Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

Ben & Jerry's Reversal - A Blow to BDS

We are living in a time where the present is in complete turmoil and chaos and the future seems very bleak and depressing. The country is divided on almost everything, from vaccines and abortions to bail reform and anti-Semitism. The crime rate is soaring, particularly in big cities. Gas prices are out of reach and baby formula is scarce. The border is more porous than a sponge and the Supreme Court has added fuel to an already out of control fire.
I actually feel sorry for my kids who are coming into adulthood during such an unstable period. Life is hard enough without the constant rhetoric coming from all sides. I do not know how we got here, but more importantly, I do not know how we are going to get out of this horrible mess we find ourselves in.

The problem is that if we only focus on the bad news, then we become depressed, or worse, go insane. We have to look out for the good things as well. I have always been taught to keep an eye for the positive and celebrate all victories.

In July of 2021, the ice cream giants Ben & Jerry’s, owned by an even bigger giant, Unilever, declared, “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”
As I wrote about this debacle when it occurred, this was simply a case of selective discrimination. Ben & Jerry’s has no problem selling its ice cream products in Russia despite the occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol and certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Similarly, Ben & Jerry’s has no problem selling ice cream in Saudi Arabia but not the tub called hubby hubby, because in Saudi Arabia, they throw homosexuals off the highest roof to their death.
Ben & Jerry’s sells everywhere they can, but they came to a red line when it came to hawking their products in certain areas of Israel. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Shameful and pathetic.

Almost one year later, The Simon Wiesenthal Center received a call Wednesday morning from Unilever CEO Alan Jope, who informed the SWC of the company’s decision to put a halt to Ben & Jerry’s Israel boycott. Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was informed of the decision personally in a phone call Wednesday morning from Unilever CEO Alan Jope. Shortly after the call between Rabbi Hier and Mr. Jope, Unilever officially announced it reached a new agreement with its current licensee in Israel to sell ice cream under both its Hebrew and Arabic names in Israel and the West Bank.  
Apparently, Unilever, feeling the heat from the Israeli Government and consumers, while also being entangled in a lawsuit, decided that there is a way around this quagmire. Unilever sold its Israeli rights to the Ben & Jerry’s brand to Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products Ltd, the company that had been distributing the ice cream in Israel as a licensee. The deal will allow the sale of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream across Israel, including in Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, without Unilever’s direct involvement in the sales.

This is definitely good news for the Jews and very bad news for the hate group Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement (BDS) whose sole desire and purpose is to hurt and demonize Israel. Ironically, the BDS movement usually ends up hurting the Palestinian population instead. So anytime the BDS gets kicked down, it is good news. We should celebrate.

Unilever in their statement following the call to Rabbi Hier wrote that the company “unequivocally” condemned any form of discrimination or intolerance, saying anti-Semitism “has no place in any society.” Unilever also distanced itself from the anti-Israel BDS movement, without explicitly condemning it. “We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position.”
I am glad that Unilever finally came to their senses. I am aggravated that it took a year to do so, when it should have never happened in the first place. As for me, Ben & Jerry’s will remain forbidden forever. My reasoning is this; there is nothing worse than a self-hating Jew who hides under the cover of morality and justice, when in reality, hates himself and his kind so much that he is willing to demonize his people and cause much harm.
I do not understand the self-hate. I am a proud Jew. While there are instances where I cringe when a person or persons act inappropriately, I would never debase my own tribe and I would never ever try to inflict pain and suffering on an entire region.

In fact, Ben & Jerry’s would be wise to study the following tidbit of Jewish history. The second Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Titus and his cohorts only got involved in Jerusalem matters after some fellow self-hating Jews known as the Pharisees called in the authorities to help them in their quest against the Sadducees. This action undeniably led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. Ironically, Ben & Jerry’s boycott was located in that very region. The lesson is obvious.

We must do better.
Please feel free to share.

Abortion in Jewish Law

One of the most debated topics in this country in the last 50 years is Roe v. Wade. There is a great divide amongst the citizens. The topic is so polarizing that many arguments are so heated that there are times where it actually leads to violence. I am always baffled when I hear of a women’s clinic being bombed by some pro-lifer. Sometimes these bombings actually kill or wound people. I say to myself why is it okay to kill a human being with whom you disagree. The very name pro-life means that you believe in life, so how can killing be justified?

My opinion on the matter is not relevant to this article. This is for educational purposes only. I would also like to point out that each case has its own unique situation, so please do not apply this teaching practically.

What I find truly fascinating about the traditional Jewish stance on abortion is that like many of Judaism’s stances, it is quite nuanced and therefore cannot be pegged into one corner or another. 

We find the first reference to abortion in Genesis. The first book of the Torah states, “One who sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of G d He made man.” While this verse is somewhat ambiguous, the Talmud learns from the words “one who sheds the blood of man through man” is to be explained more accurately translated as “one who sheds the blood of man within man.”

However, things are not that simple when it comes to the Torah. In Exodus there is a verse that states, “Should men quarrel and hit a pregnant woman, and she miscarried but there is no fatality (the mother did not die), he shall surely be punished when the woman’s husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges.”
Since the Torah obligates only a monetary fine but not capital punishment, the Torah seemingly views the fetus as property, not as a human life.

The pro-choice quote a section of Talmud that says a fetus is not an independent entity but rather, “a limb of its mother,” so they claim that it is proof that termination is allowed. This is not proper proof however, because halachically one is not permitted to amputate a limb unless it is medically imperative that it be done.

The Mishna (predecessor to the Talmud) teaches that if the fetus is threatening the mother’s life then her life takes precedence over [the fetus’s] life. If, however, the majority of [the fetus] emerged, we may not touch it, for we do not push aside a life in place of another life.”
The Talmud and Maimonides clarify the reasoning as to why an unborn baby may be sacrificed to save the host. He posits that the fetus is a rodef. The Jewish law of rodef states that we are permitted to kill a violent perp who is pursuing a potential victim in order to prevent the victim from being killed. Since the fetus is actively threatening the mother’s life, it can/should be terminated. However, once the fetus’ head has emerged from the birth canal, then the life of the fetus and the life of the mother are on equal footing.

Aside from being a physical threat to the mother, a rodef can also be at times a mental or psychological threat where it ruins the person carrying the fetus. According to many Jewish authorities, rape and incest would be such a case where some rabbinical experts would allow an abortion. There are a number of stories/lessons in the Torah of rape or incest, but we do not see that an abortion was had.

Terminating a pregnancy is probably one of the most complex parts of Jewish law. As we stated earlier, each case is so nuanced, one would have to contact a competent Rabbi who is well versed in these matters. Just as one would seek out a lawyer for legal matters, a dentist for cavities, an oral surgeon for extractions, so too, we must go to a rabbinic expert, and not just any Rabbi to clarify these matters.  


Thoughts on Violence in our Schools

WHY #1
After the Texas massacre at the public elementary school, I was pondering to myself why yeshivas and parochial schools have been spared the senseless murder of school age children. There is only one incident that I recall. A deranged individual killed five Amish girls and wounded five others at the small Amish school. He ultimately killed himself. The perpetrator was not a student, but rather a loony in his 30s who simply hated women. Most, but not all the other killings, were at the hand of fellow students.

WHY #2
You have to ask yourself why the United States has suffered through 288 school shootings since the beginning of 2019, while Mexico, the runner up, has a grand total of eight, which is eight too many.

Over the past week, I have heard quite a number of possible theories. We will explore some of these. These are not necessarily my opinion; however, I bring them here as it makes for an interesting dialogue.

A private school has way more autonomy as to whom they allow to be enrolled. They are free to simply deny enrollment for the most trivial of reasons. Growing up, I was at the end of that sword where one particular yeshiva administration brandished it like a weapon. They gave no reason for my rejection other than we don't think that this is a good idea for this student to join our student body.
Public schools on the other hand must accept all students by its very charter. They may opt to expel a student for abnormal or dangerous behavior, but it is a choice of last resort.

The public schools are huge. They have to be, as 95% of students in any given neighborhood attend these schools. Homeschooling is a relatively small number, same for parochial schools. I went to an elementary school with only 200 other students, and the high school petered out to only 40 students.
It is so much easier for the staff to be in touch with each student and their families and be fully aware as to who needs additional help emotionally. The yeshivas pretty much have you sized up weeks before school starts. While it is true parochial schools do not hire school psychologists due to a strict budget, the teachers are the eyes and ears and the first line to address issues.

It is a current federal law that guns are not allowed to be on public school property unless it is carried by either a federal or state officer of the law. If I know this piece of trivia, then the deranged shooter knows this as well. This is not the case with the private sector.  In this day and age, many if not most Jewish schools either have armed guards or are armed themselves.
It has been proven that one cannot fight gunfire effectively with a megaphone or nightstick. The most effective way to put down an armed killer is to bring forth a gun as well. This is a fact. I am not advocating gun lawlessness. Common sense must prevail and not hysteria.

I recently took my grandson to Dave & Busters, and I was shocked to see the all too real bloody and violent video games. Blood, guts, bullets and bombs were all over the screen. I get that it is a game and a load of fun, but we have to ask ourselves, is this ok. Is it too much gore? I reflect that my childhood years were spent improving my skills at Ms. Pac-Man (I got past the banana level). Not once did I think when I swallowed a colored monster that I was killing it.  

I am acutely aware of the importance of separation of church and state. The last thing anyone wants is a teacher who belongs in a cult to contaminate your child's mind with bizarre and dangerous thoughts. However, values must be taught. In Judaism as an example, the value of life is one of its basic tenets. Life is not to be wasted or squandered. Sustaining life comes before literally everything else. It is sacred and one should fight for every moment. Yom Kippur takes a back seat if fasting is deleterious to one's health. Judaism permits abortion without hesitation if the fetus brings risk to the mother's life.
Additionally, having faith in something greater than oneself is not to be scoffed at. Believing in a Godly world is enriching and is a gift to one’s life. Life is not arbitrary. Life is not to simply be lived until we no longer can. Life with faith can be a very powerful existence. We are here for a purpose and not to just play golf.
When the founding fathers instituted the concept of freedom of religion, they did not mean freedom from religion. It is sad that belief in a higher power is waning.
One may argue that history has shown that more people have been killed in the name of God than anything else. My response to this is not to confuse people like the Crusaders or Islamic terrorists with people of God. Anyone who kills masses in the name of God is not Godly, and in fact, God is not impressed. The Crusaders killed, raped and pillaged men, women and children. They were not Godly or holy. They were sadistic barbarians.

Why do we have the notorious distinction of being the leader in school shootings? It is probably due to the ease of procuring a gun. While New York is tough on getting a pistol license, it is fairly easy to buy a long gun. I own a few of my own and it literally is a 10-minute wait for the background check to allow a long gun purchase.
If it was a longer check and more extensive, it may catch some record that the 10 minute check does not. In order for me to drive a car, I had to get a license, which aside from taking a five hour safety course and then the written test, DMV also checked my eyesight to see if I can see the signs properly. Why not make a gun safety-training course as well as a test for gun ownership.  It makes sense, no?
As an aside. I attended a Memorial Day ceremony where at the tail end of the agenda, before all were dismissed, there was the rifle salute followed by Taps. In the middle of Taps, one of the rifles went off unexpectedly. The owner had not removed their finger from the trigger. I thought to myself that this faux pas should be a lesson for all in terms of gun safety.
I do not claim to be an expert in other countries’ gun laws. It does seem, however, that we need to do better.

Please feel free to share.

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.