Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Man Overboard

Joe resignation

Something of note has taken place in Stamford Hill. In a town where a match is hot news, a motor car collision of international significance and a genieivah of any kind worthy of the attention of the General Assembly, the event we are about to describe is nothing short of Security Council import.

In a different place and era this might have called for screeching headlines in our communal press, press releases by our spinners and perhaps even a dinner or banquet to mark the the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. This would allow our refined Dear Leaders to mingle with the fairer sex while mandating us commoners to keep an ocean-breadth's distance from those enticers and seducers. Mind you in another era we may not have been discussing this at all so best to just keep calm and rush off to call your neighbour, cousin and, if they're out, do some shopping where you may just bump into them. Or, for men that is, attend another charity reception and discuss the news over yet another plate of tsholent and kugel served of late approximately seven nights a week.

That's perhaps how it ought to have been but instead we get silence. 6 weeks’ silence to be precise. Silence on the cause, silence on the effect and silence on the event. Those who delve into philosophical narishkeitn will know the conundrum of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a noise if there is no one about to record the sound. One for next nitl, if you've yet to give it some thought. But here in Stamford Hill we go one further: we assume the tree still to be standing. And if the evidence is otherwise overwhelming we are told not to look because as Nietzsche almost said, that which doesn't kill you can still turn you into a heretic and that, trust me, is far worse.

You see, the R word has reached our shores and I'm afraid it's as grim as it sounds. A resignation has taken place in our yard and a tree has fallen in our dense forest. It may appear that no one was around to record the drop, yet the sound has reached our ears and alas it is this blog that has been anointed to bring the bad tidings unto the humble.

My friends, the tree is none other than our esteemed MBE, pontificator of some six and three-quarter decades, the beardless defender of the bearded, the wild party boy protecting our collective modesty, the guardian angel of the purest of our traditions. Our tree, our oak, our elm from chelm, our bark, our perennial, our plank, our whatever-you-can-think-of and a lot less, is no longer the sub-prime guarantor of our future generations.

For none other than Joe Lobenstein MBE has resigned as Chair of the Board of Governors of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School. Did I hear someone mutter that they didn't even know he was the Chair in the first place? Ah, that's probably because they have a child at the school and so the identity of the Chair is classified information. Parents have a Principal and a Head and should be happy to know who they are.

And so getting back to The Event, just as you thought the R word doesn't even appear in the kosher dictionary the MBE has tendered his resignation citing his advanced age and the increased volume of work . But let's be fair to the man. Dear Joe is in his eighties and running a school can be a bit of a burden. At a loss how to spend an enormous budget surplus, turning admissions into exclusions, shuffling the mummy and daddy chairs for the esteemed family must take up time and so even good things must come to an end at some point.

Of course you may ask whether he has also stepped down from his position as Vice-President of the UOHC, and from the presidium of the Agudas Yisroel something or other, and as advocate or some bombastic title on the police liaison committee, and from his Neither Here Nor There sopbox, and not to forget the Foreign Affairs Committee and tending to his moustache and dusting his hat. It may well be that he has stepped down from each of those august institutions and will now retire gracefully to write his eagerly awaited memoirs, publish a collection of his prized columns and speeches and perhaps even produce a line of fridge magnets featuring his witty 'Overheard' quips.

And did I mention his trusteeship of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society? How could I not? You know that organisation with the plot off the A10 which feeds the foxes below ground and the rats above. The trust which, according to its 2011 accounts, has a 'potential liability' to pay 49% of its surplus funds to the UOHC but which in 2011 is still quoting the recommendation of a 2002 actuarial report that 'no such distribution be made.' (Isn't it time the actuaries were commissioned once again?) Some ‘potential’ indeed.

As I say, it may well be that the above positions now lie as vacant as an aged strumpet begging for a suitor. And it could equally be that managing the fortunes of almost an entire family at YHS was a particular tough nut to crack. Then again it may just be that the need to spend more time with his family became particularly pressing as the School Chair was beginning to warm up of late.

And this is where we must take issue with Dear Joe. As regular readers will know, this blog can from time to time be unfavourably disposed towards the esteemed family that has taken possession of the private school maintained by the public purse, but today we must make an exception. Fair-weather friends cannot be cherished and for Lobenstein to ditch Pinter at this perilous hour mars what otherwise would surely have been a flawless record of selfless dedication to the public good and not-so-public coffers.

Of all Joe's attributes, jumping ship in choppy waters is not one we have associated him with. As one who spent a lifetime leading from the front it ill behoves him to be heading for the exit the moment sniffing noses make an entrance. As a captain surely he should have stayed behind until the last of the passengers has disembarked or is safely ensconced in a lifeboat and then perhaps explained what the heck is going on at the school where he was notionally in charge. Not jump overboard at the first sight of a cloud. Where is his renown mesiras nefesh? His world-famous shtadlonus? He may not have been there to petition Oliver Cromwell, but he has been steadfast ever since so how has it come to this?

But let us resort to the Great Man's famous words in an interview to the Daily Telegraph: 'We are survivors,' and how right he is. We can have scandals on our watch but we plough on. We can have financial skulduggery in our midst, but we hog our chair. We can preside over sexual scandals to which we respond with modesty squads. We can ride as high a horse as will fit our posterior and never will we be toppled. And if having overarched ourselves we are caught short we can always bugger off at the first sign of trouble and let others face the music. Survival of the frummest, as seen at a shul near you.

And so here is a suggested definition for the R word in the next edition of the kosher dictionary.

Resign: (sp. never with MBE) v. 1. Practised as last resort and to be presented as act of humility and self-abnegation when departing after four terms as mayor. 2. v. intr., often derog. in burial societies; to be deprecated as act of contrition. Usage: sparingly. Reserve for risk of censure by non-heimish authorities only.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Right in the wrong

Guest post by “Moish”

Apologies in advance to readers who must by now have tired of the 'painful saga', but an article in this week's JC underscores an aspect of the ensuing fallout that has yet to be fully appreciated. It demonstrates the seismic shifts taking place in frum London, if not the UK, effected in large measure by this very saga.

For the first time in living memory, a spokesman for the United Synagogue (and not merely individual dayonim acting in their capacity as 'NW London rabbonim') has gone on record criticizing the UOHC. The significance of this cannot be overestimated, especially as the criticism relates not to the UOHC's financial probity, general accountability or its (lack of) democratic mandate but on issues of chupa and kidushin. The US lecturing the Stamford Hill establishment on yiddishkeit may not be quite like North Korea lecturing the USA on human rights but in the Adath’s eyes it must come scarily close.

The story of Orthodoxy, if not Judaism, in the UK, as well as the world over, during the last few decades has been to a large extent the seemingly inexorable ascendancy of the Charedim. Their growing numbers have been accompanied by an increasing confidence not only in expressing their views, but in policing the limits of acceptable rabbinic thought and behaviour amongst those to their left. UOHC rabbonim alongside their stable mates up north have been frenetically ferreting out the slightest whiff of heresy in their backsliding 'mainstream' counterparts. Whippers-in like good old Joe have made it their job of propping up the rear (where many of their heads are firmly ensconced) from his perch in Anglo Orthodoxy's organ and through the presidiums and presidencies that have fallen his way.

Whether it was the near-career-ending furore over the mischievous leaking of the Chief Rabbi's letter to the late R. Padwa over Hugo Gryn's memorial service or the auto-da-fe that ensued over the Chief's 'Dignity of Difference', God's self-proclaimed inquisitors were always on the case. In halachic matters too, from the brouhaha over the NW London eruv to the excoriation of Dayan Lopian for his overly liberal approach to yom tov sheni, any overt deviation from the Stamford Hill cum Bnei Brak line was swiftly and harshly condemned and without the adjudication of an ad hoc Beis Din.

Although this condemnation did not always lead to a retraction on the part of the offending party, the bearded bearers of 'Torah True' principles became the force to be reckoned with on Judaic matters. This self perception of the 'Adath' rabbonim was widely in accordance with how they were viewed by the Jewish public at large: uncompromising adherents to unchanging principles.

And it is here where the tectonic shifts are taking place. Without repeating the sordid allegations of 'the curious incident of the rov in the night-time' with which readers of this blog will be well versed, it can safely be said that the reputation of the UOHC rabbinic leadership has taken a pounding. It will take a long time if ever before anyone outside their insular citadels will look to them for guidance or authority on anything, never mind issues pertaining to the status of women, sanctity, marriage or education. In the immortal words of Rav Padwa, "the solution doesn't lie with the police," and it definitely does not lie with the self-appointed UOHC religious and modesty cops.

It is no coincidence that the UOHC has chosen to keep its counsel while mainstream Anglo Orthodoxy has been undergoing a mini-revolution of its own. From the appointment of a 'yoetzet halacha' in Kinloss to the election of women onto the boards of Federation shuls and as presidents of several United Synagogues; from the expansion in the number of women's megilla readings to increased contact with rabbinic personalities from New York's Yeshiva University, a not-so-subtle snub of Charedi norms has been gaining traction while the guardian angels have been looking less than beatific.

Of course this has not all come about as a result of the UOHC's recent failures and the LBD is still firmly ensconced in black-hat territory. What has changed, however, is the deterrent factor the UOHC and its allies once represented. Whereas in the past, R. Sacks felt the need to offer an abasing response when he was called to account by the late Rav Padwa, a similar demand from the current UOHC Head (were it not to be retracted on the same day) would likely be greeted with a mixture of scorn and bemusement.

Rather than cowering in fear as they may once have done when facing an attack from their exposed right flank, mainstream Orthodox leaders would more likely be on the floor in fits of laughter. It will be a long time indeed before the rabbis of the United Synagogue are prepared to take lessons from their Charedi counterparts on what should be considered a 'deviation' from our sacred mesorah.

And it is not just external forces that are weakening the UOHC. It may be imploding internally too as their predominance on their home turf is being eroded and they concentrate their efforts on modesty squads and the like. While In the past hell would erupt at the change of hechsher of a mere yoghurt supplier, nary a peep has been heard from Kedassia officialdom in response to the tanks of a rival butcher shop parked firmly on their lawn. Since the ba'alei machshirim are a Stamford Hill Rov with the backing of a large kehilo and an ex-Stamford Hiller in out-of-reach Edgware, there is every reason to believe that the eyes and direction of the newbies are firmly set east. Were Belz to establish its own meat in Stamford Hill Satmar would have no option but to follow suit. The absence of the revenue provided by a profitable meat production would mark the practical end of the UOHC.

It would be a mistake to attribute the decline in the Union’s ‘footprint’ solely to recent events. If Rav Padwa's inaugratory address on a decapitated calf didn't raise doubts on the leadership quality of the victor at the funeral power grab, then by the time of his incoherent discourse on nobody-quite-knows-what at the Siyum Hashas, he had richly earned his nickname as the 'Moro D'saster'. This latest saga has however metamorphasised the headless calf into a headless chicken and shown the emperor to have no bekitshe and barely a loin cloth. And for this they have a certain resident of Bridge Lane to thank.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Pound of Flesh

Hager hechsher

עש”ק פ’ בהר בחקתי תשע”ג

היות ורבים שואלים אותי על הכשרים שונים על בשר. דעתי שבנסיבות הזמן אין שום שאלה של שחוטי חוץ באזורנו. אבל תמיד ראוי להקפיד מטעמי כשרות על הכשר שניתן ע"י רבנים חרדים שמאחוריהם עומד ועד כשרות שיש בע"ב שהם נציגים של ציבור של שומרי תורה ומצוות

גרשון האגער

[Friday, 3 May 2013]

In light of many enquiries I have had concerning different hechsheirim of meat. I am of the view that due to current circumstances there is no question of 'shchitei chutz' (out of town slaughter) in our area. However, generally one should insist, on grounds of kashrus, on a hechsher that is backed by a kashrus committee comprised of lay delegates from an observant public.

Gershon Hager

Friday, 3 May 2013

Freudian Glitch?


The above advert appears hot on the heels of the notice from the Committee for the Purity of the Camp (not that camp, perv) inviting people to report any “suspicious person breaching the boundaries of sanctity.” The two adverts actually appear in the same publication which has just dropped through my door despite numerous notices pasted across the entire front of my house, “We do not read in our household. We only look out of the window and we don’t even bother doing it from behind the nets because trust us the view is much clearer when you move the curtains aside and park yourself on the windowsill with your half dozen kids beside you. Och, who just left that house? Oooh, they must be doing a shiduch tonight.”

In classic fashion, I digress, but now I'm back on track. This spanking new Committee for the Purity of the Camp is “supervised by UOHC Rabbonim." You know those clowns who always go out on a limb to satisfy public opinion have again responded to 'public demand'. After all it is they who earned our respect and admiration in their coolness under fire and their resilience in the face of the mightiest onslaught they ever encountered. They proved themselves preternaturally efficient at dealing with a suspect across their own high table and now having slain one dragon who else would we turn to when sanctity is being trampled on at every crap table with a 15 mile radius? We therefore urge members of the public that in the event that you encounter a suspect wielding a Samsung S III befarhesya, he should not be approached due to the risk of contamination and should be reported at once to the Committee who "will pursue and verify and do its best to solve the problem – in accordance with guidance of the Rabbonim.”

Now I don’t know the nature of the guidance the Rabbonim will be issuing. This is of course something best left to them and we laypeople should not attempt to second guess how to resolve problems (note the lack of ‘alleged’) brought to their attention. However, this is a blog read only by laypeople as no Rav, Rov, Rabbi, Rebbe or anything remotely alliterative and worth his ear wax would be seen here in any shape or form. And so our advice I'm afraid is for the suspects only and those doing the reporting should refer to their rabbinical advisers.

On 1 February 2013 the UOHC registered with the Data Commissioner as a processor of personal data. (A blog, and a commentor like adloyada, really can make a difference!) As you will see they process data for 9 purposes, none of which is pursuing, investigating and solving problems of suspects breaching boundaries of sanctity. So should you be so unfortunate as to make an appearance on their database of undesirables, please refer to the Information Commissioner’s guides on how to make a subject access request for the information they hold on you and while at it throw in a complaint on their unlawful retention of your personal data.

But these are the boring bits and let’s get back on track with the Freudian glitch, if indeed it is one. Not that I would know since round here a difficult spot with dreams is resolved by a prayer during the Benediction of the Priests and not by delving into The Interpretations of Dreams. And anyway Jung is a much more heimishe name than Freud so there Sigmund. What kind of a Jewish name is that, eh?

In a normal situation one would have assumed that the advert meant to write girls and boys though that creates problems of its own. Round here boys and girls don’t often appear in the same sentence and besides boys wouldn’t be last. Ladies first, is just not a toiredike concept; when in a hole stop digging, apparently isn’t either. Perhaps that ought to have been men and ladies, which is the preferred term locally for the other gender, and in ordinary circumstances this would well make sense.

But these are no ordinary times. With ‘QCs’ manning helplines for abuse and purification committees conjured out of streimels almost daily, one cannot be too cautious. So this time let us give them the benefit of the doubt and reluctantly agree that they really do mean to segregate the men from the boys.

Let's face it, why on earth not? The kids are delighted that they don’t have to recite mishnayos the entire journey because they can't really tell their dads of the super new game their neighbour got for afikomon. And the men for their part can freely discuss the sizzling-hot latest report from the Committee without being troubled by their pesky vilde chayes. It’s holidays for goodness sake and fathers too are entitled to a break, thank you very much.

How much better can a family outing get than being separated from your womenfolk, segregated from your kids and in the sole company of bearded males? You get to spend the entire time just like in the mikve which must be the very meaning of bliss as defined by the UOHC dictionary.

Oh, and by the way, are there any discounts for Bnei Torah?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Silver Lining

Progress yet again and kudos to Rabbi Shimon Winegarten for the new ShemaKoli abuse helpline.

It of course gives you an idea how much confidence he has in the UOHC 'help' line. It also shows a sensitivity to men and women victims which hadn't occurred to our locals when launching their unisex line. Gender separation is just for the photographers,it seems. And you can bet that the person at the other end of this line will be marginally more sensitive than the one who was answering the UOHC line with his glorious track record in 'admissions' to 'his' schools.

Should we assume that the hours allotted to men and women point to the ratio of abuse victims amongst them? Or is it simply easier to find suitable female volunteers than men?