day of learning sponsored by UCLA Hillel. I didn't have the foggiest notion of what he was on about. Then I heard him for half an hour on Dennis Prager's show and again I failed to comprehend.
Then I checked out his book Soul Prints and gave up after an hour. An ex-girlfriend, however, raves about the book.
I think clueless beautiful chicks are particularly susceptible to this kind of nonsense.
Have you noticed the number of shady character who profit from Kabalah (Jewish mysticism)? None more shady than the Kabalah Center, down the street from me on Robertson Blvd.