It’s the Politics!

I am so tired of the high-minded pretenses of Agudath Israel of America (aka Agudah). Insiders know that the most honorable and distinguished rabbinical figures steer clear of Agudah. Its Council of Torah Sages includes Aaron Shechter of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, a man who scoffs Jewish law by his decades-old contempt citation (lo tzayis dinah) by the now-deceased Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Agudah is an orthodox lobbying and grant-seeking organization. It has done some good things like supporting legislation to protect Sabbath observers in the workplace. But its annual rite of spring, a gala fundraiser, is not a religious event. It is a venue for politicians to court Jewish votes and for orthodox, social-program entrepreneurs to chase the pork while chewing the kosher chicken.

Agudah put politicians in the middle when it unleashed inflammatory attacks on Conservative and Reform Jews, consigning them to the dust bins of history. Perhaps they are on the way to oblivion. Right now there are more non-orthodox, Jewish voters in NYC than orthodox voters. Mayor Bill Di Blasio should have pushed back. But he cravenly evaded responsibility by claiming he didn’t hear the comments because of Rabbi Perlow’s lousy English and the fact that he was schmoozing. Of course, Jacob Perlow, with a B.A. from Brooklyn College (cum laude) is a competent English speaker, and Di Blasio had opportunities to read the offending texts in the New York Times. Di Blasio will pay for this duplicity as he paid in backlash for his attempt to speak to AIPAC in secret to avoid offending his liberal base which leans toward J Street. Agudah doesn’t care. It convinces political operatives from Albany to D.C. that it has the power to get politicians to compromise themselves rather than offend Agudah. In turn this keeps the Orthodox entrepreneurs in-line and willing to toe the Agudah line.

Disgraced former Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes also played footsie with the orthodox leadership, trading the safety of their sexually abused children for orthodox endorsements. We now know that that Kol Tzedek program headed by Henna White was a ruse. Henna’s job was taking care of the Jewish vote. In fact that seems to have been the job of almost everyone in the 19th floor executive suite. The recently released NYC Department of Investigation report establishes that over a million dollars of public funds were used to pay for Hyne’s electoral campaign and loads of folks on the 19th floor were using their email during working hours to support the campaign with materials, strategic planning, outreach, etc. The named culprits include Amy Feinstein, Dino Amoroso, Lance Ogiste, Jerry Schmetterer, Anne Swearn, and Henna White. Judge Barry Kamins was also caught in this web, in violation of judicial ethics and the law.

Do treat yourself to the full text: The New York City Department of Investions Report of findings regarding misconduct by former Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, Justice Barry Kamins and others

I kvelled to see so many things I said about Hynes confirmed by the texts of their own emails.

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7 thoughts on “It’s the Politics!

  1. This episode has helped me confirm several conclusions I’ve contemplated about the Agudah, and Gedolim as they relate the the rest of the Klal:

    1. The Agudah has become so self righteous that they can no longer be taken seriously. They will justify any particular hashkafah simply to continuously legitimize themselves, regardless of how stupid they look. Perhaps they couldn’t distance themselves from the Rebbe’s comments, but Shafran’s defense of them was in many ways worse than the content of the Rebbe’s speech. Shafran also took Rabbi Wein to task- and did so in the name of the Agudah- for Rabbi Wein’s comments that were a legit opinion based on the observations of a very learned person. The Shafran/Agudah cabal just couldn’t let another religiously valid opionion go unanswered (even from the estimable Rabbi Wein, who is basically Haredi), lest the frum world become confused about who really represents Das Toiyrah. To me this represents intellectual g’nava.

    2. The Rebbe’s comments were nothing new; if you’re a masochist, view some videos of former Agudah conventions and you’ll be treated to other examples of diatribe, attack, and kvetching of the highest order. Were it not for R. Slifkin, many of them would have nothing to talk about.

    3. Agudah- cluesless about the economic crisis facing Haredim, but unwilling to address it in any other way than to portray themselves as victims of the Israeli government, thereby shunning personal responsibity for the mess they have particpated in creating.

    5. Cluelessness to a degree that’s embarassing for a group of intelligent men: How, after many years of controversial statements being ripped apart in the media (secular and otherwise) can the Agudah and the Rebbe assume that such garbage will be simply digested and de facto accepted by the outside world? Do they not realize after all these years that “privacy” really no longer exists, and virtually anything that is stated in a public forum will undoubtedly be broadcast around the world within nanoseconds of the event itself? Or is it arrogance where they assume that because of the Rebbe’s stature, and that of the Agudah itself, that they are beyond critique and immune to media coverage and the forces of public opinion? With the Mayor of NYC in attendance, hordes of press- secular mostly- would undoubtedly be in attendance, and this guy with a big beard and black coat proceeds to insult 85% of world Jewery.

    6. Despite Rabbi Perlow’s peformance, the award still goes to Zweibel for overall cluelessness and chutzpah. After all, he’s the President of this embarrassing organization, and clearly has about zero authoritative power over its rabbinic advisory board. So what good is he, except to make public statements that make people of normal intelligence want to cringe, while he is powerless to keep the Daas Z’Kaeinim out of the dog house.

    To paraphrase an anti war quote from the 1960’s: What if they had an Agudah conference, and nobody came?

  2. Think of the Agudah as a political party with competitors like Reform and Conservative. What is wrong in saying the other parties are losers, have policies that failed? And why must the mayor speak up? If he had gone to a Democratic fund raiser and the Republicans were criticized, must he speak up on the grounds that the city also has Republican residents?

    • EJ- as a former member of the Reform camp, I don’t necessarily disagree with what Perlow said; and I’m being kind in my opinion. I’m not going to compare this gathering to Democratic fundraisers, because this was a religious organization, and to me, at least, such an assemblage requires a much higher level of diplomacy and tact to be extant throughout than any other, especially given the massive amounts of kavod that the Gedolim present, and actually opening their mouths like Rabbi Perlow, are to be accorded. With that understanding, it seems that the Agudah and its rabbonim are grossly ignorant of the world we live in if they fail (as they always to) to recognize that this event was subject to publicity and outside scrutiny. Let’s face it- if the Aguday really preferred to have the event proceed isolated from the public, then why allow the presence of the NY Times, Daily News, the Forward, and other non-Jewish news services to be present? Why invite the Mayor of NYC to attend, followed by a cadre of news organizations? Make it a closed door event next time and don’t expose any vulnerablity.

      I never said, nor required in my own mind that the Mayor “speak up”- personally I’m glad he didn’t. I only said- and fully believe- that his presence at the convention would inevitably attact even more media attention and coverage, and the failure of the Agudah people to realize this fact is another indication of their expanding disassoiation with reality.

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