I. Washington’s announcement this week that it would not try to suffocate the
Iranian economy with sanctions is evidence that little will change as a result
of highly publicized International Atomic Energy Agency report on Tehran’s
In the long term, a nuclear-armed Iran poses a clear
threat to American interests, but short-term political realities will prevent
the Obama administration from taking stronger action against Tehran. Shutting
down Iran’s economy would mean jeopardizing the European Union’s 28.7 billion
euros in bilateral trade ties with Tehran, to say nothing of endangering the
supply of oil from the fourth largest producer of crude oil in the world.
Endangering either, especially at a time of global financial upheaval, is not a
battle the president, or any president, is going to fight.
columnist Alex Fishman wrote on Wednesday, the international community
“will continue to play games with the regime in Tehran. Assuming that no Western
country is preparing to attack Iran, Israel had better resign itself to a truly
New Middle East.”
II. An ultra-Orthodox young man asked me politely to
change seats with him on an El Al flight to Zurich, so as to avoid sitting next
to a woman.
Ordinarily I would have gotten into a discussion with him
about the topic and probably have refused the request. But I’d been seated a
couple of rows behind my traveling companion and welcomed the opportunity to sit
together. So I traded seats, let the issue drop and forgot about it for several
days, until I read former Mossad director Efraim Halevy’s remarks about the
threat of Orthodox extremism to the State of Israel.
Halevy may have
overstated the case, but he is hardly a lone voice when it comes to criticizing
the fanatic gender separation that has come to define the haredi
Even Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the American rabbi whose rulings are
considered both groundbreaking and definitive for Diaspora Orthodox communities,
would agree that forced gender separation in the public arena is an indication
that something in that community is not quite right. “A man who becomes sexually
aroused by merely sitting next to a woman in this context should indeed avoid
public transportation,” wrote Feinstein in 1960.
“But it is not
appropriate for people to be so highly sexually charged [from such a mundane
III. It is important to remember that, despite the
indictment of Rabbi Mordechai Elon on charges of sexual assault, accused
individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
particularly true in cases where the crimes are of a sexual nature, when the
mere suspicion of wrongdoing could easily spell the end of a career.
this case, due to media publicity, even if Elon is proven innocent, his name and
career have been irreparably damaged.
The case should also serve as a
starting point for the modern Orthodox community to discuss the growing
phenomenon of guru-ism.
Years ago, as the head of the Horev yeshiva high
school in Jerusalem, Elon was considered religious Zionism’s leading light – he
is a scion of a top Zionist family, and his weekly talk on the Torah portion at
the Yeshurun Synagogue in downtown Jerusalem was broadcast around the country
and attended live by hundreds of young people for years in the mid-to-late
But although he had many admirers and students, he did not have
followers. There was no Rabbi Elon personality cult, no Elon groupies.
those years, to the best of my knowledge there were no accusations of
But by the early 2000s, that started to change. Elon removed
himself from his prior public role, left the Jerusalem area and spent several
years out of the spotlight. During those years a select group of students who
see themselves as Elon disciples began to spend long hours, often late into the
night, with the rabbi, and a guru-type culture did begin to develop. Eventually,
so did the allegations.
Elon is certainly not the first rabbi from the
religious Zionist community to sustain misconduct allegations.
He is also
not the first person so accused to say his actions had been misunderstood. But
while the personalities and teaching styles of many of those individuals vary
widely, one common denominator is that many of the accused have been seen not
only as teachers and leaders, but as charismatic gurus.
certainly deserves the benefit of a fair trial in court, and he should not be
tried in the newspaper, but the growing issue of personality cults inside
religious Zionism should become a topic of conversation in that
IV. Living in Israel it is easy to lose sight of what this
country means to Jewish communities around the world. Take the Jewish community
of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, for example. Although the community was destroyed
at the height of the Spanish Inquisition in 1435 and the island declared
Judenrein, Jewish families have lived there continuously since then. Known
pejoratively in Spanish as Chuetas (a similar term to the better-known word
marrano), these families managed to cling to whatever bits of Judaism they could
despite the inherent danger.
Today, very few of the estimated 15,000 to
20,000 Mallorcans with Jewish family roots are still connected to Judaism, but
for the ones that are it would be tough to overstate how central a role the
State of Israel plays in their Jewish identity. At a seminar last weekend hosted
by the Shavei Israel organization and its chairman, Jerusalem Post
Michael Freund, participant after participant spoke about the intense sense of
pride they have in Israel, its accomplishments, the beauty of the land and the
people. For a group of Jews who have lived in secrecy for six centuries, the
living, breathing Jewish country is both a source of tremendous inspiration and
strength and a tangible sign that their sacrifices were not for
It’s something to bear in mind.The writer is the opinion
The Jerusalem Post.